Random Lent Thought for Sunday March 26th: Inflated Speech

Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:36, NIV 2011).

A few years ago a machine left a message on my answering service. The machine said, ‘Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman would like to personally invite you to…’ At that point I stopped listening, because I realized that if Raj Sherman and I can’t even agree on what constitutes a personal invitation, I probably don’t want to attend whatever it is he’s inviting me to. A personal invitation is an invitation delivered by one person to another person. A machine programmed to make robocalls cannot deliver a personal invitation.

This is an example of how inflated speech has crept into our vocabulary. Another example, one that has become to common that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so meaningless, is for people to describe themselves as ‘passionate’ about something. “I’m passionate about reconciliation’, or ‘mission’, or ‘building community’. Personally, I’ve always thought it was better to let other people describe me as passionate (or not), rather than making that claim for myself. But nowadays you can’t just be ‘interested’ in something, or even ‘quite good at it’ – you have to be ‘passionate’ about it!

Another example is in the baptismal liturgy in the (Canadian Anglican) Book of Alternative Services (that we took over lock, stock, and barrel from the American 1979 Prayer Book), in which we are asked ‘Do you promise to obey (Jesus) as your Lord?’ I am absolutely certain that no one who has made that promise has ever kept it; the absolute best that I, infected as I am by original sin, can promise is to TRY to obey Jesus as my Lord. Once again, inflated speech.

From Anabaptist and Quaker friends I’ve learned about the deep desire for truthfulness, for simple speech, that makes us reluctant to speak more than we can deliver. An oath is dangerous because it gives us the illusion that we’re in control of the future, when we’re not even completely in control of our portion of the future (all sorts of calamities beyond my control can effect my ability to deliver on the oath). To simply say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, or ‘I’ll do my best’, is to acknowledge our human finiteness and the fact that we’re not ultimately in control. To say “I’m actually quite interested in church growth and I’ve done a lot of reading and learning about it” (if it’s true) is probably (for 90% of the people who say it) more modest and honest and accurate than to say “I’m passionate about church growth”.

It concerns me that our politicians have been using inflated speech for so long that they don’t realize that they’re making the language meaningless (and you all know who I’m thinking about right now, although he’s only the latest manifestation of this). But that isn’t what should concern me the most. What should concern me the most is the number of times I myself treat language like this. God is not impressed with my outrageous exaggerations. God, the psalmist tells us, ‘desires truth in the inward parts’ (Psalm 51:6, KJV). May the Lord deliver us from inflated speech, and may he teach us the virtue of truthfulness and modesty.


Random Lent thought for Wednesday March 15th: ‘Junk Will Always Expend to Fill Available Space’

Here’s another one of my favourite sayings: ‘Junk will always expand to fill available space’.

And here’s one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:10-21).

You and I have been formed by a culture in which our right to store up for ourselves treasures on earth is considered sacrosanct. A huge advertising industry is dedicated to making us discontented with what we have, and success is most often defined in terms of increasing wealth. But here Jesus stands against this and unmasks it for what it is: idolatry: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

Back in the 1970s there was a saying: ‘Live simply, that others might simply live’. I’m fortunate (although it doesn’t always feel that way!) to be married to a woman who cares deeply about the simple life and who regularly goes through the house, identifies things we don’t use and don’t need, and finds a charity to give them away to. We’re also fortunate in that we live in a small house, so there isn’t much space to accumulate junk anyway, because (as I said above) junk will always expand to fill available space.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. How am I putting this teaching of Jesus into practice in my life? How about you?

‘Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community’, by Leah Kostamo

planted-by-leah-kostamoThis book is both the story of A Rocha Canada and also a good primer on a Christian approach to creation care. Early in the book the author names four theological principles on which the work of A Rocha is based: (1) The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1), (2) Creation is good (Genesis 1:31), (3) Everything is connected (Hosea 4:1-3), and (4) We are to have hope (despite the fact that ‘knowing what conservationists know, it’s only logical that they would be tempted to despair).

The data about the deterioration of our natural environment seems overwhelming at times, but nevertheless I came away from this book with a sense of hope and a feeling that there are things – maybe even just little things – that everyone can do. But I particularly resonated with Leah Kostamo’s three recommended attitudes: (1) Practice Gratitude, (2) Practice Generosity, and (3) Practice Keeping the Sabbath.

Like many people, I’m in favour of creation care in theory but often take the easy way out. This book gave me both a sense of hope and also a few things to be working on.

Leah Kostamo’s website is here.

Planted can be purchased from Amazon.ca here.

Words from Wendell Berry

Wendell-BerryI would like to say that Wendell Berry is one of my great heroes. However, if I were to say that, people could legitimately turn to me and ask, “Then how come you’re not living a more environmentally sustainable life?” And I don’t have a particularly convincing answer to that question – an answer, that is, that doesn’t come down in the long run to my own laziness, apathy, and hypocrisy.

Wendell Berry recently gave a TV interview to Bill Moyers; you can watch it here. Here are some of the good quotes:

BILL MOYERS: You wrote quite recently that the two great aims of industrialization, replacement of people by technology and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small plutocracy seem, in your words, close to fulfillment. What do you think from your life’s experience might stall the momentum and perhaps even reverse it?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t know. There are two or three things that we haven’t been able to confront or even acknowledge politically. One is that the aim of the Industrial Revolution from year one has been to replace people with technology. So it’s a little contemptible to hear these people express in surprise at this late date that we have an unemployment problem. I don’t know that there’s any politician of visibility who could say that. So that’s, it’s important for people like me to say it, who have no power.

The other thing that we’re having trouble confronting and both sides are having trouble to confront it publicly and speak of it, is the disaster of being governed by the corporations. Those fictitious persons. And uh, you know you’re waiting for the day when some politician of stature and visibility will finally say, we can’t have this any longer, we’re here in Washington or Frankfort to represent the people, not to be employed or bought by the corporations and to serve them.


BILL MOYERS: Faith. You still consider yourself a Christian.

WENDELL BERRY: I still consider myself a person who takes the gospels very seriously. And I read in them and am sometimes shamed by them and sometimes utterly baffled by them. But there is a good bit of the gospel that I do get, I think. I believe I understand it accurately. And I’m sticking to that. And I’m hanging on for the parts that I don’t understand. And, you know willing to endure the shame of falling short as a price of admission. All that places a very heavy and exacting obligation on me as a writer. A lot of my writing I think has been, when it hasn’t been in defense of precious things, has been a giving of thanks for precious things. So that enforces the art.


BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.


You can read the full transcript just below the video on the Bill Moyers website. Do.

Hopefully, a bit of wisdom for 2013

I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions because I’m not good at keeping them, but here are a few nuggets of wisdom to take into 2013. A few old saws here, but true nonetheless.

‘Most folks are as happy as they choose to be’
 – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

“Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
Gandalf, speaking to Frodo about Gollum in Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’.

‘Junk will always expand to fill available space, and work will always expand to fill available time. So building more storage space is not the answer, and neither is working longer hours’.

‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’
– Jesus, Luke 12:15 

‘From the lying moon to the movement of stars,
Everyone’s wondering who they are;
And those who know don’t have the words to tell,
And those with the words don’t know too well’
 – Bruce Cockburn, ‘Burden of the Angel/Beast’

‘Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.’
Polonius, in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ʿloveʾ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
– C.S. Lewis, in ‘Mere Christianity’

‘There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by maneuvering and finessing, but by vigour and resolution.’
– Mr. Knightley to Emma Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’

‘Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you’re making’.
– C.S. Lewis, in ‘Mere Christianity’

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy’.
– Portia, in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’

‘The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination’.
– C.S. Lewis, from a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’
 – several places in the Old Testament

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’
– Jesus, Matthew 7:21

‘So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’.
– Jesus, Matthew 5:31-34

‘My Backpack is My Office’

From Reed’s latest blog post:

Lately people have been asking me “Where will you be operating Street Hope?” I tell them that my backpack is my office. I carry my planner, a notebook and pen, my Bible and my Kindle, with my phone in my pocket I’m all set.

There are many days when I long for that sort of simplicity! I often tell people that when I moved to Arborfield in October 1979, the most complicated piece of technology in my office was a rotary dial telephone. My letters were all written by hand and they all took at least a week to reach their destination, so no one got bent out of shape if they didn’t get a return email from me right away. I was very busy, but the deadlines were few, so ministry was relational.

There are lots of things I appreciate about our modern connectedness (hence this blog post!), but I think I need to rediscover some of that old simplicity as well…