Friday, July 22, 2011

Snobbish dog walkers

I walk our dog Dabo several times a week around the neighborhoods of our community. Each time, we meet up with several other dogs being walked by their owners. Dabo is sociable. When he sees another dog up close he goes crazy, stands up on his hind legs, and wants to stop for a while and visit. I do too. I figure it's a good way to get to know my neighbors.

But no. Invariably, these owners pull their dogs close, keep their distance, and walk on past Dabo and me. In fact they hardly make eye contact with me or even say hello. Their priority seems to be to protect their precious dog from Dabo's germs and shenanigans.

Why is that? C'mon people. Relax already. Let your dog talk to Dabo.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A plea for plain speaking

We Christians (including me!) are some of the worst offenders when it comes to using worn-out cliches and expressions the average person doesn't understand. I've always felt this way, but an article tweeted by my friend Randy Greenwald nudged me to go on the record and say, Let's speak plainly!Link

In the Christian community we've developed a vocabulary all our own. We know what we're talking about...I think. But people outside or new to the church must scratch their heads and wonder why we talk like we do.

For example, we pray "God, bless so-and-so," instead of simply asking God to give so-and-so some money or whatever it is. We say to our worship leader, "That was an awesome worship song," instead of "Thanks, I enjoyed that." We tell a friend, "I'd covet your prayers," instead of just saying "I need help." We baptize with near-canonical authority catchy phrases said by our favorite preachers, like "Let's drill down into this passage" or "God really showed up last Sunday." In a former church I often called the congregation "beloved" - three syllables, of course. Where did I get that?

And for some reason a lot of Christians say "God" again and again throughout their prayers. I don't know about you, but when I'm having a conversation with, say, my friend John, I don't start off every sentence with "John." Repetition of God's name in any context comes pretty close to being the babbling and "vain repetition" Jesus warns us about in Matthew 6:7-8. We would all do well to regularly review the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), a model of brevity and simplicity.

And why did Christians suddenly become "Christ-followers"? There's nothing wrong with the expression, of course, and I understand that "Christian" is a bad word in some places. But I get the feeling that the regular use of "Christ-follower" now entitles the speaker to a place at the table with all the hip, emerging church leaders of the day. A few years from now, what will we call Christians?

Recently I listened to a panel of Christian leaders speaking on the subject of the emerging church. (By the way, there's another one: is there anything more obscure than the word "emerging"?!) I wish I had a dollar for every time one of those guys used the word "conversation." That's such a nice, touchy-feely word, probably intended to soften the very real disagreements that the various speakers had with each other. My recommendation: Stop talking about having a conversation and tell it like it is! Let it be a real debate, not a "conversation."

In the article referred to above, author Karen Prior lists other "Christianese" words that need to be tossed. Here are a few examples, followed by my comments:

  • "love on" - Why can't we just say "love"?
  • "love well" - I hear this all the time. But again, why can't we just say "love"? You either love someone or you don't. How does one "love [someone] well"? Is it even possible to love someone "un-well"?!
  • "community" - Now here I'm at a loss to know how not to say "community." I agree that it's overused. But it's an important, Biblical word and I don't know what to put in its place. I certainly don't want to go back to the old word "fellowship"!
  • "just" - Many Christians use this word all the time in prayer. "Lord, I just want to thank you... I just love you, Lord... We just praise you for your grace... Just give us a heart to know you." Why do we say "just" so often? What does it add to the request? Prior is right when she surmises that it's used to express humility. OK. But again, do you talk to your spouse that way? "Hey honey, would you just make me a sandwich? Let's just go to a movie. I just love you." Nope.
  • "anointed" - Here's a word the average non-Christian has no category for. We say, "That was an anointed sermon." Why not simply tell the preacher you liked it, and give a reason or two?

William Penn said, "Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood." What suggestions can you offer to help us be people who speak plainly and are therefore understood?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer reading list

It's been a good season of turning pages for me. A week's vacation at the beach is a great help. Here are some of the books I've read or am reading this summer...
  • The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. Collins is a Christian but also a believer in theistic evolution. He rejects intelligent design and creationism, but manages to hold on to the idea that God created all things out of nothing. I struggle mightily to reconcile Collins' arguments with the Bible's teaching about, for example, Adam and Eve (see next book on my list). But I'm glad he's on our side.
  • Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, by C. John Collins. This Collins, professor of Old Testament at my alma mater, Covenant Theological Seminary, responds to the previous Collins and to others who are abandoning belief in a historical Adam and Eve. I agree with the author that "the traditional understanding of of Adam and Eve as our first parents...is the view articulated or presupposed in Genesis, in Paul, and above all, in the Gospel presentation of Jesus. The alternatives are less satisfactory, and possibly even disastrous...." (pg. 133).
  • Decision Points, by George W. Bush. This book reveals many personal as well as executive aspects of the Bush presidency of which I was unaware.
  • A Patriot's History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. I love reading US history, and this book written by two conservative professors of history covers the whole story all the way into the post-9/11 years. The authors' intent is to give a fair and honest review of American history with particular focus on the ideas of character, liberty, and property.
  • Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurson. This is a fascinating, true chronicle about the 1991 discovery of a German WWII U-boat sunk sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey. The book focuses on the contributions of two divers in particular: John Chatterton and Richie Kohler. The author takes you into these guys' personal stories and underwater to find answers to questions about the U-boat's origin, crew, and tragic demise. I got so wrapped up in the tale that I bought a DVD called "Hitler's Lost Sub" and watched the 1981 film Das Boot. I had no idea German U-boats sank so many of our ships during WWII and patrolled right off the US coastline!