Comma Placement, Panda Character, and Bible Translation

A  useful and delightful aid for anyone who, attempting cogent communication, might like a rule or two about punctuation marks such as apostrophes or commas, Lynne Truss’s best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves really is balm for the souls of English language “sticklers”—English majors, copy editors, writers, etc.—the sorts of folks who, lest the world fall into chaos, hold serious opinions as to whether or not the possessive of a proper noun ending in “s” requires simply an apostrophe or also another “s.” Is it Curtis’ or Curtis’s? (I’m not sure I’m happy about it, but modern usage and rules tend strongly toward the latter; Truss does say, though, that the possessive of “Jesus” is always formed by adding the apostrophe only. Good.)

Even the title of Truss’s (note the possessive) book makes me smile. Two pandas adorn the dust jacket. One is on a ladder inserting a comma after “Eats,” and the other is walking away, two-leggedly upright, holding a pistol in one paw. You see, the installation, or not, of that comma matters. (And you can count me firmly in the camp of the “Oxford comma”—comma in a series—folks who’d argue that, if a comma after “Eats” is included, an additional comma after “Shoots” is also in order.) If you opt for a comma or commas, the panda in question is a full-bellied criminal on the run after assault with a deadly weapon. If you opt for no commas, he’s simply being described as a typical panda.

This sort of thing doesn’t just matter to pandas and fussy English majors. Time magazine has reported that a court in Maine recently awarded five million dollars to a dairy company’s drivers because of “the lack of one Oxford comma” in a list of their tasks “legally exempt from overtime pay.”

Word folks have long found in commas potential for combat. Truss notes the good-natured but real battles between humorist James Thurber and New Yorker editor Harold Ross in the 1930s and 40s. Ross loved commas; Thurber eschewed them, opting for a star-spangled “red white and blue.” Ross, the boss, would undoubtedly go for “red, white, and blue.” Thurber opined that “all those commas make the flag seem rained on. They give it a furled look.”

Oh, and here’s a note to give one pause. (Why does that make me think of pandas’ paws?) The earliest manuscripts of the Bible were written with basically no punctuation at all. The early manuscripts of the New Testament contained no punctuation AND were written in all capital letters. I survived two years of biblical Greek, which I’ve mostly forgotten, but we rarely messed much with capitals and, since I was never a fraternity member, I’m quite fuzzy on them. Throw me overboard into an ancient Greek manuscript, and I’d be completely at sea.

Everyone’s job is more difficult than anyone else thinks, but Bible translators, a much-maligned and misunderstood lot, deserve combat pay and our undying gratitude. As Truss mentions, punctuation placement in English in Isaiah 40:3 determines whether “a voice” is “crying in [the midst of] the wilderness” or pointing toward the wilderness. Highly-educated translators are incredibly proficient at making good, wise, and defensible choices for such options, or letting us know in a footnote that “options exist, and here they are.” (See the NIV note on Isaiah 40:3.)

We really needn’t worry much about such. I think we can be very sure, and immensely thankful, that we have God’s revealed Scripture and that folks whose job it is to worry about translation and thus punctuation do, on the whole, an amazing job.

But don’t try to tell those Maine dairy drivers, or pandas whose character is in question, that comma placement doesn’t matter.



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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“We’ve Made It Through One More Time Change”

Well, we’ve just made it through one more time change.

I’ll check in a minute (note the subtle time reference), but I always have to think about whether we’re going ON to Daylight Saving Time or going OFF of it. ON is the spring thing, right? We seem to be doing one or the other pretty much all of the time, or at least every ten minutes or so. About the time my internal clock makes peace with the most recent chrono-lux-economy change, it’s time for the next one.

The handy little mnemonic device . . .

By the way, mnemonic devices are handy by default (and what a cool word); I don’t recall ever meeting an unhandy mnemonic device. If I don’t recall it (that ill-fated meeting of a device designed to help one recall stuff), it’s probably because I failed to grab one of the assuredly handy little mnemono-thingies as it scurried by). I digress.

The best mnemonic device for DST’s advance or retreat is “spring forward, fall back.” So last night before heading to bed, having conjugated “spring” just for good measure (I spring, I sprang, I have sprung), I sprang up off the couch in search of clocks from which to steal an hour.

Ah, but before any of us waste time in this supposedly light-saving mandated clicking, turning, tapping, or dialing forward of more clocks than any home, vehicle, or office can possibly need, we face a precision decision.

Adrian Monk (I loved that TV series) supposedly had two carpentry levels. One he occasionally used; the other was his level-checking level which, twice a year, he took to a hardware store to be calibrated. A man after my own heart.

My clock-checking clock is the U. S. Naval Observatory’s master clock. The Department of Defense (and most of the world) trusts it. Since it is supposed to “neither gain nor lose one second in about 300 million years,” I accept it as a pretty decent standard for me, too, as I’m standing in the kitchen amidst three digital clocks—two on ovens and one on a microwave—and trying to get them to agree and move on to the next displayed minute within a window of discrepancy I can tolerate. My rule is that they need to be displaying exactly the same time three-quarters of the time. (I can live with that; Mr. Monk could not.) Anyway, once I’ve determined that my computer and my cell phone are both in agreement with the USNO master clock, the time-setting commences.

They (the experts) say that this twice a year time-tinkering (look up biannual, biennial, and semiannual to view an all-out brawl between word-parsers) has some advantages, but it can mess a bit with our Circadian rhythms and thus our sleep. And that, I postulate, tends to make some of us a little loopier and a tad more eccentric than usual. I offer this column as support for that belief.

I love the Apostle Paul’s meaning-packed phrase in Galatians 4, “When the time had fully come . . .” That’s when God sent his Son to save us and, the apostle writes, to free us from the futile slavery of trying to save ourselves. Nothing in the universe has been the same since that Son-light-giving saving time.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“No Statute or Regulation Shall Be Enacted Into Law Unless…”

As I write this week’s weak column, Texans are one day away from the 2018 state primary election. I’m too late to add one more ill-fated proposition to the list of mostly D.O.A. propositions already on the ballot.

But I’d like to submit this one: “No statute or regulation shall be enacted into law unless two existing laws or regulations are rescinded, removed, deleted, trashed, shredded, deep-sixed, done away with, gone.”

I should’ve floated that idea to some political candidates while they were still in moon-promising mode. They’ve been pretty busy sending out mailings, littering the landscape with signs, and making television ads. Most of the latter require a big cowboy hat (cattle are optional), a pickup, a shotgun or three, a promise to out-conservative fake conservatives, and a pic of the family praying before a meal or heading to church—all sandwiched between vicious attack ads that should make a pagan blush. Most of these folks seem to think voters are idiots, and we voters have done precious little to disabuse them of the notion.

We may all lose, but some candidates will eventually win, and I wish the winners would consider the proposition I’ve mentioned. Why? Because having too many laws is the surest way to erode respect for the law. We do a lousy job even of trying to keep God’s Ten, but we’ve got so many laws now that even normal people (Donald and Hillary and special prosecutors by the boatload are not normal people) can’t get out of bed without breaking a law before breakfast. If your faith is in government, you may find this state of affairs reassuring; I do not.

I loved a recent Wall Street Journal commentary by attorney Mike Chase who has so far posted a thousand laws, one a day, on Twitter at @CrimeA-Day. He’ll never finish (he says that in 1982, the Department of Justice tried to count the total number of federal crimes and gave up), but reading these is a hoot, and here are a few.

It’s a federal crime to transport a toy torpedo bigger than 23mm in diameter.

It’s a federal crime (hereinafter IAFC) to sell “egg noodles” that aren’t ribbon-shaped.

IAFC for a hamster dealer to put a hamster on an airplane without enough for the afore-mentioned rodent to eat and drink during the flight.

IAFC to market as “wing drumettes” any bird part that is not the humerus of a poultry wing.

IAFC to sell antiperspirant that “lasts all day” unless it reduces armpit sweat by 20% over 24 hours.

IAFC to import honeybee semen if it’s not Australian, Bermudan, Canadian, French, British, New Zealand, or Swedish bee semen.

IAFC to engage in Canada goose population control by shooting geese from a parked car, but not if you’re missing one or both legs.

And so on, ad infinitum ad nauseam ad heehawingum.

I admit that human kingdoms need some laws, but the Lord Jesus has told us that in his kingdom, two are enough: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. I’m thankful that Christ’s sacrifice means that, while his people are confessed law-breakers without a single self-justifiable leg to stand on, we’re forgiven sinners with two good legs to dance on as we praise God forever for his mercy and grace.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Why Does Finding Real Rest Require So Much Discipline?

Why is resting so hard?

One definition, “freedom from activity or labor,” surely makes “rest” sound rather appealing, maybe even like something we should try on occasion.

Just a brief Internet search will result in scads of wise quotations on the benefits of rest. Some sound almost like a sop to Type-A hyperactives who won’t say “Good Morning” unless it fits into their business plan and the utterance is duly scheduled. Charles Spurgeon was not among that group, but he told the truth when he said, “In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”

Some quotes are simple and wise: “Rest is not idleness,” wrote John Lubbock, “and to lie sometimes in the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

Someone took a few of those words and, understanding our tendency to actually feel guilty if we ever rest (how incredibly dull, stupid, and full of ourselves we are!) wrote, “All rest is no more idleness than all sex is adultery.”

The research keeps stacking up. Sleep less than six hours a night for a couple of weeks and our performance scores will plummet, our blood sugar levels will rise, our waistline will expand, we will actually begin to show levels of psychosis, and (this one is my own observation) we might even begin to compulsively and irrationally tweet in the middle of the night. Run long enough without rest and someone in your family will be the “barometer” who first begins to reflect the stress and begin to be in “distress.” Count on it.

Oh, and by the way, the Creator of the universe thought rest important enough that he gave us a commandment along that line. Disregard the truth at the heart of any of those Ten and a price will be paid. The principle at the heart of this one, no matter what pseudo-Bible scholars may say as they quibble about Sabbath, is no different.

Because he loves us, God tells us to take time to rest. Really rest. The kind of rest that means significant time for praying, playing, sleeping, filling up, soul-growing, recreating, thanking, breathing, not producing, just being. Taking time to rest may be one of the most faith-filled God-honoring activities of all as we follow his loving command, believe his promises, stop, and trust him to spin the world for a few hours without our help.

Let’s be honest. More often than not, we have a very hard time finding the kind of discipline it takes to intentionally pursue this kind of rest. Obstacles abound, mostly between our ears, but also many things not bad but just incredibly unbalanced in our lives.

Jobs. Especially the more we confuse what we produce with our value; the way we make a living, with our life.

Phones. The more panic we feel when we’re away from them for five minutes, the more desperately our souls need to be away from them for much more than five minutes.

Electronic “balls and chains” in general. Unplug!

And, oh yes, balls. All shapes and sizes. We’re masters at making even our “fun” with them a grueling amount of stress-filled work.

And have you noticed? We’re so terrible at resting that we often make even our vacations utterly exhausting, about as relaxing as a forced march in wartime.

Unless we’re in complete denial (we may be; addicts always are), the problem is obvious. I can’t prove it, but I suspect it lurks near the heart of much of the soul-distress, the depression, the lack of joy, the loss of purpose, and the fractured relationships littering so many lives. As individuals, families, and a society, we pay a staggering price for our refusal to listen to the One who made us, to take time to truly rest, to let our souls breathe.

We need his grace and power in all things—even and maybe especially to have the real strength and uncommon wisdom it takes to find and fill up on regular times of genuine rest.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Dust Returns to Dust, What Kind of Wealth Matters?

Wealth. How varied and strange are the uses of that word.

More often than not, when we use the word “wealth,” we’re talking about money, a necessary commodity, for sure. But measuring wealth is not as easy as it might seem. A boatload of financial wealth, if allowed to possess us, may amount to less than a nanoparticle of the wealth that matters, the sort that frees us. (Oh, and this is tricky. A grasping, greedy soul can be throttled by much or by little.)

Surely you don’t have to think long to call to mind some folks the world labels “successful” simply and only because they have money but who are utterly pathetic and appalling by any other standard. Wealthy, are they? Well.

If you have more dollars or dinars, more pesos or pounds, more shekels or shillings, more francs or marks or rupees or yen, than anyone else in the world, you will most certainly be called wealthy. Your life will be quite different from that of the poorest person on the planet—right up until one millisecond after both hearts stop and both souls are launched toward the only accounting that really matters.

But back in this world, some other accounting may actually continue for a bit.

The first spreadsheet will be a short one. “Amount of money dead filthy rich guy (or gal) or dead pitifully poor guy (or gal) takes to grave” will be zero. Naught. Zilch. Nada. May I press that truth home? The zero for deep pockets guy will look exactly the same as the zero for no pockets guy.

The heirs of our hypothetical not-breathing folks may be arranging for their bodily passage to putrefaction to be first class or coach, but it won’t matter a worm’s eyelash to the honoree whether he’s boxed in hand-waxed cedar (cushioned in comfort) or Amazon-recycled cardboard (stowed in a bag amidst those white packing “ghost farts”). Eventually, dust is dust is dust and pretty much just dust. Beautiful cemetery or pauper’s field, million-dollar mausoleum or a fish’s belly in the bottom of the sea, the location will matter not in the least to the deceased.

But another inventory and another sort of spreadsheet will be left behind in hearts that remain beating. Perhaps this inventory will be counted by tears of gratitude. By warm memories. By smiles. By a life well-lived. By a large soul that valued relationships far more than things and planted seeds of joy and love, mercy and trust, in all the good hearts it touched, seeds that will bear sweet fruit for generations to come.

In God’s economy, rich folks and poor folks and all the many more folks in between can all possess the wealth that truly matters and lasts beyond the grave. “Treasures in heaven” begin to be accumulated when we treasure what truly matters right here. If we’ve not given ourselves away to our Creator and to those we love before we leave, what we leave behind will only be dust.

It will matter not whether kings and queens attend our send-off. The sweet tear of a grandchild we taught to love the One who will bring us together again forever, and the “well done” of the Author of life who walked with us all of our life and receives us now, will be worth immeasurably more. Wealth indeed.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Ah, Winter! How Do I Love Thee?”


Ah, winter! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Reason #1: Christmas usually comes during winter, thus Reason #1 by itself would more than tip the scales.

Reason #2: Christmas singing (where “yours truly” gets to croon Christmas tunes) comes, yes, indeed, during Christmas which . . . well, refer to Reason #1.

Reason #3: My favorite days tend to be days during which I get to spend at least a little time reading, drinking coffee or tea, and/or just breathing in front of our fireplace. (The only thing better than a good book is a good book in front of a fire.) Those days almost never come during summer; consequently, score a win for winter!

Reason #4: Nothing in nature is more beautiful than snow. And when, pray tell, does snow tend to fall? Bingo. Winter. (And snow falling on a mountain in winter? Perfect!)

Reason #5: Snow falling from the sky (though no moisture at all is falling from the sky this winter) is far superior to dust, dirt, real estate, and small animals flying across the sky. When weather prognosticators in our area talk about “spring-like conditions,” it’s usually code for “wind, dirt, and drought.”

Reason #6: Grass does not have to be mowed during winter. My yard never looks better than under a blanket of snow, and though brown grass is not beautiful, neither is it needy. Being able to ignore it gives me three extra hours a week to do stuff I’d rather do, like read and enjoy the fire. Oh, I love a nice green yard for a few months, but “few” is not eleven, and eleven would be insufferable. Winter is mower parole.

Reason #7: Valentine’s Day comes during winter. It is not, honestly, that I’m all choked up about that pseudo-holiday, but, much to my surprise, Cupid’s season has become a big one for me singing-wise. I love singing for joyful reasons, “for sentimental reasons,” and for lots of other reasons, and winter’s when I get to do a bunch of it.

Reason #8: Though the Olympic Games actually take place every two years, my very favorite edition is the Winter Olympic Games, which occur in . . . Yes. There’s never a time when I don’t enjoy watching skiing, bobsledding, snowboarding, and all the other amazing stuff folks do on frozen water. Give me food, drink, a fire, and these ice-based Olympic games, and I’m happy as a clam at high tide, as a pig in sunshine, as a ski jumper nailing a perfect landing after a near-miss with a Boeing 777. Snow-deprived here this year, I’m lovin’ it even more.

Reason #9: Our family’s annual ski trip (we’re not talkin’ water skiing, here) comes in . . . ditto. These reasons are not in order, or this one would be way higher!

Reason #10: Clear, crisp winter air is the best air you’ll ever breathe, paired very nicely with clear, crisp, star-kindled winter skies.

Thank God indeed, our Creator is Lord of all seasons and his joy is woven into them all. I just think he does some of his very best work in winter.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Thinking About Thinking Can Be Difficult

I’ve been trying to do some thinking—which is harder than I thought. I’ve tried it a few times before, but what’s made this latest attempt particularly difficult is that I’ve been trying to think about thinking.

This is Alan Jacobs’ fault. A Baylor University professor, Dr. Jacobs has recently written a book entitled How To Think. I figured he wrote it because as a college professor grading thousands of student papers, he sees firsthand how rare it is for real thinking to occur. But a better clue to the book’s purpose is its subtitle: “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.”

You don’t have to think about it much to realize that lots of us don’t think much. But almost all of us think that folks who disagree with us socially, politically, religiously, etc., are folks who don’t think much at all—or at least not very well. It turns out that we have more in common with those folks than we think: none of us think enough about trying to recognize even the iceberg’s tip of the biases we all bring with us to our own thinking.

Jacobs has a name, by the way, for “those folks.” He calls them “repugnant cultural others” or RCOs, for short. We all have RCOs, and we all are RCOs for somebody else.

Here’s the rub. We don’t like those “other” folks. We actually do find them pretty repugnant. It doesn’t take long to think about the way hard-line Republicans feel about dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, for example. Then pick out any of a jillion other groups or issues and, well, there you have it.

We don’t understand those folks; we don’t like those people. We don’t plan to understand those folks; we don’t plan to like those people. Which means we almost always succeed in our plan. This all means, of course, that we don’t know each other, and we don’t intend to. Knowing each other just a little, we might like each other even less, but . . . well, we might be surprised to find that we actually do share a few likes/dislikes. Chocolate, or something.

Sadly, disastrously for any kind of dialogue, we listen to social or other foes for about two seconds before in our social media-ravaged minds, we hit Like or Dislike and start mentally (or actually) tweeting. Jacobs recommends that we listen to each other for a few minutes, all the while being vigilantly on our guard lest we immediately enter “Refutation Mode.” That’s when we quit listening and start formulating our own arguments. Then he suggests waiting for almost an eternity—five minutes (twenty-four hours is better)—before beginning an assessment of the other person’s opinion.

By the way, true and false are real deals. Some other folks’ convictions really are grounded in truth; some are truly false. Yes, and the same is true in the mirror. But we’ll come a lot closer to learning something when we realize that we all have a lot to learn—particularly from folks we’d love to never listen to.

If we don’t think we have any biases that at times foul up our own thinking, Jacobs suggests a quick perusal of a Wikipedia article, “List of Cognitive Biases.” It is, as he warns, depressing to see how seriously affected our thinking is by biases that have almost nothing to do with the issue at hand. Oh, we still may be correct on the issue. But being aware of our tendency to be biased can produce a couple of real blessings: better thinking and deepening humility. Both make for fewer rifts and better relationships.

Hmm. It seems that I remember Jesus telling us to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. And didn’t St. James say something about being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (1:19)? I’m thinking that’s wise counsel.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Lord, How Often Do I Have to Forgive?”

The Apostle Peter once came to Jesus with a question: “Lord, how often do I have to forgive?” (Matthew 18:21).

“Lord,” he seems to be saying, “I’m a reasonable man. I want to do the right thing. If my brother or sister keeps sinning against me, how many times do I let it go by? Maybe, say, seven times?”

It seemed reasonable. It seemed fair to Peter. To be honest, it seems fair to most of us. But you know how Jesus answered: “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Just FYI, translations vary here. Jesus may be alluding to Genesis 4, and, I’m told, depending upon whether he is quoting from the Hebrew or the Greek version of the Old Testament, the translation of the number varies. In English, some versions render the number as seventy times; others, as seventy-seven times or seventy times seven times, etc.

Unless you’re a Bible translator, or are planning to start counting offenses lest you forgive too much, does it matter? There is no limit to forgiveness, Christ is saying. You must forgive your brother “times without number”!

“But, Lord,” we’re tempted to protest, “aren’t you carrying this forgiveness thing too far? You don’t know what that person has done to me!” (Ever notice what a nice, warm, fuzzy concept forgiveness is—until you actually have something to forgive?)

But still Jesus speaks clearly: “Forgive.” He never says that it’s easy or simple. He just says that it is absolutely necessary.

To help us understand, Jesus does what he does so well. He tells a story. You may remember the tale. It’s the story of the unforgiving servant.

It seems that a very wealthy king once showed great mercy by forgiving the debt of a servant who owed him a huge sum amounting to millions of dollars. As this freshly forgiven servant was leaving the king, he met a creditor of his own who owed him twenty dollars or so. He lunged at the man, tore at his throat, and screamed at him to pay his debt immediately. The poor fellow could not pay, so the servant had him thrown into jail.

Remember the king’s reaction to this injustice? He is absolutely furious. He immediately reinstates the wicked man’s debt and sends him to prison until he can pay the entire amount.

Jesus makes the point clearly: “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Luke 18:35).

Our Lord’s words are as true today as they were when he first spoke them. Forgiveness is not an optional item in Christianity. To say, “Dear Lord, I need your help to even want to try to forgive” may be absolutely honest and realistic. To say, “Lord, I’ll forgive when that person acknowledges wrong, asks for it, deserves it,” is just another way of saying, “Lord, I refuse to forgive.”

If we would receive forgiveness, we must be forgiving people.


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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.




“And So This Panda Walks Into a Café and . . .”

One of the most delightful (“filled with delight”) books that I’ve ever been given (thank you, Betty Little!) is the “Runaway #1 British Bestseller” Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by author and journalist Lynne Truss.

I find it interesting, surprising, and incredibly encouraging that, at least back in 2003 when this book was published, folks had the good sense to buy it and propel it to bestseller status.

You see, this is an incredibly humorous book about a subject crucial to the survival of the human race: punctuation. I’m not surprised to find me spending some time searching the Web to find pros and cons for whether “bestseller” is at its best when hyphenated, not hyphenated, or broken into two words. Working with words is a significant part of my work, but evidently a good many other folks care about such things, too. Wow!

The title of this book (I just said “this book” so as not to have to decide between “Truss’ book” and “Truss’s book) comes from the great word-nerd joke about the panda who goes into a café and orders a sandwich. After the meal, he proceeds to pull out a gun and shoot twice into the air. When the astonished waiter asks why, the panda, on his way out, tosses a “badly punctuated wildlife manual” toward him and says, “I’m a panda; look it up.” The waiter does: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The joke, you see, is humorously pointing out the importance of the “serial comma.” It’s also known as the “Oxford comma” (since Oxford University Press style required it). A good article in Wikipedia defines the serial comma as “a comma placed immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.”

Style manuals—even the major ones—vary in their rule on this. It’s the difference between “eats, shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Word people have serious opinions about this. As Truss says, it would be a serious mistake to sit in a bar between two copy editors who hold different opinions on this issue and might at the moment short of inhibitions. I myself am fairly passionate about the serial comma. Use it! Why risk plunging headlong into chaos?

Speaking of chaos, I’m working with a friend right now to decide the style rule for the ellipses (that’s two or more of the little three-dot doohickeys) that show up in his novel. Style guides vary widely (… or . . .). Truss is right: “The ellipsis is the black hole of the punctuation universe, surely, into which no right-minded person would willingly be sucked.” I wish the major style manuals would get their act together on this one. Alas, no. Not even close.

Sometimes a copy editor just needs to take a hike and breathe some fresh air unpolluted by misplaced apostrophes and confused uses of en and em dashes.  It’s good for me to remember that when the Author of life published our salvation, he needed no punctuation at all. Only one Word (John 1:1-14).



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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“There Is Nothing New Under the Sun”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” writes the wise man in Ecclesiastes (1:9).

That argues for knowing something about what has already taken place under this old sun. And that means learning, and learning means reading. Three cheers, for sure, for math, science, and technology, but, however proficient we are with them, if we’re willfully ignorant of history, we’re just technologically advanced (and very dangerous) fools.

You see, the same challenges keep cropping up in this old world. At their deepest level, the waters every generation must navigate have been traversed before. George Santayana long ago told the truth: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Along this line, I think I’d like to propose legislation that requires high level elected officials to spend at least an hour a day reading history. They can easily prune the time from what they’d normally spend fund-raising or generally blathering, and (this is scary) reading a book might be a new experience for many of them. Why would we ever trust anyone willfully ignorant of the past to try to plot a course for the future?

By the way, pastors who know nothing about church history are every bit as frightening as the politicians I’ve just taken a swing at. The mountains Christians of all eras have made from molehills are the very same ones ancient Christians shoveled up to trip over.

This morning I enjoyed another of James Kiefer’s brief biographical sketches, this one on the life of Church of England Archbishop William Laud (born 1573).

Kiefer writes that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, some Christians in England (Puritans) objected to clergy and choir members wearing a garment called a surplice. Cassocks (a garment normally black and floor-length) were okay, but these folks strenuously objected to the wearing of the surplice, “a white, knee-length, fairly loose garment with loose sleeves” because it was not specifically mentioned in Scripture and because it had been a custom of Roman Catholics. (It’s basically the same thinking, Kiefer notes, that caused Puritans and their many descendants to object to Christmas and a host of other practices.)

Archbishop Laud felt that the garment was nonetheless “seemly and dignified,” but the Puritans persisted to protest religiously, stinkily, loudly, and even violently. One group of Puritans broke into an Oxford chapel one night, stole surplices, and stuffed them “into the dung-pit of a privy.” This was just one issue, but Laud, increasingly unpopular, was eventually imprisoned and hanged as he prayed for peace and an end to bloodshed. (You can sing this story to the tune of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Archbishops.”)

Until I read that, I didn’t know a surplice from a surplus. It was new to me, but the “rock” upon which those folks wrecked is no new danger to navigation. The Puritans were neither the first nor the last to try to twist the New Testament into a book of codified law. The Apostle Paul warned ages ago (read 2 Corinthians 3) that if we seek salvation through stone-cold law rather than through God’s Spirit, we’ll end up fussing, fighting, and wrecking our souls on tables of stone. That course, trusting in a code rather than a Savior, has never led to life and joy and peace; it can’t, and it never will.

No, there really is nothing new under the sun. I doubt we could make any truly new mistakes even if we worked incredibly hard at it. But it would be nice, and a God-honoring move in the right direction, to try to avoid stumbling over so many old ones.



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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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