We have sticklers in our family.  I wouldn’t have called my dad a stickler, although he had the highest-level language credential in my extended family and could have carried it off without much trouble.  Dad had the personable habit of deliberately Image result for grammar sticklerspeaking incorrectly on occasion—such as when he would oh-so-politely request, “Pass I the butter.”  Perhaps it is Dad’s tradition that leads my small family now to make up verb forms for entertainment purposes:  “Where be my Bible?”  “Oh, I tooked it and putted it over there.”  Jedd participates in this and knows what he’s doing with it.  We are careful, however, to correct him anytime he lapses into regional patterns (that I hear or read almost every day) with respect to past participles:  “I seen him.  He had ran right past me before I knew it.”

Since drafting this post, I received this e-mail message at work:  “I know it got picked up, but havnt saw the _____ yet.”  If noticing these things makes me a stickler or even a vigilante, so be it.  Real sticklers know it’s not about thinking one is right all the time.  We/I make a lot of mistakes, too.  Here’s an indication of the difference between sticklers and normal people:  when I find a typo in an old blogpost that no one will probably ever see again, I actually take the time to correct it.  (I can’t insert “obsessively” before “correct it,” because that would be splitting an infinitive, you know.)

My maternal grandmother, spotlighted with my grandfather here, was something of a stickler, I’d say, and it would have been difficult to catch her in a mistake.  She is known to have corrected the grammar of more than one gracious preacher, including Mike Cope and presumably also the late Jim Woodroof,¹ a giant who moved into the “land of the eternally living”² a few weeks ago.  Grandmother’s known penchant for correcting folks might be what keeps me from doing it as much.  (When I knew her, she would naturally have had the respect that comes with being a senior citizen, and I’m not there yet.)  Even though I keep my vocal corrections to a minimum (and sometimes mutter them so that no one can hear), I often read with pen or pencil in hand.

Has the time for "they" as a singular pronoun come? This grammar stickler says yes.I’ve noticed that a certain parenting e-resource almost always uses the singular “she” in its examples—presumably in an extended fit of over-correction for the years when “he” meant either.  It’s usually easy to avoid the issue by pluralizing everything:  “Every student should do his own work” can become “All students should do their own work” if you don’t like “Every student should do his/her own work.”  I disagree with the “singular ‘they'” image shown here, but no one asked me.  It’s actually serendipitous that I came across that:  a younger friend mentioned on Monday that he knows people who want to be referred to as “they” and not “she” or “he.”  So let us take note that this might not be merely a grammar thing; it’s a gender identity thing.³  Although I would always try to be kind to a person who struggles with identity, I don’t support the related social movement in the slightest, finding it overblown and ironically (perhaps Nazi-istically) intolerant at times.

Since I have a very active “inner stickler,” I am eager (not “anxious,” mind you; the two mean different things) to share some stickler-ish Lynne Truss quotes.  It was with a deep, resounding “Yeah!” that I reread those that appear below.  Does anyone else feel partly like Tarzan, chest-pounding and bellowing, and part-sheepish?  In other words, do you say inside yourself, “Yess!  I feel that way!” immediately before tucking your head as though nothing just happened in there?

In the quotes below, British distinctives such as commas outside quotation marks are the author’s.  All this material was lifted from the web, then later scanned and converted to text.  No errors should be attributed to Lynne Truss.  Enjoy.

~ ~ ~

“…[P]unctuation marks are the traffic signals of language:  they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.”

“I apologise if you all know this, but the point is many, many people do not.  Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying “Giant Kid’s Playground”, and then wonder why everyone says away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)”

“Part of one’s despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler.  While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight.  We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.  Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones:  dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else — yet we see it all the time.  No one understands us seventh-sense people.  They regard us as freaks.  When we point out illiterate mistakes we are often aggressively instructed to “get a life” by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves.  Naturally we become timid about making our insights known, in such inhospitable conditions.  Being burned as a witch is not safely enough off the agenda.”

“As with other paired bracketing devices (such as parentheses, dashes and quotation marks), there is actual mental cruelty involved , incidentally, in opening up a pair of commas and then neglecting to deliver the closing one.  The reader hears the first shoe drop and then strains in agony to hear the second.  In dramatic terms, it’s like putting a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I and then having the heroine drown herself quietly offstage in the bath during the interval.  It’s just not cricket.  Take the example, ‘The Highland Terrier is the cutest, and perhaps the best of all dog species.’  Sensitive people trained to listen for the second comma (after ‘best’) find themselves quite stranded by that kind of thing.  They feel cheated and giddy.  In very bad cases, they fall over.”

“For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural word “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated.  First there is shock.  Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger.  Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker.”

Image result for grammar "we need hyphens"“Yet there will always be a problem about getting rid of the hyphen:  if it’s not extra-marital sex (with a hyphen), it is perhaps extra marital sex, which is quite a different bunch of coconuts.  Phrases abound that cry out for hyphens.  Those much-invoked examples of the little used car, the superfluous hair remover, the pickled herring merchant, the slow moving traffic and the two hundred odd members of the Conservative Party would all be lost without it.”

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places.  Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.  If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

~ ~ ~

Now, from a review of a review of Truss’s book:

The New Yorker does not encourage letters of rejoinder, but Andrew Franklin, Truss’s editor at her publishers, Profile Books, is happy to answer back.  He is not to be outdone in witheringness by Louis Menand.  The problem is mostly the critic’s humourlessness. “If you have no sense of humour”, Franklin thinks, the success of Truss’s book will be a mystery to you.  Misunderstanding the purpose of her book, which is not a style guide but an entertaining “call to arms”, Menand has pedantically reached for a non-existent rule book. “I think he’s a tosser.  You’re welcome to use that,” Franklin remarked when I quizzed him for his views on Truss’s antagonist. “I’d never want to spend an evening in his company.” Rules in English “are more complicated and sophisticated” than he can dream of, he adds. Good writers can break the rules, provided they have learned them before they break them.

Why should it have so provoked one of the New Yorker’s leading writers?  “A twisted colon” is one of Franklin’s explanations, but he also has a weightier cultural analysis.  The attack is “deeply xenophobic”.  An American critic who is used to his readers having their eyes only on American culture has seen them reach for an idiosyncratic English book for a discussion of grammar.  So far the book has sold 800,00o copies in the US, about as many as it has sold in Britain.  For the arbiter of matters literary and linguistic in the New Yorker chair, it is, Franklin guesses, just too much.


¹ Jim Woodroof’s inspiration is the subject of more than one post on this blog, including this one and this one.  For a generation of Harding students (before my time), at least, he was a legend.  You know how it gets annoying when someone just won’t let an opportunity pass without mentioning his favorite issue?  I decided at some point after having heard a couple of special lectures and having read a couple of his books, that he was the most perfect ample of a single-issue guy I had ever come across.  Here’s the thing:  the “issue,” for Jim Woodroof, was always Jesus.  He always focused attention on Jesus.

² “Land of the eternally living” was the late Cecil Hook’s description of his wife’s soul’s abode after her passing.  For more on Hook and his influence, see this post.

³ I am currently reading God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker.  So far, I judge it to be fair-minded and helpful for Christians.

Impotence (Woodroof redux)

Jim, did that lady know what a difficult saying it was when she came to your office?  

Did you yourself know how difficult it was when you wrote it? 

(In both cases, I suspect so.)

I speak of a quasi-revelation communicated to (and later by) Jim Woodroof, who is now near 80 and still writing about, and loving, Jesus.  

The revelation was about finding in the gospels  the power to do  what’s in the New Covenant letters, i.e., the Christian-living passages in letters written by Paul, John, Peter, and James.

It was about looking to Jesus as essence, author, and perfecter of our faith.  

It was about Christian living.

Currently, my wife and I are involved in a dispute.  Don’t worry; we’re on the same side in this struggle, which is against some very rude, relentlessly mean-spirited people that we initially thought we could trust.  They have lied more than once, and they have used unsuspecting people in their ethical filth, and they have refused to let us live in peace.  They continue to take positions and actions that are as unjust as they are retaliatory.  They say we owe them $50 (or $54.75, or $24.05, depending on the day), which we do not, according to what we have in writing, and then they claim we owe late charges in the amount $1800+, which of course we don’t.  All this relates inextricably to our daily living, and I shouldn’t say any more.

We are suffering physically and emotionally.  Our daily productivity is decreased, and we regularly experience stress-induced headaches and other symptoms.  We need God to handle this situation.

In the meantime, since He seems to be taking His time, we are having difficulty following in the steps of the One Who, when treated utterly unjustly, did not retaliate.  You see, we, too, are suffering without cause (although our situation is obviously, comparatively insignificant).  If we were in the wrong, it would be different.  (The disruption to life would still be there, but it would be deserved.)  The facts clearly show, though, that we are in the right.

It is difficult to find in Jesus my example of how to handle unjust suffering when my human side wants to a) protect us, and b) somehow cause distress in those who are causing it in us.  Jesus, help.  May I get inside Your life more devotedly, and may I wake tomorrow feeling more empowered to do as You would do, and as You did.  Justice, perhaps; revenge, never.

Oh, and when I teach others about You in a few days, may I not be found to be a hypocrite.  I really have to clear these feelings out of my system.

Centering redux (2 of 2)

[Continued from yesterday]

Jim Woodroof’s latest book, Famous Sayings of Jesus, deals in the beatitudes and the parables.  I have often appreciated Jim’s Jesus-focused heart, and have posted in the past (find one such essay here) on a seminal truth articulated by Jim:  “In the gospels we find the power to do what’s in the letters.” 

In essence, what the above statement suggests is centering on Jesus.  Not a new truth, but a radical one.

At the close of this post two years ago, I offered a list of some themes that may pose as central “in church.”  Now, two years later, I’m zooming out from the church establishment a bit:  one goal of these early, “post-sabbatical” writings has been to envelop faith overall, enthroning Messiah Jesus in the middle of everything Christian — including individual disciples’ lives, church structures, and eternity.  Truly, a Jesus-centric faith is the only one worth having, and the only one that will ultimately stand.

  • Not that those who practice a humanistic form of meditation or Buddhist yoga or other self-help stuff aren’t helping themselves temporarily– many of them are.
  • Not that adherents of Islam don’t have a thing or two right — many of them do.
  • Not that Jewish underpinnings are worthless — far from it.  They’re just underpinnings, though.
  • Not that moderate Mormons and Buddhists live bad lives — they can be model neighbors and are often exemplary in terms of temperament and strong, moral values.

And, more to the point for my readers . . .

  • Not that a vast lot of traditional Christian churches aren’t somewhat within Christian tradition on this or that point; not that they don’t believe in Jesus; not that they aren’t duly Protestant, or Arminian, or Calvinist, or restorationist, or Roman, or Byzantine, or pietist, or charismatic, or Lutheran, or Swedenborgian, or anabaptist, or what-have-you.  Many of these frameworks are on target in one or more aspects.

It’s just that these other, superimposed doctrinal and practical systems are not in all points Jesus-centric and are therefore less than sufficient.

Once more drawing from past essays, I would point readers to thoughts I shared on central concepts at work.  (Actually, the bulleted items are applicable to a much broader spectrum!)

If you read nothing else there, perhaps you will simply wish to worship privately, meditating on the words of the song “Jesus, Be the Centre.”

P.S.  Want another encouraging prod or four in this vein?  Try Roger Thoman’s latest blogpost, “Jesus Alone at the Center.”

Centering redux

After a nice sabbatical month in which I drove, thought, read, wrote, composed, transcribed, and visited with a lot of great friends, I’m settling back into routines now.   (Well, maybe not just yet – still enjoying some special times, including dinner and a minor league baseball game last night with some good friends!   Anyhue….)

I’ve recently read Jim Woodroof’s latest book, Famous Sayings of Jesus, which deals in the beatitudes and the parables.  This book was given to me by one who has “always appreciated Jim’s Jesus heart.”  I have often appreciated said heart, too, and have posted in the past (find one such essay here) on a seminal truth articulated by Jim:  “In the gospels we find the power to do what’s in the letters.” 

Yes, yes.  Seven hundred seventy-seven times, yes.  If we are instructed early on to pay attention and obey and do good things (not everyone gets this kind of clear instruction, but I’m not sorry I enjoyed such focus!), then this subsequent message of centering on Jesus is eminently helpful.  Often, a child should be taught to do good, right things “just because.”  But an adult probably needs deeper motivation, somewhere along the line, and that’s where the gospel accounts come in.

When reading Peter or Paul or James, sometimes the things enjoined on believers seem hard — not only hard to understand, but hard to do.  Not even the exceptional ones can put into practice everything they read without question, without struggle.

Into the room of life walks the Central One.  The catalyst, the great “enabler”  is the Man from Galilee.  We are enabled to live out apostolic doctrine by maintaining close contact with recorded aspects, acts, and teachings of the life of Jesus.  Abiding in the gospels, we are undeniably, boldly empowered to “do” what’s in the letters.

These words jump off the concluding pages of Woodroof’s Famous Sayings of Jesus:

The Beatitudes are concentrated principles; axioms or propositions which state eternal truths so fundamental to understanding the nature of God’s kingdom that they serve as underpinnings of that kingdom. . . .

Parables, on the other hand, are . . . like a video sent over YouTube; fully fleshed out in 3-D and living color, containing all the details necessary for a full understanding of the message.  Parables paint pictures on the mind and leave impressions on the heart.

The words above only paint a partial picture, but it is a vivid one.  The impressions left as a result of regular, close brushes with Jesus are the very impressions that give empowering grace for living Christianly.

[to be concluded . . .]

Male Marthas

I’m told that we’re still officially (who are the officials, and who officially made them official?) in the Easter Season — presumably this lasts until Pentecost, or therebouts.  This decreed season if of no concern to me.  I live in a private world of rather undesired oscillation between a) the theological reality that, ever since Jesus’ rising, the human race has been in a perpetual, eternal “Easter Season,” and resultant, ever-inspiring Kingdom call; and b) the human condition that sees me surviving and proceeding as though none of that had ever happened.

All the above is mere confessional prelude to the sharing of the following “Eastery” words, although the succeeding thoughts will similarly have nothing directly to do with Easter or resurrection.

Mary, Mary, don’t you worry.
Jesus is not dead.
He’s opened wide the gates of heaven just as He said.
Mary, Mary, don’t you worry.
You haven’t been misled.
Jesus is risen from the dead.

– as sung by GLAD – Bob Kauflin

[Although I first learned this song from GLAD, a group I came to trust and enjoy and benefit from, I choose to distance myself from the trend of paying homage to performing “artists” (who often aren’t artists at all) above the creators of the material the performers are supposedly being artistic with]

Anyway, Mary.  I know, it wasn’t the same Mary.  The one about whom those words were written was not the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet.  I just wanted to share the words above.  It was another Mary — the one from Bethany, a couple miles in the direction of the hill of the now-ancient olive trees — whose sister had attended to the serving stuff while Mary adoringly soaked up the character and teachings of her friend and Lord.

We all sort-of want to be Marys.  [That’s right:  no apostrophe there.  It’s a plural, not a possessive.]  But more of us are Marthas, I figure.  And it’s not always the women in the kitchen who qualify for the label.  I know of several graduate students who make great Marthas, for instance.  And a couple of college staff members I know are serving-Marthas-beyond-belief.

I’m struck by the memory of certain “male Marthas” in churches.  These are the guys who are always standing around attending to stuff while Bible classes and worship are going on.  They monitor the parking, they greet visitors and hold doors for people and “ush.”  They ring bells to signify that Bible classes are over.  They count money and answer the phone.  They collect the attendance records from Bible classes.  They do all sorts of things, presumably because someone has to do them.  But they never seem to be involved in serving OR eating the meat, the substance.  This lack of apparent involvement in the core of what’s going on has most often kept me from much Martha-dom, whether in the church sphere or any other.  (Are college committees places for those who are “called” to be Marthas?)

If I could see the relationship of, say, an hour of paper folding to the spiritual growth of a Bible class, I would gladly fold paper for an hour.  And if I really believed “fellowship meals” had much to do with koinonia, I would scrub pots every Wednesday night after the meal.  Since I did, at the time, believe strongly in the value of adding new songs to our church’s repertoire, I spent countless hours — maybe 90% of the total time required — putting together songbook supplements.  But often, I have had to turn the other way when encountering a Martha:  it seemed to me that that person was quite likely just disinterested in the core of what was going on and was trying, shallowly and desperately, to do something to contribute, all the while drying up spiritually.  Although a part of me respected the “servant heart,” it has often seemed to me that these male Marthas were avoiding deeper involvement and/or was simply apathetic about the real reason for being there at church.”  Perhaps I’m being a little sexist here.  The female Marthas just seemed to be doing things that really mattered, I guess, whereas the male ones seemed to be avoiding what mattered, but it could be that I had different expectations of the males.

These days, if I believed I was contributing to something worthwhile by enrolling in the MMS (Male Martha Society), I’d probably do it.  Being active, even in a surface-level support mode, is better than being bored or turned off.

To round the bend and come full circle … who could ever be bored or turned off, given the theological reality of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification at the Father’s right hand?  Me, unfortunately.  I’m just that human.  And just that bored by the periphery that so often surrounds our meager efforts to be God’s people.  And just that turned off by traditional assumptions and outmoded methodologies and religious puppeteering.

There lies an aspect of living that I need to work on — finding Jesus again amid the haze of religion.  Even if I currently felt a call to, or a gift of, prayer, I rather think I should start in the scriptures.  More specifically, in the gospels, where Jesus is seen, and where people are seen heeding Him, or (mostly) not heeding Him.  The gospels are the place where I ought to find the power to do what’s in the letters (thank you once again, Jim Woodroof) and to continue what’s in the book of Acts. 

Two years ago, I attested to Woodroof’s writings — here and here — about the centrality of Jesus and the gospels, and I’ll do so again now, this time with more disappointment in my own lack of paying attention to the gospel accounts and to the Lord they attest to.

Follow-up on centrality of the gospels

A valued, regular reader countered to the Jim Woodroof idea that we read and study the gospels more than anything else. (See prior post.)

He said, in part, “I think we (the modern church) have often neglected the old testament and other books in favor of the Gospels, and while obviously these hold core truths, to leave the rest behind is a folly in my opinion…. If it was good enough for Jesus to learn and quote from, then certainly we should do the same.”

In my experience, the gospels haven’t gotten nearly ENOUGH play! (It’s been Acts, at least until the last 10 years or so of my life, that’s been overworked.) In expressing my personal resolve, I didn’t meant to be suggesting that I don’t care about the other books. My fully “getting” the message of the gospels is central, and the rest is, by comparison, peripheral. The quote wasn’t “Read the gospels and never read the rest.” 🙂

It is in the divinity and the person of Jesus that all the rest becomes clear. Maybe we could even say that the gospels hold the key to interpretation in general? All scripture is scripture, and as such, it’s from God, but that doesn’t mean He wants us to pay the same kind of attention to a prophecy meant for the ancient Chaldeans that we pay, for instance, to Jesus’ exhortation to be one as He and the Father are one. The history of an obscure king of the northern tribes may provide an interesting, or even indirectly applicable, factoid, but Jesus’ examples of single-minded focus and nonviolent suffering are of more import. The numbers and specifics of sacrifices under the Mosaic covenant are informative, and I appreciate knowing a good deal about them, but they are spiritually helpful in comparison to our covenant, a la the letter to the Hebrews.

All scripture is authoritative in some sense, but it’s not all equally important. I think it’ll be a long time before I intentionally read Leviticus in its entirety. The Psalms, yes. Genesis and Joshua and 1 Samuel, yes, sometimes. Ruth and Esther have their place, but not alongside John and Mark (and, next for me, such pieces as Romans and Galatians and Revelation and 1 John …).

If I had an infinite amount of time in this life, sure, I’d get immersed in Leviticus, and I’d be the better for it, but not as much the better as if I’d read Luke again, searching out deeply his portrait of the Christ, in order to understand and to drink deeply. Given the lack of time, I must opt for those things that are more central. (It’s analogous to the missions philosophy question that pits France against Irian Jaya or Kenya. If there were infinite numbers of people to send, sure, we can send some to France or Italy, because they might be .05% effective with hardened souls. But given limited resources, we opt first for 2nd- and 3rd-world regions where the receptivity is greater.)

I’ll offer a few more quotes from the Woodroof book Four Realities— this time, not out of my memory, but off the pages:

The central event (the cross) can be understood only in light of the central quality of Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ action toward the thief was, and still is, a perfect miniature of what he, at that very moment on the cross, was doing on a broader scale for the whole world.

More of the record (of the gospels) is spent describing those around the cross than Him on the cross.

There is no power in “believing we ought to believe.”

Acts and the Letters to the churches were not designed to provide power. They were designed, rather, to provide direction.

Though Christ can be communicated through the word alone, it is not the best way. We know this by witnessing how God revealed himself to the human race: He clothed the Word in human flesh.

Jim Woodroof’s discovered reality

“We find in the gospels the power to do what’s in the letters.”

So said a counselee of Jim Woodroof—when he was a missionary in New Zealand, I believe. And I’ve been thinking rather regularly of this axiom for several months:

  • When launching a serious Bible study group, I was convicted that the study needed to reside in one of the gospels.
  • When homosexuality, a deep-seated set of issues, began to surface with a vengeance on my Christian college campus, I thought of Woodroof’s words.
  • I also think of them when feeling weak, dispassionate, and distant from God …
  • And while wishing Christendom would shape up and get back to scriptural faith-practice, but feeling powerless, in my small corner of the world, to effect any real change.

Really, just about any time, the idea of the centrality of Jesus is helpful. One of our church’s shepherds recently spoke these words to the gathered saints, and I didn’t even know John knew of Jim Woodroof. I don’t know whether he’d read the book Four Realities or had just heard Jim talking about this “reality” at some point.

My experience with life, scripture, and Christians tells me that Jim had hit on something centrally true–something really worth saying and repeating! And he extended this conversational experience, among other extrapolations, with a Bible-reading plan that went something like this:

  1. Read a gospel.
  2. Read some Psalms.
  3. Read another gospel.
  4. Read Galatians.
  5. Read a gospel.
  6. Read Genesis.
  7. Read a gospel.
  8. Read Acts.
  9. Read a gospel.
  10. Read Isaiah.
  11. Read a gospel.
  12. Read Revelation.
  13. Etc., etc.

If God desires it to be so and my conviction remains roughly the same, I may never read all of Lamentations or Ezekiel. I may not study Esther seriously, and not having a handle on the canonicity struggles of 2 Peter or Jude doesn’t trouble me. If I never “get” those books, I’m OK with that. But I will read and reread the gospels. God helping me, I will stay connected to the teachings and life of Jesus the Messiah.

Some sayings that come and go. Some truths, even, have impact on us for a time, and then we forget them. The ones that keep returning to our consciousness may be doing that for good reason.

Thank you, Jim Woodroof, for being the kind of person that led that woman to exclaim this truth to you so many years ago. Thank you, also, for being convicted and driven to share this reality: it is in the gospels—in Jesus—that we find the power to do what’s in the letters.