Tag Archives: words

Quick Follow-Up – Polarized Words

In the “morning paper” I ran across two perfect examples of what I was talking about in changing the meaning of a word.

This is mega-church pastor Craig Groeschel piling on the word religious. Notice how he is distancing himself from what I called the voodoo ooga-booga.

Religion focuses on outward behavior. Relationship is an inward transformation. Religion focuses on what I do, while relationship centers on what Jesus did. Religion is about me. Relationship is about Jesus…One time when this happened, the person I was talking with politely shared that he didn’t like religious people. I chimed in that I didn’t like religious people either. His mouth nearly dropped to the floor. I explained that religion is about rules, but being a Christian is about relationship.

This is about Guns, liberty, and rights. First, I don’t own a gun, never have owned a gun, don’t really plan on getting one. Probably not something to say on a public forum, but I’ve always figured if someone needed to steal from me, they needed it more than I did. But take a good hard look at how the words are being used. A constitutional civil right is being called just an esoteric policy. It is being de-personalized. And the move to strip that right is being personalized when the writer says this these faces of the kids at Newtown demand “unrelenting response”. The attempt is to redefine gun control away from fascist jackboots and toward sympathetic pain prevention. It is to move a constitutional right away from a solid protection saying what the government can’t do, toward something that the government must do. Those are dangerous redefinitions.

We can have esoteric policy debates about gun ownership. I am an avid hunter, from wild boar in West Virginia to deer in Maryland, and I believe there’s a legitimate role for long guns and handguns, in sport and self-defense.

But as a country, we now have to reckon with what has happened on our watch. Our young men and women are dying on the streets of Chicago, because anyone with half a brain can figure out how to get around background checks, into gun shows, or otherwise acquire a firearm. Our kids are getting off school buses without certainty that they will come home. And three months ago, the president of our great country found himself greeting 26 families whose 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls were mowed down execution style, by a maniac who had access to a rifle almost as a big as he was. What happened in Newtown on that awful December day was not abstract. I was there with them in that bitter reality. I saw their faces. The pain of that day was unrelenting. Our response must be as well.

Exactly the same argument could be used in regards to late term abortion. The cries of those half-aborted children in Kermit Gosnell’s torture room demand an unrelenting response. Why does the Daily Beast give us a scene a day on guns, but is yet to mention the cold-blooded spine snip-er who killed far more children?

The language is being manipulated and abused by the very people who should respect it the most.

Polarized Words

Creatures of the Night
This article got me thinking for a moment.

Think for a second of words, usually adjectives, that oh say 60 years ago meant one thing, but today they have accrued a positive or a negative connotation.

Two big ones might be ‘liberal’ and ‘religious’. A liberal used to be someone who was open to different ways of doing things. Its core derivation came from the Latin word for free. A liberal was a free man. Over the previous 60 years (the heavy lifting done by Nixon) a liberal is now a sexual libertine communist. Religious used to mean pertaining to the ceremonies or rites of a religion. Spirituality was expressed in a religious way. Being religious was being devotional. Something like daily prayer was a religious activity. Now religious means roughly voodoo ooga-booga. The heavy lifting done by press treatment of religion amounting to: a) covering the extreme fringe as representative, b) covering churches as sociological expeditions and c) covering churches as pop-psychology instead of doctrinal (i.e. worldview) systems. The net effect is that we now have progressives and spirituals.

Now languages develop. Words change, become obsolete or archaic, come into vogue. (Google’s ngram viewer is fascinating in this regard. The picture is the result of it. Notice how our creatures of the night experience creation, growth, decay, fade and even fad. There are hints of truth in any polarized word. But a couple of things have entered into our world that make this more menacing. First is “Rule 13”, Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

RULE 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Changing the language to favor causes is now a strategy. Especially if you can create a poster child for the language change. Ask yourself why The Families of Newtown are still in the national news, while Kermit Gosnell’s late term abortion/infanticide mill trial for murder is a local and religious press only story. What poster children for what cause are trying to be created and buried? Why?

The second reason is twitter. As far as I can see, one of the main uses of twitter is as an up to the minute dictionary. What words are being polarized and who is being targeted and frozen by them is settled on twitter. And it happens fast. What might have taken a decade now happens in a few months. It might not reach everyone, but everyone with a ‘platform’ meaning a real ability to affect large institutions gets the messages fast. What you read in a book a year later as gospel truth, and heard as news either on the TV or in the printed paper today, was tweeted and vocabularied on twitter yesterday on in the previous week.

For a religion that also calls its cornerstone THE WORD and has a rich theology around that name, words and definitions are meaningful. So much so that the Reformers had a phrase: “scripture interprets scripture”. A real shorthand of that would be if you are pondering what a particular word means in scripture get out the concordance and look how it is used elsewhere in scripture. That is part of what it means to be formed by The Word or to build on the cornerstone. And what that does is give you some place solid to stand. As the sands around shift, Christ does not change.

Hymns we Sing #1

I’m a numbers guy. I hold firmly to the truth that if it isn’t measured it isn’t done, or said another way, the things you really care about, you attempt to track. The big problem with being a numbers guy is that the numbers never tell a full story, and they are often tracking the wrong things. They might be tracking a nominal number when a percentage or an indexed number might be better. In light of the stewardship series running, an example of that is total offering to a congregation. That is a nominal number. It is important to the congregation, but it tells you little about what you really want to measure which is something of the spiritual health of the individual. A percentage or an index that most congregations have no way to track would be better – like percent of gross income given in charity or the percent contribution as an index of when the Christian life started (i.e. baptismal year = 1). The percent tells you something good and makes it more broadly understandable as there are widow’s mites that mean more than ruler’s talents. The index would tell you even more. It might tell you the heights from which you have fallen (Rev 2:5) or it might say to you that you have not just buried the mina given you (Luke 19:20).

One of the things that I track is the hymns that we sing together. Part of our vision as a congregation is that we teach the apostolic faith and that we encourage depth in that faith. The hymnody of the church is a big place where that happens. If our typical church service is 45 mins (and here it is), about 12 of those minutes are sermon, but about 20 of those minutes are singing. The hymns carry a larger burden of the word for that day than the pulpit. And while people might exit thinking about a line from the sermon if it is very good, more often they will exit humming a line of the last hymn. The music is sticky. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of singing the same hymns once a quarter or more often. That might be very comforting to a section of the congregation, but it is not a good signal of spiritual health or vitality. In fact it is probably the opposite. It is a statement that we as a people don’t want to engage the faith in any way deeper nor learn anything new. So that is one of the big reasons that I track and keep an eye on how many times we’ve sung any particular hymn. It would be rare to hear the same hymn in our congregation more than twice in a given year. God has more to say that that.

What I intend to do in this series to walk through some of the “new staples”. These are hymns that are newer in vintage that we have sung multiple times. I want to flesh out their teaching and give an explanation why they deserve their role in our congregational life. The first one that I will discuss in Lutheran Service Book #782 Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings. We will be singing this hymn this coming Sunday. Tomorrow I will walk through it as I’ve used up my words today for an introduction.

Struggling with Words

Its been a while since I put something up. The main reason is that I’ve been struggling with the format vs. the intent. The format of the web or specifically a blog really is an off the cuff give and take medium. Nobody enjoys a good ironic line or scathing bit of satire more than me, but most of the time that is against the intent of a congregation. Irony and Satire are at best 2nd uses of the law. They point out our failings, but unlike other methods, they are rooted in cynicism. We are sinners and this is the best we can ever expect; have a nice life. The intent of a congregation of Jesus is to refute that cynicism while affirming what casuses it. We are sinners, and this is the best we can expect right now. But we live in the hope of the new creation witnessed in the resurrected Jesus. A new creation that is never perfected here, but we certainly see it in changed lives and a million little things done every day at the urging of the Spirit.

The format is also one of speed, and the intent usually requires time. There have been many times I’d have like to put something up, but then said I’d think that goes under a church’s banner. Speed causes mistakes. Speed causes you to say things you regret. The blog is an experimental place first. It is like pan sifting for gold. There are a bunch of rocks that get tossed. That causes problems and stress when you stop to think that this is going under a church’s banner.

All that said, I came accross a quote the Rod Dreher threw up on his site here. I couldn’t not reference it. And start to think that maybe I’m expecting too much. That maybe my conflict is just a poor reason to avoid trying. That Luther’s snarky phrase – “sin boldly” – might not have a better use.

All your dissatisfaction with the Church seems to me to come from an incomplete understanding of sin. This will perhaps surprise you because you are very conscious of the sins of Catholics; however, what you seem actually to demand is that the Church put the kingdom of heaven on earth right here now, that the Holy Ghost be translated at once into all flesh. The Holy Spirit very rarely shows Himself on the surface of anything. You are asking that man return at once to the state God created him in, you are leaving out the terrible radical human pride that causes death. Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified in time, and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly because she is a Church of sinners. … All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others. To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. God has chosen to operate in this manner. We can’t understand this but we can’t reject it without rejecting life.

Human nature is so faulty that it can resists any amount of grace and most of the time it does. The Church does well to hold her own; you are asking that she show a profit. When she shows a profit you have a saint, not necessarily a canonized one. I agree with you that you shouldn’t have to go back centuries to find Catholic thought, and to be sure, you don’t. But you are not going to find the highest principles of Catholicism exemplified on the surface of life nor the highest Protestant principles either. It is easy for any child to pick out the faults in the sermon on his way home from Church every Sunday. It is impossible for him to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his own lack of strength, give ups hi life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it.

It is what is invisible that God sees and that the Christian must look for. Because he knows the consequences of sin, he knows how deep in you have to go to find love. … You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it.

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life, and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Charity is hard and endures; I don’t want to discourage you from reading St. Thomas but don’t read him with the notion that he is going to clear anything up for you. That is done by study but more by prayer.