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Wednesday Miscellany (On Words)

Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words. 

In the earlier years of this blog, I would be quite flattered to receive requests like this. I would excitedly imagine my words shedding the shackles of this little space and the impoverished promotional imagination of its author and soaring into new stratospheres of blogger superstardom. Maybe this will be the post that goes viral! Maybe this will be my big break! Maybe this will be my springboard into real writing! Maybe I’ll—gasp—get paid!!

Now I realize that the more likely scenario, based on usual metrics for evaluating online content, is that my words will just be migrating from one relatively lonely corner of the Internet to another. Still, it’s nice to be asked.

Yes, of course you can use my post. I’ll be over here in my lonely corner of the Internet feeling sorry for myself and my words…

A few mornings ago, my daughter remarked that something she posted on Instagram wasn’t getting as many “likes” as she had hoped. I proceeded to give her a stern warmly compassionate lecture on basing her worth on the something as fleeting and fickle as likes and shares. Don’t ever evaluate yourself based on those kinds of things, I said.

Don’t ever evaluate yourself based on the usual metrics for evaluating online content….

Er… Um…

 Sigh.

I was listening to a sermon from a well-known American pastor yesterday. At one point, he made a throwaway comment about a time during his younger days when he went to listen to a speaker who was “just starting out” and didn’t really know what they were doing. As evidence for this claim, he said, “they basically just stood up there and read off the page.”

I thought about what I do most Sundays and grimaced a little.

Even after almost a decade of preaching regularly, I’m still pretty tied to my script. I don’t trust myself to ad-lib. I admire those people who get up in front of others with no notes and just seem to open the tap and watch the wisdom spontaneously and entertainingly flow (I have less admiration for those who open the tap and, um, something else seems to flow, but that’s another post…). But that’s not me. When I go off-script I stammer and stutter and repeat myself a lot. I get lost and confusedly wander around until I find some words on a page to (desperately) grab on to. The performative aspect of preaching is something that does not come naturally to me in any way.

The words are the thing, for me.

Yesterday a congregational member dropped by to say hello. They had recently had a short stay in the hospital due to an as yet unexplained fainting episode. “Does it happen to many people?” I asked. “I don’t know how common it is,” they said, “but for those who experience it, it seems to happens most often when they’re sitting down, reading or watching TV, or when they’ve been inactive for a while and are almost asleep.” They looked at me sheepishly before adding, “My doctor said that one of the most common places it happens is in church.”

The words are not the thing, evidently, for many.

In a few weeks, this little blog will turn ten years old. This seems rather remarkable to me. I appear to have grown rather attached to this thing. And so, I’ve been thinking of ways to mark the anniversary. I thought about doing a top ten list or something, but that seemed rather overdone and boring. I thought about having some kind of a contest, but then I realized that I hate contests and that I’m not terribly creative. I thought about switching blog templates. I’ve been using this one for a few years now—maybe it’s time for an updated look! I browsed through a few templates online. Most of the ones whose layout I liked best had no option for including a featured image on each post. It was just words on a screen.

I shuddered. Words on a screen? Could that possibly be enough? Probably not.

I decided to ask my wife what she thought I should do to honour this momentous occasion in the life of my blog. After listening to me rehearse a few of my (lame) ideas she opined, with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe you could just not write anything?”

I resolved to teach her a lesson by writing a witheringly sarcastic. passive-aggressive blog post about those who callously fail to appreciate obvious genius. I’d even helpfully print it off for her and leave it on her pillow.

Stay tuned…

img_7180I just spent an hour or so helping to set up our church sanctuary for our Christmas Eve service. There’s a lit-up star hanging from the roof with streams of lights extending down to a manger scene made of wooden pallets and handmade nativity figures. We have some amazingly creative people in our church.

And what is it all for? To celebrate the birth of Christ, of course. To dwell once again in the mystery of incarnation. In the beginning was the word, says John’s gospel, and the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word became flesh. Incredible.

Parker Palmer recently wrote a piece called “The Risk of Incarnation” where he pondered the possibility of something like a word taking on something like flesh:

There’s often a distressing disconnect between the good words we speak and the way we live our lives. In personal relations and politics, the mass media, the academy and organized religion, our good words tend to float away even as they leave our lips, ascending to an altitude where they neither reflect nor connect with the human condition.

We long for words like lovetruth, and justice to become flesh and dwell among us. But in our violent world, it’s risky business to wrap our frail flesh around words like those.

Yes, it certainly is risky. For God and for us. But perhaps the surest way for words to remain “just words” is to refuse to take on flesh.

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