Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Shortest Distance in the World

The shortest distance in the world is the space between hero and heel.

On that first Palm Sunday the cheering crowd lay palm branches in Christ’s path as he entered Jerusalem. By that Friday we call “Good,” how many of those same voices were crying, “Crucify him!”?

Jesus was not surprised. The prophet had said long ago that God’s servant would be “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). And we’re told that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:24), that he knew humans “inside out” and “didn’t need any help seeing right through them” (The Message).

But it had to hurt. On Sunday, a crowd is praising; on Friday, a crowd is cursing.

On Sunday, they’re praising the one they hope will inaugurate an earthly kingdom and shed the blood of the hated Roman conquerors. On Friday, they’re screaming for the blood of the one whose spiritual kingdom seemed short of swords and firepower.

But Jesus was not surprised. Soon he will look out over the city (foreseeing her doom) and weep, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who bring you God’s news . . .” (Matthew 23:37).

Now Entering Jerusalem: Hometown of [Supply Prophet’s Name] read the signs put up by the Chamber of Commerce. No fine print mentions the names of the upstanding citizens who’d years ago put the prophets to death. “The shortest distance . . .” Short and selective memories, too.

But what if Jesus had just agreed to be the kind of king they wanted? Judas probably could have saved his blood money. James and John could have taken seats as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, though the Romans might not have let that “kingdom” last long.

Yes, but if Jesus had simply listened to Satan, agreeing to bow before the Prince of Darkness in exchange for worldly power, Rome would’ve gone down! I wonder how many despots today, not to mention their predecessors already moldering in history’s dust bin, would grab just such a deal? (Or name any size tyrant, any size venue.) What if Christ had chosen to call legions of angels to take him off the cross and destroy the world (he knew that he could), well, talk about power!

What if, like the crowd in Jerusalem, we prefer Jesus to be the kind of king who’ll give us everything we want—easy lives, health, wealth, success, political clout, etc.? And what if he doesn’t?

The crowd wants a revolution. Judas wants one, too. Right now! Peter pulls out a sword to fight. And Jesus, with power completely beyond the understanding of power players and blowhards, shakers and movers, fighters and king-makers, is so strong that he lays down his rights even as he lays down his life, and he dies to do the will of his Father and save weak and selfish rights-mongerers like . . . us.

We’re curse-hoarse from yelling “Crucify him!” as he quietly refuses to be the kind of king we want. Nailed to the cross, held not by spikes but by quiet love-filled might that puts the world’s “mighty” utterly to shame, he shows himself to be exactly the kind of King we need.

“Therefore, God has exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . .” (Philippians 2:9-10).

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

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.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

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.


%d bloggers like this: