no joking matter

not speakHaving recently posted my degree dissertation on ‘A Theology of Humour’ it feels appropriate to be making an observation on the recent comments by Boris Johnson about women wearing Burqas. I am not going to give Mr Johnson’s comments any publicity by repeating them save to say that I consider them to be reprehensible and offensive, especially when written by someone with his public profile.

Had the hideous comments been made by someone in a far right organisation there might have been a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. If you doubt that this is the case I was deeply distressed to read a report last week of how some yobs had been abusing and harassing a lady wearing a burqa in such a way that it was clearly ‘inspired’ by Mr Johnson’s comments.

It has been suggested that Mr Johnson should not be censured for his comments because they were “a joke”. Even if that was so it was in extremely poor taste. But a joke can still be offensive and can still incite others to copy them because the words, once released, carry a life and notoriety all of their own and any humorous intent can swiftly be lost.

And it’s this ‘joke’ concept that has niggled away at me – perhaps because I have recently revisited my dissertation. It seems to me that there is a very fine line between laughing at someone or something we hold affectionately – like laughing when one of our friends says something unintentionally funny – and ridiculing someone we do not respect – which feels like the tone of Mr Johnson’s comments, particularly given his (apparent) unwillingness to apologise for them.

I think there may be some sort of comedic continuum here with concepts like: ‘parody, lampooning, caricaturing, send-up, spoof, and satire’ at one end and ‘mockery, scorn, ridicule, derision, contempt, disdain, sarcasm, jeering’ at the other. The problem is that it is very difficult to know where satire becomes ridicule, or lampooning becomes jeering. And I think the answer is revealed as much by the outcome as the words themselves and the intent of the author, and perhaps as much by the (lack of) affection or respect we have for the subject.

Words, once spoken or written and released publicly, are not harmless. I can remember reciting the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” as I was being verbally bullied at school. It was intended as a defence mechanism because I was unwilling to become physically violent in response. But deep down I knew that those words did hurt. It was not only the words themselves that hurt, but I knew that there was disrespect and hatred behind them.

If we let a domesticated, well-trained dog off the lead in the countryside and it harasses or savages a flock of sheep we have to take responsibility for that and I believe we also have to take responsibility for what we say even if the words have taken on a significance and meaning we did not intend. That is true not only for Mr Johnson, but for all of us. In the letter written in the Bible by James (possibly Jesus’ brother) we read in chapter 3 verses 3-12:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus was even more direct (Matthew 12):

33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

Gulp.

Be blessed, be a blessing

brexit stage right?

I have tried to resist the change, I have tried to make a stand, I have tried to persuade others, but in the end it seems inevitable that ‘Brexit’ has entered the English language. It’s such an ugly and clumsy word – a lazy amalgamation of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’ to denote the decision in the EU Referendum last year for us to leave the European Union.

way out signEvery time I hear the word it sets my grammatical hackles rising. I wondered whether the Bible had anything to say about it and found this verse (out of context) Proverbs 8:13:

 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Surely the word ‘Brexit’ counts as ‘perverse speech’ doesn’t it?

But I think I am going to have to accept that ‘Brexit’ is a word now. It has entered common usage and also entered our dictionaries. It doesn’t mean that I have to like the word, but I should recognise that my one person campaign against it (predominantly through passive resistance by not using the word – yes, I know, I’m a real RADICAL!) is not going to change anything.

I wonder how much emotional and physical energy is expended by people trying to protest against the unchangeable and trivial?

It’s important to notice two things about that rhetorical question:

  1. I am talking about the unchangeable and trivial. We can get hot under the collar about the most minor things and turn them into a point of principle. If you don’t believe me, read historical minutes from Church Meetings in the past where there will have been lengthy discussions about the colour of carpets or even (shock! horror!) about rotas.
  2. Notice that I wrote energy that is ‘expended’ not ‘wasted’. Some energy is wasted on protesting against the trivial, but some is well-spent influencing and affecting decisions. We should not meekly accept change that is unjust, that heightens inequality or that diminishes other people.

So where is all this leading? I don’t think I am likely to embrace the word ‘Brexit’. I will continue to use ‘leaving the EU’ or a similar phrase if I want to talk about it. But I will try not to allow the use of ‘Brexit’ to carry negative emotions and shape my opinions about other people who choose to use it.

If you look at the verse from Proverbs 8 in a slightly wider context (verses 12-13)we read:

‘I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
    I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Prudence, knowledge and discretion are all associated with wisdom, which is primarily about how we relate to God and others. If I let something trivial rile me it will only erode my relationships! Whether or not someone chooses to use the word ‘Brexit’ is surely less important than how I relate to them, isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

dis

dictionaryIn an early edition of yesterday’s bloggage I made a typo that completely changed the meaning of a phrase. I had edited what I had written from ‘I do not agree…’ to ‘I profoundly disagree…’ I replaced the ‘do not’ with ‘profoundly’ and thought that I had successfully added ‘dis’ to the front of ‘agree’ but when it was published somehow I had failed to do so and the sentence began ‘I profoundly agree…’

That put a very different meaning on what I wanted to say.

Thankfully a kind friend (thanks Alan!) noticed and rather than pointing it out publicly on social media he gently sent me an email pointing out the lack of ‘dis’ and assuming that I didn’t mean to say what it looked like I was saying. I immediately edited the version on my blog and pointed it out on social media in the hope that people would be alerted to the mistake.

It got me thinking, though, about the difference those three letters make. You’ll have to indulge me a bit in the musing below that may or may not evolve into a poem, but I have certainly taken poetic licence:

Spirits are dampened if dis is present and a heart-and courage are lost.

A dis can disempower different ability.

Agreements and unity fall apart in the presence of a dis.

A harmonious chord can become painful to hear when a dis is added.

It’s much more difficult for a sentry to stand still if there’s a dys.

If dis is missing a theory is proved.

But without a dis – gruntle is puted, tances are indistinct, a turbance is roughed up, traction is hard to maintain and the meaning of tort is twisted.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

addidges

Some words start to sound funny when you say them out loud a few times. They may start off sounding fine, but when you repeat them they start to take on a different audio character.

dictionaryTry these (repeat them slowly out loud 4 or 5 times):

Bliss

Grumbling

Indulge

Adage

I hope that you are doing this, especially if you are reading this bloggage in a public place. Hehehe.

Adage is not only a word that starts to sound funny, it’s not even pronounced how it’s spelt. It should be ‘add ayj’ but it’s often pronounced ‘addidge’.

An adage is a saying that becomes accepted as true over a period of time, often observations about life and human behaviour.Here are a few adages:

“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

“No peace for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21

“Pride goes before a fall” Proverbs 16:19

I want to start off some new addidges:

“Life is like eating a box of chocolates on a sunny day. We all come to a sticky end.”

“No peas for those with pea allergies.”

“Gravity goes with a fall”

“When things go wrong there’s not always anyone to blame, but anyone can be involved in making it better.”

“To become a wise old person you need to live a long time and listen more than you speak.”

How does something become an adage – how widely does it have to be accepted? How long does it take before something becomes an adage?

Based on a glance at social media it seems that some people live by adages – they find an apt saying to go with a photo of a kitten and it goes ‘viral’ so that suddenly it’s a new adage to live by.

What are your adages? What is the truth that underpins your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

super script

On Sunday morning I was preaching (not unusual for me) and asked the question: “Why is it that noses run and feet smell?”

It is a characteristic of language that words can have more than one meaning and in the case above it creates a punderful play on words when you juxtapose two such incidences. It can create confusion when we read words out of the context in which they were written or spoken. I remember seeing this newspaper headline in a Sunday School session when I was a child and could not see anything wrong with it:

“Man beats dog”

I was thinking of a race so thought it was actually quite an impressive feat (we used to have a Labrador called Bonnie so I knew that running faster than a dog was difficult). But the wider context showed it was actually an article about animal cruelty (and explained why the others in the group were horrified when I said that I was impressed by the headline).

962092_scripture bentVery few of us are scholars in Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. This means that reading the Bible in whatever translation we are using is an exercise in interpretation. Usually it’s obvious but occasionally there is a word that could mean more than one thing and the context does not make it clear which is which. That’s why there are sometimes footnotes at the bottom of the page offering an alternative translation for a word. And it’s also why sometimes when someone is reading from one translation in a church and you have a different one the words they use are different because the translators opted for one or other of the possible meanings.

It’s also why new translations are written because the scholarly understanding of words is continually growing. For example a manuscript may be uncovered that somewhere that may have been an ancient Hebrew shopping list but provides insight into the use of language that informs the understanding of the same word in the Bible.

I am not a scholar in Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. I studied Greek for 2 years at Bible College and Hebrew for 1 year and somehow managed to pass the exams. But that was over 20 years ago. Today  I invariably check out footnotes when they are there in my Bible (rather than skipping over them) because that will give me a ‘heads up’ that there is more than one meaning of the word . I also rely heavily on the scholarship of others – my commentaries on the Bible are the most valuable source of wisdom, understanding and guidance when it comes to understanding this astonishing book. The learning of others helps me understand the nuances of a word or phrase.

So, for example, in Philippians 1 there is a phrase that is translated as ‘carry on to completion’ relating to a church. Imagine a sculpture that has been created where the form and shape of the sculpture have been established but the sculptor is never completely satisfied with his creation so he keeps on making adjustments, adding details, polishing and refining the sculpture.  Or imagine a computer programmer who writes a program that does the job it is designed for.  However the programmer will then continually be engaged in a process of sorting out any bugs and glitches, adding enhancements and new updates.

‘Carrying on to completion’ has a similar sense to it.  It reflects that there is an ongoing process of becoming complete, or as one writer has put it, God is always adding his finishing touches to the church. God has established the church and is committed to sustaining it.  However, he is not satisfied with leaving it at that.  By the work and inspiration of the Holy Spirit God is always engaged enhancing churches – encouraging them to improve in one area of church life or another; inspiring them to try new things or even to stop doing old things; prompting them to consider going further in mission, to meet more needs, to share the good news in different ways.  That process will continue, according to Paul, until Jesus returns.

No church should ever sit back and think, “We’ve done it.”  We should never be content with the way things are.  There is always room for improvement.

All that from understanding the background!

So when (not if) you read your Bible, don’t skip over the little superscript letters, stop, check them out. Of course you’ll never know if you never open your Bible!

Be blessed, be a blessing

expect the unexpected and other silly things we say

not speakI was listening to the radio recently and the interviewer was asking his expert interviewee about the financial crisis in Greece. He asked the expert what surprises lay in store as the process unfolded.

To be fair the expert was not fazed by such a daft question and pointed out that by their nature surprises were impossible to predict. Then he said that we had to expect the unexpected.

I know that the phrase is used to encourage people to be ready for anything but when you look at the bland meaning of the phrase it’s rather silly isn’t it? Unexpected things are, by their nature, not something we can expect. If we expect them they cease to be unexpected.

We say all sorts of things without thinking them through:

“Don’t come running to me if you fall off and break your leg.”

“Close your mouth when you eat your food.”

And so on…

Sadly we also say hurtful and cruel things without thinking them through. Sometimes, if we speak reactively, we can say things that we instantly regret, but we can’t unsay them. Sometimes we might even intentionally say things that we know will hurt.

And we learn to expect the unexpected. We learn to anticipate that someone will not respond well to a suggestion that we make, so we hit them back first by getting in a pre-emptive strike.

Jesus suggests that what comes out of our mouth is based on our heart (Luke 6):

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

So if we want to be more careful about what we say we need to ask for God’s Spirit’s help with our heart, not our mouth. We all need a change of heart.

Be blessed, be a blessing

mind your language

Regular bloggists here will know that I love language, and I am fascinated by the way it evolves. I have even attempted to introduce new words and concepts into the English language (bloggist, bloggage, technoloiterate, for example) but so far to no avail. I wonder what it is about a new word that enables it to make the transition from local use to global acceptance (you know it has ‘made it’ when it is accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary, or it stops being underlined in red by computer spellcheckers).

Recently, however, a new phrase has come along that jars with me. It grates. Something about it just feels a bit slippery – almost as if it is the result of ‘spin’. The phrase in question is ‘pre-loved’. If you have not come across it before it is now being used to replace ‘second hand’. It comes alongside ‘vintage’ and ‘recycled’ as a euphemism that is trying to overcome the snobbish stigma that seems to have emerged about ‘second hand’ goods. Does something as simple as changing ‘second hand’ to ‘pre-loved’ change our attitude towards it?

Embed from Getty Images

And then, reflecting further on this, I wondered whether we are, in fact, pre-loved. Not in the sense of us being reincarnated, but the sense within the Bible that God knew us and loved us even before we were born.

Psalm 139 includes these words:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

And Jeremiah 1 begins with:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

So perhaps before I get too concerned about things being pre-loved I should accept that I am pre-loved myself! How does that make you feel?

Be blessed, be a blessing