Sunday, October 27, 2013

Small Graces

Woke up this morning feeling sad and lonely.

We all get that way sometimes, and there's no real reason for it.  We can gaze at our lives in many different ways.  We could look at our successes, we could look at our failures, we could see how rewarding our relationships are or we could recognize that our relationships are really meaningless.  We could see how our work has done something important, or note that no one really appreciates the work we've done.

The funny thing is how our mood so often colors our lives.

I wonder how God feels about His life, His work.

Does He wake up some mornings and say, "No one really cares about me.  For all the praise I get, almost none of them really care about me outside of being in a group of worshipers.  Few are grateful, and for those who are, they often thank me for things I didn't do, and ignore the hard work I did put into their lives.  Believers fight tooth and nail over doctrine I never taught and ignore the basic principles I want them to live by."

I'll bet most of the time, he avoids such depressing thoughts because they really aren't helpful. Such thoughts make us depressed or angry, but I'll bet God recognizes that it's best to focus on the small good instead of the large, ignorant populations that disrespect Him though apathy or carelessness.

Perhaps that's why Jesus likes to look at the small things that change reality.  The things that seems so insignificant to sweeps of history, but are so full of God's grace.

The sisters whose brother had died.
The boy who returns to his father.
The servant who obeys his master.
The woman with non-stop bleeding.
The embezzler who impresses his boss.
The woman who lost a coin.
The man who finds treasure in a field.
The woman whose son died.

Small people.  In the scheme of world events, pretty unimportant.  But these are the small things God wants us to notice.  Not the everyday negativity, not the horrors of the world.  But the small graces that make all the differences.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Are Words?

Today I've had two discussions about semantics.

One was a discussion of the term "anarchist" by an anarchist friend of mine who complains that the term is used "wrongly" by those who use it as a popular term for those opposing any government.  Of course, that is one meaning of the word, and a more common one than his preferred use of the word "anarchist", which is a political theory where a government does not use force, but is instead replaced by a voluntary cooperative society.  

In a forum about theology, I had a discussion about the word "Christian" and if it means a "real" disciple of Jesus or just someone who goes to church.  Some claimed that since the Bible three times uses the word "Christian" for disciple, that they mean the same thing.

I think that both of these folks are supporting a fallacy about words: that they are static, have one primary meaning and that primary meaning is the "real" meaning and other uses of the word are "wrong."  What we need to recognize that besides homophones, words generally do not have a single, concrete meaning, but a range of meanings, which linguists call "semantic categories."  A word is not a sign, which will remain in one place, never changing, but rather a pool ball, bouncing around within a limited context.  The meaning in any sentence depends on the other pool balls, and we need to see where it lands.

This is the problem of having a certain set of words which are "bad".  No word is "bad" in and of itself, but it is a context it is used in which it is "bad" or inappropriate.  "Shit" isn't a bad word when you're talking about stuff in a toilet.  "Fuck" isn't bad when speaking of a sexual act privately, or when feeling aghast at a situation when speaking to certain people.  But if I'm in church or on television, I just shouldn't use those words, because the context is inappropriate.  Some would say that these words shouldn't make an appearance on a blog by a pastor.  Interesting thought...

Even so, to speak of "anarchists" negatively isn't wrong, it is just using the word in one of the appropriate meanings.  Those who classify themselves as "anarchists" politically might want to think about using a new term unless they want someone to assume something different than they intend.

In this way, I do not use the word "Christian" as if that is what saves someone.  No matter how it is used in the Bible, "Christian" is more commonly known as someone who associates oneself to the social world of Christianity, not necessarily a committed, faithful disciple.  So I'd rather use the term Christian for how it is meant in the majority of the world-- a social label.  And for those who recognize that Jesus is Lord, I'd rather say "follower of Christ."  I don't have a problem with people using "Christian" in a narrow sense.  I think it's just less confusing in most contexts not to use it that way.

If you are interested in reading about ranges of meaning for words, here are a couple articles:

The Living Word by Peter Ludlow
Word Senses and Taxonomies