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I Never Heard That Word Before

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For those who are linguists there was big news recently when Merriam-Webster announced the addition of new words for their 2022 edition of their classic book. If you didn’t see that report, there are 370 new terms. They stated that these come from a cross-section of our linguistic culture and include some new definitions for existing words.

What fascinates me is that I have not heard of more than a few of these. Additionally, though I love words, I do not consider myself to be a true linguaphile (a person who loves languages and words).

Some of the new additions include: amirite, because, fluffernutter, deplatform, copypasta, whataboutism, TBH, and microgrid. Are these in your current vocabulary? Do you know what they mean? They are so new that the Word program spell check does not even recognize them so they are all underlined in a squiggly red line.

It was interesting to me to read what Merriam-Webster stated on their website as they introduced these new words and definitions. Let me share it with you:

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“The language doesn’t take a vacation, and neither does the dictionary. The words we use are constantly changing in big ways and small, and we’re here to record those changes. Each word has taken its own path in its own time to become part of our language – to be used frequently enough by some in order to be placed in a reference for all. If you’re likely to encounter a word in the wild, whether in the news, a restaurant menu, a tech update, or a Twitter meme, that word belongs in the dictionary.”

I don’t recall the edition in our current library, but I am certain it is out of date. I knew that dictionaries evolved over time, but the speed and degree in which they have changed really surprises me. How many “new” words present when the first dictionaries were published in the 1500’s even exist today?

I wonder if the difficulty for us comes from the perception that dictionaries exist to tell us the meanings of words as if they are set.  We are often scurrying to dictionaries on our devices or occasionally a real reference book searching for the meaning or spelling of a word. But in reality dictionaries tell us how those words are used even if there is a meaning listed. As such words are far less scientific and more artistic than we often believe.

It is little wonder that sacred words associated with faith, religion, or spirituality are increasingly debated as to the real meanings. It’s why looking at the original language the scripture was written in and the usage and meaning of the word at that time is so important. There is also the pesky problem that some languages have multiple words that refer to the word love while the English language is focused on one word even though one can hardly equate love of pizza to love of one’s spouse or child.

One of the things about the Bible that is also fascinating is how much figurative language is used. Such language gives us pause and stirs our imagination. Perhaps that is the Lord’s intent.

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The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 4 verse 12 this way in the NIV:  For the word of God is alive and active.“  What understanding do we gain by that description of God’s Word?

Some of us grew up with an understanding of the most used spiritual sacred words that limited our view of who God is and what our relationship could be or ought to be. Those understandings sometimes distorted our view of Him and kept us at a distance. Reimagining the words and delving into the actual meanings based on their original language and usage can dramatically affect and correct misunderstandings and bring us closer to the Lord.

Words have impact, but sacred words are transformative.

When we write them, say them aloud, and allow them to take root in our hearts, sacred words can result in a metamorphosis in our knowledge, understanding, and personhood. We have the potential to become new persons.

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When we use sacred words or spiritual language as we grow and move in our faith walk, I hope we discover the depth of them as we lean in closer to hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers to our hearts.

“No matter where you find yourself, the most important thing about learning (or relearning) a vocabulary of faith is to remember that in the words of Reynolds Price, “language is a vehicle, almost never a destination.” When we speak, we aren’t just saying something – we’re pointing to something. In the case of sacred language, we’re pointing to meaning, to identity, to transcendence, and ultimately, to God.” Jonathan Merritt

Every word Jesus said has a life-changing value.

His words disrupted the culture of his time on earth.

They still do that in many ways and places today.

Opportunities to hear and read the Word are precious and not available to everyone around the world. Let us never forget that privilege and gift and take seriously the words from the prophet Amos in the Old Testament:

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”

Amos 8:11 (NIV)

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It Takes Time

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If you want to have a truly delicious cup of tea, it will take time. You won’t settle for plopping a tea bag in a cup. You’ll want to good loose-leaf tea of your preference that you steep to perfection. You’ll enjoy the fragrance and the color as well as the taste and if you can linger perhaps, you will enjoy a scone with fresh Devonshire cream. If you’re not a tea drinker and prefer coffee, you will likely take pleasure in a great coffee ground from fresh beans and brewed or poured over to just the right strength.

Despite how our lives are often lived at a quick pace and we gobble up information in bytes on devices of various kinds, the best things in life take time. And never has that been truer than in relationship and especially friendship. The friendship that satisfies our souls is one that is not rushed and sampled in bytes of any form because it requires real conversation rather than texts or messaging. Why? Because that is how you come to truly know and become known by another person.

Is it risky? Absolutely! It exposes us, requires vulnerability and with all of that, the risk of rejection or exposure.

“…friendship is being known by someone else and loved anyway. Friendships in which we’re vulnerable make or break our lives. With them we thrive, and without them an essential part of us – if not all of us – dies.”

Justin Whitmel Earley
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If we have lived any length of time, we already know what those risks can be. Earlier in our life overnight sleepovers or long talks can result in us sharing things about ourselves that perhaps no one knows. We feel uncertain about sharing them, but somehow, we want to share them also. Sometimes that doesn’t work out very well and we feel betrayed when the person shares it with others or decides we aren’t the person they hoped or thought. Yes, it is a risk, but we take it because built into our DNA is a desire to be truly known and truly loved by someone.

I say it was built into our DNA because I think God created us that way because of who He is. He is a Trinity, a relationship of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. That relationship is what we stem from so it’s natural for us to desire friendship at deep levels. Our challenge is that we are flawed human beings, not the perfect Trinity.

“…there is only one time in the creation story when God says the words ‘not good,’ and it is when a man is alone (Genesis 2:18). Everything else that comes before is pronounced ‘good.’ “

Justin Whitmel Earley

Consider that Adam was not alone then. God was with Him in the Garden of Eden in unfettered relationship. There had been no fall yet that separated Adam from God and yet, God saw Adam needed friendship beyond that and Eve was created.

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This level of friendship I speak of is not one born of shared interests, concerns, activities, and identities that may be the thing that brings us together. We may have multiple people in our lives that this would be true of, and we enjoy those shared things without necessarily sharing much about the inside of us that goes deeper and beyond all those things.

“Vulnerability and time turn people who have a relationship into people who have a friendship. That’s what friendship is: vulnerability across time. The practice of conversation is the basis of friendship because it’s in conversation that we become exposed to each other.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Earley’s definition makes clear we will not have a long list of these friendships because time needed to develop such relationship will never be enough beyond just a few at a time. When we are young, we may not recognize that and speak of having a lot of friends without realizing how much it costs to gain a deeper level of friendship, to have someone who sees our brokenness, our mistakes, and idiosyncrasies and loves us anyway. That’s what taking the risk and being known can gain for us and it’s priceless even though it won’t happen every time we take that risk.

Over the course of my life, there have been seasons when I did not have the gift of deep friendship and I was poorer for it in many ways. My life has also involved cherished deeper levels of friendship that did not stay at that level because the person moved to a different place so far away that we could not connect face-to-face and share regularly together. Sometimes illness or other things interrupted the flow of time and regular connection and here and there death came and ended something precious. Sometimes the time needed to develop will give you a special friendship unique in every way.

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It can happen when the little girl you adored becomes the teen who can’t keep her room organized to the woman who becomes a wife and mother. You know things about each other no one else does. You have seen each other at your best (hopefully) and worst. You are each other’s biggest fans and cheerleaders and know what you look like when you have on no makeup, are sick and cranky, or lose your temper. That stays more connected even when hundreds of miles separate you.

It can happen with sons too with moms but more so with dads as girlfriends and wives come into their life. It will look different for men since feelings and deep internal thoughts do not find words as easily many times, but as time allows and age increases that too can change.

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“The vulnerable friendships that embody the gospel don’t happen because we wish we had them; they happen because they’re cultivated over time. They grow because we arrange the trellis of habit that allows them to flourish.

Friendships are hard when you don’t actually have time together, which is why friendships are not just about vulnerability but also about time.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Justin Earley talks about how he chose to live in a particular area because of close friends there in his book I have been quoting, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.

But even then, with persistence and effort and creativity and a LOT of travel time, you can make it special and deepen over the years of your life.

“The fundamental truth of friendships is not that love is limited but that love is infinite. We know this because the friendship of the Trinity did not generate less love, but more love. By virtue of making us like him, God in creation expanded the circle of friends. Jesus now calls us friends, and by saving us, he invites us into the dance of the Trinity. The circle of love is open and expanding. The nature of true friendship is not to shut the outsider out, it is to draw them in.”

Justin Whitmel Earley
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It All Starts in the Morning

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As the sun creeps over the horizon each morning, a new day begins. Some of us are up early to see it because our jobs demand an early start or just because we are morning persons. Such persons rarely need alarm clocks. It’s almost as if there is an internal rhythm set to alert them to the sun rising, sometimes before the rays even fall across their faces on the pillow in bed. Others of us are not so fortunate. We need an alarm. Some of us need multiple alarms even if we did not go to bed at a late hour. Our rhythm is more as night owls. We are more alert as the evening shades slip into star studded skies and the moon rises.

We can manage to order our days as we must, but it can seem as if that natural tendency to be morning persons is hard-wired into many of us. I would love to tell you I am one of those, but I am not. At this stage of life, I am not sure I am as much of a night owl either as I was from high school through middle adulthood. My dear husband has been a morning person always as was my mother who awakened at five each morning long after she and my dad had stopped the task of milking cows on our farm each day.

No matter where we may be on this issue, how we begin the day and how we end the day has a significant impact on us in more than just whether we get a good amount of rest or get a lot accomplished before lunch.

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How we begin the day sets the tone of the day even though we may not recognize how much it does. That tone gets set in many small choices we make as we first open our eyes. There is a formation going on outside of our awareness much of the time and the choices we make influence the formation that goes far beyond the tone of the day. It determines how we view ourselves, those around us, and the world at large. Our initial focus pulls along toward those perspectives.

Who am I? And who am I becoming? These are the questions our morning routines are inevitably asking and answering for us.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Those choices and the formation that follows become the source of our identity. Is our work the first thing that enters our mind and focus in the morning as we check on our devices for emails, messages, and texts to see what lays ahead of us to be on top of things when we arrive at our workplace? Is it checking on the news from our favorite sources? That used to be the daily newspaper or a local radio station for many, but those are rarely where we head for news now. Most of us who have chosen this realize news is not really what it used to be and becomes more about sensationalized politics than the strict reporting we were accustomed to before the 24/7 news cycle needed to be filled with endless chatter and opinions that too often give rise to fear or anger (sometimes both).

“Anger and fear have something in common: we become the center of things. This is why so many of our conversations about headlines start with ‘Can you believe…’ We’re amazed and indignant that the world doesn’t understand.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

And if our first choices in the morning take us to social media, those emotions spill over onto what we read and share on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other feeds. Before lunch we have been disturbed or disturbed others because we were propelled by anger and/or fear to opine on whatever headlines grabbed our attention before we even had our first cup of coffee.

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Some of us have developed a habit of focusing on our spiritual devotions at the start of each day. Those who do can attest to how much it influences the entire day and provides for them in ways they don’t even see they will need. Even so, there are these other things that creep in: a phone call, an early morning appointment, pesky thoughts about something we were dreaming about or happened at the end of the previous day. The list can go on and on, but those who practice this habit know that the enemy of our souls knows it is vital and will seek to sabotage it whenever possible.

If we get hijacked by anything when the morning starts, the formation of our identity gets influenced.

“The story of Scripture is clear. We do not know who we are apart from the God who made us, and we do not know who we are becoming apart from the God who is renewing us. We long to know who we are. We daydream about the versions of ourselves that we hope to become. But apart from Jesus we can do neither of these things.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

If Justin Earley is right, and I believe he is, then the choices we make when the morning begins are crucial. Anything that draws our attention at the start of our day away from God, will get us off track. Work, news, and social media, worries about yesterday, and uncertainties about tomorrow can undo us.

“This means that the way we guide our formation is not by looking in and choosing our favorite identity; it is actually by looking out. We become what and who we reflect, which is to say we become what we pay attention to.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Over the past few years, more and more things and sources have been screaming for our attention. It is little wonder that fear, anxiety, and anger have grown exponentially. Never has it been more crucial for us to withstand all the noise both within us and outside of us as we awake from sleep (whether morning persons or night owls), than to find who we are and are becoming from the only sure source – God through the Scripture.

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What or Who Is in Charge?

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Every day we are bombarded by very technological devices created to help us be more effective, stay in touch more easily, and handle details for us. Some of are old enough to recall life before all these “helpers” came along. Our calendars used to be toted around in daily planners we carried with us. Some were small enough to fit in a purse or briefcase, but others were more cumbersome, and we tried to manage them with anything else we needed to carry.

When my parents were growing up in the 1920’s in the midwestern United States, only 35% of homes had a telephone. As a child, I recall the first phone was one that hung on the wall of the farmhouse where my dad had grown up. It was a brown box with the mouthpiece attached and a receiver with a cord you lifted to your ear. There were still telephone operators back then and to cut down on cost, many had what was called a “party line”, meaning that several other households used the same line versus one that belonged only to you. The phone of my childhood was like that and could sometimes tempt me to try to pick up the receiver and listen to the conversations of others – clearly not a good choice.

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People could also use those telephone operators to connect you to a number you did not know even after large telephone books began to be published. In my home, the phone was something my mother enjoyed so she could connect with her parents and sisters who lived in the county next to ours. It didn’t ring often, and I don’t recall ever using it, but I do know that when it was replaced, the phone had a private line so we could access it at any time. That may have started the desire to be able to reach anyone at any time by this device, but it was still a long way from what this invention has become today. Part of that was because all it could do was handle a phone call. It couldn’t keep our calendar, show us a map, take photos, and store them, connect us to news sites, and a host of things our modern-day phones do for us now. We had tasted the convenience of the telephone and our appetites were whetted for more and it seems the taste became insatiable.

In the 1960’s when my husband and I were in college, connection happened by handwritten letters or occasionally a letter typed on a manual typewriter. In the 1980’s when our children were in college, they needed to stand in line to use a pay phone in the dorm, handwritten letters were still common, and electronic and electric typewriters were being replaced by the new computers that were not owned by students but available in the library. Our grandchildren in college have smartphones, computers, tablets, and all manner of devices. They FaceTime or use Polo or any number of apps to stay in touch. These devices track their calendars, routes via GPS, search for resources we used to spend hours looking for in card catalogs in the library, and capture moments of fun with cameras that have nearly replaced a separate camera.

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Most of us will admit we would be lost without these new phones and the valuable tool they have become, but in the process of that is it possible they have had more downsides than we may have noticed at the beginning? Are they now the tool or the master of us? Some of us have begun to see these questions and set some new boundaries on them like not having phones at the table when we are eating at the time we are supposed to have a chance to relate with those who are actually present with us, but is there more we need to consider? There is a real core struggle with our smartphones.

“This is the core struggle with the smartphone. It’s amazing because it allows us to communicate our presence across time and space, but it’s dangerous for the very same reason. It can fracture our presence across time and space until nothing is left. Usually this happens simply by habit, like me talking via phone…whlle doing two or three things.”

Justin Whittle Earley

Our presence is the greatest gift we can give someone else, but these new devices have sometimes gotten us caught up in so many places we are trying to be present that we are not present with anyone and with it, we are less genuine as well.

“Presence is at the heart of who we are, because presence is at the core of our relationship with God. From creation to salvation, the story of the Bible is fundamentally a story of presence. Eden was Eden because the unmediated presence of God was there. God was with Adam and Eve, until sin broke the bliss of that presence.”

Justin Whittle Earley
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Now the device we are holding almost constantly gets in the way of presence and allows us to hide from one another as we are captivated by the screen we hold in our hands. We say we are listening in more than one place at a time, but the truth is that we cannot be present in more than one place at a time.

These smartphones (even if we are limiting them at certain times and places) have become such companions for work, friends, family, entertainment, and more that we feel alone and lost when we try to put them down for any length of time or we experience the panic of losing or misplacing them. That would not only leave us alone but put us into silence and silence gets us in touch with who we really are. For some of us, that can be terrifying. Yet, knowing who we really are is vital.

“Only when we know who we are can we turn to love others, not use others. Only then can we actually listen to them…

Even more, when we cultivate inner rhythms of silence, we become attentive to the value of conscience, to the voice of God’s love for the world, and to the voice of our neighbor’s need.”

Justin Whittle Earley

How do we tackle this issue that challenges us more than we want to often admit? Justin Whittle Earley offers a suggestion in The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction:

“We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be in two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phones for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor.”

Justin Whittle Earley
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Not Fixable, But Complete

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It would be great if the things in our life that we use or value did not get broken, but they do. Some of those things we may get frustrated about, but they are not something we use often or value highly. Anything else is something we want to find a fix for as soon as we can. It happens to the best of us because accidents happen, or things wear out.

My husband would tell you that if the washer, dryer, oven, stove, or HVAC stops working, I will be an unhappy girl because I count on those things as needed and necessary most every day to help life run more smoothly. I would tell you that if something with one of our cars or the roof of our house develops a problem, I will be concerned but he will be more unhappy as he sees a problem to tackle to take care of us.

If I accidentally let an inexpensive glass drop and shatter, I will be frustrated about the mess and trying to capture all the little pieces of it that seem to go everywhere. If I accidentally break a fine piece of crystal or something that once belonged to my mother, I will be very upset either because of the cost of the replacement or that it will not be fixable or replaceable.

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But other things break and are not easily fixed that may haunt us for an even longer time. What kinds of things? Relationships with others whom we have cared about, organizations we trusted, or leaders we believed in and learned they were not what they appeared to be are a few examples. These sorts of things leave imprints on our hearts that may not be fixable and are difficult to heal.

Our image of ourselves can be broken when we make the poorer choice, act on impulse, or take a risk we knew we should not have taken. Some of these may be small, others may be big and less likely to be redeemed by us or those who care about us.

When things get broken, our response tells us a lot about what we value and how we are valued by those around us who are witnesses to the brokenness.

Our bodies get broken in innumerable ways from a cut that may require a few stitches to a cancer that cannot be cured, from a mild allergic reaction that causes us to be uncomfortable to something that poisons us and takes our life. Our bodies also start breaking down as we age and are not always fixable from the wear and tear of living life.

Many things in the world are broken and despite the best efforts of the brightest minds and most creative researchers much of it cannot be fixed. It was broken a long time ago and the consequences of that terrible day in the Garden of Eden have shadowed us on every level since then. Sometimes our own efforts to fix things have made it all worse. And that can create hopelessness and despair in the most optimistic of us.

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But there is good news in the midst of all the brokenness of all sizes, shapes, and kinds. On that fateful day when Adam and Eve set aside from following what God directed, He already had a plan for the brokenness that would result and multiply century by century. He knew it would never be enough to make sacrifices of goats, lambs, and more. This was too big of a break. It would require Him to make a sacrifice of his only Son who was perfect to set things right.

When Jesus offered himself up as the sacrifice for those who would believe and accept Him, He made us complete even though we were broken and unfixable. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves no matter how hard we might try. Paul shares that great truth with us as follows:

“For the full content of divine nature lives in Christ, in his humanity, 10 and you have been given full life in union with him. He is supreme over every spiritual ruler and authority.”

Colossians 2:9-10 (GNT)

Living in this life will never give me all the fixes that I need. Precious antiques handed down cannot be replaced, a lost relationship may not be repairable, a disease may not have a cure, and we will not be able to halt the process of aging and all that comes with it. Living in this life we will always make mistakes and poor choices even if we seek not to do so simply because we are imperfect and unable to do life perfectly on any level. But the good news is that because of that one perfect sacrifice by Jesus, we can be complete in Him and in the life after our earthly one we will be changed completely.

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