29 September 2009


We so often attempt to seek after the things that are intangible. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are part of our country's history, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Love and beauty and truth are three more that seem to be embedded in the American Dream (another intangible).

The biggest problem with intangibles is how reliant they are upon language. When we talk about tangibles like water, trees, television & family, we have something to which we can point to act as a definition. Without anything physical to direct us, we are forced to rely strictly upon language to define the ideas of love, happiness and the rest.

Rising out of this conundrum is a glorious problem. The problem we run into is the diverse definitions that grow from single concept. It's glorious because it gives a greater perspective than one single person can achieve.

Take the idea of 'community'.

Last week, i went to a church that was discussing this, how to be a community to each other. They had looked at the second chapter of Acts the week previous, which talks about sharing everything in common and living lives together.

There is a new show in Thursdays titled 'Community' that plays on the concept of the community college. It's about a misfit study group of seven people who grow, humorously, into a small community.

There is a game on facebook called mousehunt. The developers constantly are talking about the mousehunt 'communitay', as one South African developer pronounces it. They are talking about those individuals who make friends with other hunters and share tips and advice on the game.

Every city has some sort of community center, where people can hold events, learn how to swim, or defend themselves, or take their toddlers during work. It's a center in service to the community, for its betterment.

Each of these holds some piece of a shared core idea.

The trouble comes when we communicate with one another, keeping our intangible idea stuck in our heads, immovable, and the person we're talking with has another perspective of that intangible idea. If neither of us is willing to bend our minds around the other person's perspective, the conversation will just become a frustrating exchange of words.

22 September 2009

Punctuate Properly? Er, Properly.

This will probably be the least popular blog entry i've written. Not even due to something cool like controversy. Instead, this will be the blog people read halfway through and don't want to finish. Why?

Nobody cares about punctuation.

Or should i say: Nobody cares about punctuation!

In school we first learn about end punctuation: the period (.), the question mark (?) and the exclamation point/mark (!). (The Brits call it a mark, which makes more sense to me since the point is the smallest part of the symbol.) Then we talk about middle punctuation like the comma (,) or the colon (:) or the semi-colon (;), but we got so bored during the first section, we didn't pay attention to the second.

We know how to use periods, question marks and exclamation points pretty effectively, even if we do tend to abuse the power of the exclamation. The rest of them we just do our best and hope we're right.

Sometimes, that's not good enough.

It wasn't until 1963 that the Michigan constitution corrected a punctuation error that drastically affected the meaning of the law, and slavery. For over 100 years it read 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crime, shall ever be tolerated in this state.'

It's easy to miss unless you look more closely. It says that both slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal, unless it's acted out as punishment for criminal activity. In 1963 they corrected the error, simply by moving the comma after 'law' to fit in after 'slavery.' That correction outright rejects slavery in all forms, but allows for involuntary servitude as long as it's an act of punishment for a crime.

A misplaced comma hijacked the sentence and changed the meaning of it, drastically.

Even a simple piece of punctuation that that isn't as complicated as a comma can throw things off course.

A shop in Dublin, Ireland was recently seen with a sign that read 'Were Open.' Imagine what a prospective hire would think if they walked by a similar sign that read 'Were Hiring.' Obviously they should have moved more quickly; they've missed out on the job!

The missing apostrophe changed a present action to something that has passed.

It's understandable that people don't know or use colons or semi-colons; they are confusing and you can get by without using them. They get more use in smileys than sentences. However, we can't get away with avoiding commas or apostrophes.

Here are some guidelines with both.

Likely Page Break

* Used to break up thoughts, like in this sentence. I can get away with cutting off everything after the comma without affecting the core meaning of the sentence.
* Sometimes that non-essential clause, the idea separated from the rest of the sentence by commas, lands in the middle of the sentence instead of the beginning or end. These two sentences, as well as the Michigan state constitution, are prime examples.
* Also, use them when listing items. If you have a comma phobia, you can lose the last comma (the one that goes before the word 'and') without confusing the reader or getting funny looks from people.
* Don't listen to people who say put a comma where you breathe. Those people are stupid.


* Show where a word is missing a few letters, either due to a contraction (don't comes from 'do not') or just due to the removal of one or more letters (pot o' gold, rock 'n' roll).
* Also shows possession (Bill's home). Remember, if you can flip it around to say 'home of Bill' it should be a possessive apostrophe.
* There is a distinct difference between its and it's. This is the one possessive that doesn't have an apostrophe. Read it's as 'it is' in your head to keep the two separate.
* Single apostrophes can also be used as quote marks in place of the American English standard of quotation marks (or double apostrophes). In England, the single quote is the standard. (I use the single because i think it helps the page look cleaner.)
* Not to be used when making an acronym plural (DVDs is correct; DVD's is not; remember, they aren't owning anything and there are no letters missing).

Now that you have a few guidelines for the comma and the apostrophe, maybe it's finally time to figure out when to use that semi-colon; or not.

14 September 2009

A Church By Any Other Name

As followers of God, we have a fascination with interesting names for our houses of worship and prayer.

We forget that a name is powerful. God renamed Abram, Jacob & Saul when they began journeys for God. The prophet Hosea gave his children names based on the Lord's instruction. The boy Jezreel was a reminder of their sins against that city. Lo-Ruhamah translates to 'not loved,' & Lo-Ammi means 'not my people,' names that reflected God's attitude toward Israel.

I always seem to come back to her, but that's only because of how much truth she wrote. In Walking On Water, Madeleine L'Engle wrote, 'Our names are part of our wholeness.' The same holds true not just for people but for locations, like Church.

So if the name is so important, why do we name our churches such oddities as 'Warehouse 424,' 'First Baptist Church,' 'First Church of God,' or 'The Christian Center?' (All of those are actual names of churches.)

Those four names aren't even the worst i've come across; however, they are the easiest to poke fun at in an illustrative way.

I've grown up knowing about the various First Baptist Churches of the world. I've never really understood what it meant to call your church the First Baptist Church. It seems we need to be seen as winners. It can get confusing, though. If you live in Houston and someone says they go to FBC, do they mean Houston's First Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Houston, Greater First Baptist Church or plain ol' First Baptist Church? What does it mean to be the FIRST Baptist church in an area? Does it matter? Why is there more than one? We should find the absolute first Baptist church and give the name to them, all the while making the other First Baptists the world over change their names.

(There is a Second Baptist Church. It, too, is located in Houston.)

If it's arrogant to call yourself First Baptist Church, what does it mean when you are First Church of God? Unless you can count the heritage of your church body back to Abraham, or Adam, or even Jacob/Israel, then i'm not sure you can call yourself by this name. It gives you this sense of importance that other churches can never acquire.

The trendy thing now is to not even mention church in your church name. It's as if you can trick people into coming if you call yourself 'Warehouse 424' or some other name that sounds equally cool on a clothing store or a night club.

The worst, i think, is substituting 'church' with 'center.' Not only do you take out of the name this concept that's gone back thousands of years, but you make it sound like a one-stop shopping spree, but for Christians. I'm not sure if there is a membership fee, or if they manage to finally capture an accurate picture for their club cards, but Target is still ok in my book.

Why don't we spend more time thinking about the names and what they actually mean, as well as their impact on the populace? When we give all our churches the nondenominational moniker 'Community,' we need to back that up with some community impact.

The name should reflect who you are. If you want to be first, or most important, or biggest, then maybe we should let you be First Baptist or First Church. But if you want to show that you care about people and their growth with God, maybe something more akin to Disciples Church would be good.

08 September 2009

Spiritual Warfare for Dummies

I was talking with a roommate last week and he was telling me about his night at Cesar Chavez park in downtown Sacramento. He went there with friends to talk with individuals from the homeless population about Jesus, as well as give them sandwiches. When i asked him how it went, he responded with the classic phrase: 'It was spiritual warfare.'

I don't like this phrase.

I don't think i've ever used it.

The reason i never use it is how inexact it is. I had to ask him to clarify what he meant by 'spiritual warfare' because i had no clue what he meant.

I knew what he meant in the very broad sense. But i asked for a picture of his evening and he painted one with rollers. I got the mood of the night through his colors, but i had no idea what picture he was drawing.

He meant that they ran into some difficulty they knew to be from, or attributed to, Satan. But i still didn't know, until he explained, what his night was like.

Maybe 10 people signed up to talk to the homeless, but only 2 show up. It's spiritual warfare within the church that people don't act.

Maybe nobody was around. It's spiritual warfare not fulfilling the intent of the evening.

Maybe the conversations with the homeless were disheartening. It's spiritual warfare to run into discouragement.

Maybe they had people throw fruit at them. It's spiritual warfare to be physically attacked.

Maybe a person or two got sick while walking the park. It's spiritual warfare to be distracted from your mission.

What does 'spiritual warfare' describe? It should be a descriptor of a war between two sides, heaven and hell, with humanity caught in the middle. Instead, it describes any action that's working against you. It turns out, there was a woman they weren't even talking to that attempted to pull the conversation away from them and redirect it toward a tangential topic during a good conversation with a couple of guys.

I'm not saying that the woman wasn't directed to break into their conversation by some evil force. I don't know. That's another reason i don't use the term often; i am not adept at discerning when something is just broken people reacting in a broken world and when something is deliberately attempting to sabotage the working of good.

The reason i bring this up is that we, the Church, use this term too flippantly. If there is uncertainty about the source of the discouragement to the work, don't automatically attribute it to Satan and his minions. We are broken people all by ourselves. We can mess things up without his help.

When we do use the term 'spiritual warfare,' we need to ensure we back it up with specifics. 'Spiritual warfare' does not describe what happened. It may be accurate, but it's not precise. If my roommate asks me what i'm watching, and i say 'The television,' i get smacked on my head. It's accurate, but not precise. We need to not only mean what we say, but say what we mean.