Sorbet as a symbol

For centuries, orthodox Christendom has articulated something about God that the scriptures do not spell out.  For centuries — somewhere between 17 and 20 of ’em, I think — those with influence have taught a doctrine, and we have come to accept, without questioning, that this teaching simply is.  Hold that thought. . . .

Humanity’s finest moments do not come when we simply accept things without question.  To start with a minimal example, take the word “a.”  It’s so common — in over-zealous attempts to be emphatic — to pronounce “a” like the name of the letter.  Yet, despite these frequent mispronunciations by public and not-so-public figures, this English word is always properly pronounced “uh” (roughly a “schwa” sound), and never “ay.”  Again:  there is never an instance, in spoken English, in which the word “a” should be pronounced “ay.”  It’s just the way it is, and there’s no use questioning the reality.

Similarly, just because a well-intentioned, ill-informed public speaker says, “God gave this to you and I” (inaccurate use of the subjective case) or pronounces the word “interesting” with four syllables (“INN – tur – ess – ting”), it doesn’t make those things correct.

What about sherbet?  It is a logical certainty that the majority of my readers will turn out to be among those who mispronounce this word.  Were you raised calling it “sherbert”?  That doesn’t make it correct.  (Now don’t go getting all aggressive and accusative on me.  I know there are lots of things I learned incorrectly, too.)  You can pass it off as a matter of choice all you like, but that doesn’t change the fact:  the word is “sherbet.”  It is an adulterated pronunciation that includes an “r” sound in the second syllable.  All attempts to justify said mispronunciation are misguided.  It’s just the way it is.

[Aside:  for some interesting history on sorbet/sherbet, see this Wikipedia page, including information under the “American terminology” heading.  In reading this, I had a couple of presuppositions confirmed — 1) that Americans can sometimes be a bit confused, and 2) that sorbet is entirely a fruit product, whereas sherbet is distinct and has some dairy content.]

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Now, please consider the way in which words change in meaning as time passes.  Morphings, adulterations, and corruptions are limited only by the number of hours that pass!  Will the word “a” ever be considered correct when pronounced “ay,” and will the pronunciation “sherbert” ever be thought accurate?  In both cases, the answer seems clearly to be “yes, already.”  While the reality of this answer frustrates my “righteous” side some, I must admit that neither of these matters much.  The preexistence of some things — being “just the way they are” — is not so eternal, not so consequential as with other things.  Whether you call it “sherbet” or “sherbert” or “sorbet,” its essence is unchanged, and it’s still a treat.

But what about the Christian “Trinity’?  Most of my readers assume this doctrine with certitude.  Yet presumptions have come into play through the centuries.  Is it just the way it is?  Or are there questions to be asked?

Although there are Old Covenant books I’ve never read entirely (and although that fact doesn’t bother me very much), I consider myself very conversant with the whole of New Covenant scripture.  I feel I can say with confidence that the NC scriptures never present deity as “trinity.”  There are several oblique, have-to-look-to-see-it references that seem to suggest three, but there is no place in which scriptures assert, “God has three parts, and here they are:  A, B, and C.”

For nearly two millennia, demagogues of religion have inculcated trinitarian doctrine, and we have come to accept, without question, that trinity simply is.  As with “sherbert,” the fact that someone has heard it that way all his life, presuming it was accurate, doesn’t change whatever the reality is.

Please understand that I don’t think God is not three.  I don’t think God is necessarily two, or three, or one, or any other number.  (There is a certain hold that both the unity and the duality of God have on my thinking in this arena, yet God still could be three in another sense.  I prefer to think of God as bigger than any of these numbered boxes.  I suppose, if given a multiple-choice question on this matter, I would refuse to answer the question and ask for an essay exam instead.  (Go figure — this from a verbose blogger!)

When it comes right down to it, God is God, and that very fact defies human explanation.  In view of abundant evidence of a cosmological designer, the mystery of God’s pre-existence is something I accept in faith, but the division into parts — whether “two” or “three” or any other explanation that might come in the future — amounts to nothing more than a human attempt to explain the transcendent God, to express His being in a reasoned manner.

Pictured here is one variation of something commonly known as “rainbow sherbet.”  We might presume that the flavors are raspberry, lime, and orange.  What if you found out, though, that raspberry has been mulberry all along, and that the lime and orange stripes are really both the same kiwi-tangerine flavor — and that your eyes, perceiving two different flavor-colors, had been playing tricks on your tastebuds all these years?

No matter!  It’s still a treat, and the essence is still sherbet — a good thing!

Colossians (1)

Our study of Philemon is now history.  My written rehashing of some important things that grew out of the study is also now past.  Time to move on!  As our study of Colossians gets seriously underway – we’ve now read the text aloud twice and have discussed some situational factors that may play into the construction of the letter – I wonder what’s ahead.

In the other two study series (Mark and Philemon), we have enjoyed substantial, trusted material to draw on.  Now, with Colossians, we are more “on our own.”  To be frank, it feels a little early to be setting off without the same brand of compass, but we’ll trust that God will use patterns with which we’re now more familiar to guide us hermeneutically.

There are a few things I “know,” based on life experience and prior study.  For instance, because of a relatively longstanding acquaintance with, and attention, to diction and pronunciation in various languages, I feel rather certain that the way Brett Favre’s name is pronounced is a careless corruption of the French.  Mere celebrity and a few years of paparazzi do not a new pronunciation guide make.  And don’t get me started on the pronunciation and misspelling of “sherbet.”

Oh, I know, you can never tell how English words will be pronounced.  There are so many ways to pronounce the letter combination “ough” that we Englishers ought to know how rough it can be as we hiccough through it all.  See (this amusing poem for more fun-poking.)  Pushing aside the inconsistencies of what Howard L. Chace has dubbed the Anguish Languish, and the plenitude of which Richard Lederer has also parlayed into newspaper columns and books such as Anguished English, let me acknowledge this:  the adulteration of clear principles and institutions of Christianity will be infinitely more significant than the oddities, vicissitudes, and errors of English pronunciation and usage.  Yet, just as the likes of Lederer can say a lot of things with relative certainty because of his history in studying English and other languages, because of a longstanding “conversation” with God’s literature, there are some things I can be relatively sure about.  Some things do seem clear.

Knowledge puffs up, Paul famously said in his 2nd letter (1st canonical one—see reference in 1 Cor. 5:9) to the messed-up Corinthians.  It doesn’t matter whether one merely thinks he knows, or actually knows.  Either way, knowledge can get him into trouble. I do know this.  So, as we proceed into Colossians, and as I prepare and lead, I publicly confess awareness of these things:

  • the apparent surety of insight gained from long-term experience
  • the great likelihood that human inadequacy will set my judgment off course and my insight askew

It is my desire to uncover God’s message conveyed through Paul in this letter, throwing off any prejudices that may hinder the ascertainment of said message, all the while utilizing any insight gained previously, toward a fuller, more apt understanding of this letter in its original historical, spiritual, and literary context.  It is then (and only then) my desire  to apply the message to the current day.

I, Brian Casey, am typing this with my own keyboard on Sunday morning, January 23, 2010.[1] I type this for my own sake, for the sake of those in the group that may read this, and for my small corner of the blogosphere (in no particular order)—that we all may be reminded of the need to be humble as we approach scripture.

Father God, because of the One and Only Son through Whom the cosmos was created, and because of our desire to be wrapped up in the called-out family of believers of which He is Head, help me/us to see what you want us to see in Colossians.  Please work clearly and influentially in this study of an important piece of communication, written as Your Kingdom spread in the 1st century.

[1] Col. 4:18; 1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; 2 Thess. 3:17