Word of the Week – Utopia

Word of the Week – Utopia

I daresay we all know what I mean when I say the word Utopia, right. It’s a perfect society. We all know it’s pretty much mythical, much like the one Socrates outlines in “The Republic.” And we probably also know the word was coined by Thomas Moore when he wrote a book with that title.

But did you know that he chose that title and name for his society based on the Greek word for “nowhere”? I didn’t! That makes it really cool though, doesn’t it? That even in its name, we recognize that it does not–and cannot–exist. He wrote, and hence coined the term for, Utopia in 1516, and it’s been a part of the English language to describe an ideal society since 1551.

What’s really interesting though is that many people didn’t understand the rather complicated Greek idiom that led to this word (I won’t get into it here) and thought that instead of meaning “nowhere” or “no place,” it was based on the Greek eu, meaning “good,” and that the word meant “good place.” Incorrect…but compelling enough that it’s why people created the word dystopian to be its supposed opposite!

Have you ever read Utopia? I haven’t yet, but my husband’s reading it now…

Word of the Week – Parable and Parabola

Word of the Week – Parable and Parabola

Did you ever pause to consider that parable and parabola come from the same root? I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it, until my husband brought it up the other day. He was talking about parables and used the adjective parabolic to describe it…and then paused and said, “Huh, that’s usually just used in the mathematical sense, but I bet parable and parabola are actually related, don’t you think?” I did! And they are.

Both words are from the Greek parabolÄ“, which means “a comparison,” literally “a throwing beside” or “a juxtaposition.” The word moved from Greek to Latin and hence down the line into the Latinate languages. Interestingly, common (vulgar) Latin even adopted it to mean “word,” which is where we ultimately get parler in French for “to speak.” In English, the word parable has been used to describe stories with a lesson since the 1200s.

Now parabola, the mathematical term used to describe the open bell-like curve formed when a plane cuts through a cone on an angle parallel to one side. It was named by Apollonius in 210 BC, but at the time it was the same Greek word used for the stories, since it was a juxtaposition, a throwing beside of a plane and a cone. Keeping in mind that mathematical terms were still presented in their original Greek and Latin for quite a lot of modern history, it’s not then surprising that our English word parabola–spelled with a different ending to differentiate it from the “story” meaning–dates only to the 1570s. The concept is of course far older, but the date is for the word itself as an English word.

As for parabolic, it was actually used to mean “figurative, pertaining to a parable” from the mid-1500s and didn’t get applied to the mathematical shape until the 1700s. So totally fine to use that one either way. 😉

Word of the Week – Postmodern

Word of the Week – Postmodern

Today’s Word of the Week actually came in as a special request…and I admit it’s a word I’ve always just shrugged off too. What, exactly, do people mean when they toss around postmodern or postmodernism in their conversations? Turns out, the word can mean different things depending on what it’s applied to…and hilariously, one of the strictest definitions is probably opposite what the speakers actually mean.

So to understand postmodernism we first have to look at modernism. We all know what modern means, of course. But modernism was actually coined by Jonathan Swift in a letter to fellow-writer Pope in 1737.

I wish you would give orders against the corruption of English by those scribblers who send us over [to Ireland] their trash in prose and verse, with abominable curtailings and quaint modernisms. [Swift to Pope, July 23, 1737]

What he means here as modernism is “a deviation from the classical manner,” in this case of writing. So modernism is the tossing out of convention and its rules and creating whatever you please.

Postmodernism, then? Here’s the funny part. In architecture, it means rejecting that modernism that eschews the classical rules and actually RETURNING to the classical form. But in literature (and philosophy in general), it instead takes it a step further. In postmodern thought, you’re not just rejecting the rules, you’re saying that there can objectively be no rules, because there’s no objective truth. Everything is subjective.

Where do you come down on classical vs. modern vs. postmodern? Me…I’m a classical girl through and through. 😉

Where Risk and Faith Meet

Where Risk and Faith Meet

I want to talk today about where risks and faith meet. And how we walk the line between “foolish for Christ” and just foolish. I’m not saying I have all the answers on where that line is…but I am saying we all need to ask the questions, and I think I’ve seen a good indicator of what those questions should be.

Faith, by nature, both starts from logic and then defies it. We can reason our way to many aspects of faith, and we can certainly talk intelligently about it. But there does come a point where logic says “play it safe,” and faith says, “take a risk and trust God.” This is a crucial part of true faith—that letting go of our own understanding and flinging ourselves into the arms of Christ. He will ask each of us to do that at some point, or at many points. Honestly, I believe the more we do it, the more He invites us to do it. The more He’ll stretch out His hand and say, “Okay, good…now follow me here too.”

But I’ve never read where Christ asked the disciples, or the apostles asked the early church, to trust in Him for their own convenience. I’ve never seen where He instructs us to assume God will make everything okay so that we can go out and seek our own will. No. He says we’ll be okay when we’re seeking His will. And “okay” may not mean what we think it does. It may not mean security or health or wealth as the world defines it. It merely means that whatever we have—be it plenty or nothing, be it pain or joy, be it health or illness—He will make us able to face it. That’s what that “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” verse is about. Facing, living with, living through any circumstance.

And God’s will for the Church is clear: serve others. Sacrifice for them. Take risks to show them His love.

When the servants of the medieval church went out into plague-ridden Europe, it was not for their own pleasure. They weren’t doing what they wanted to do–they were going out to risk their own lives to serve those who needed it. Their top and perhaps only priority was to visit the sick and do what they could to relieve their suffering. They took great risks to accomplish this. Sometimes God protected them. Sometimes He didn’t. But they went out knowing that if they lived, it was to serve another day, and if they died, it meant being with Him.

We hear amazing stories of missionaries who have seemingly super-human immunities as they serve God in the bush…and just as many stories of missionaries who die or nearly die in that same service. We have stories of people overcoming all odds in service to Him, and stories of people who give up the fight on earth to go on to reign in heaven. This is our reality, friends—faith comes with risks, and sometimes the rewards are earthly, but other times they’re heavenly. The question, though, is this: WHY are we taking the risks? Is it to serve Him? To love others? To relieve their suffering?

Or is it for our own convenience and pleasure?

I’m going to get pointed, and this is where I’m going to offend some of you. I’m sorry if I cause offense—but if you have an emotional reaction to what I’m about to say, please, please do this. Ask yourself why. Why are your emotions tangled up in this? I’ll talk about why mine were, and why I decided to reevaluate them. If you’re reading this later, here’s some context—I’m writing this in the summer of 2021, during a new height of the Covid pandemic. Infection rates are at an all-time high, mask mandates are coming back, vaccines are available but widely eschewed by the faith community. I’m not going to talk about vaccines or their safety, masks or their effectiveness. What I’m going to talk about is how the prevailing stance by the American church is affecting our ability to proclaim Christ.

Let me tell you my personal story. When mask mandates started appearing in 2020, I thought they were stupid. I went out looking up articles that debunked their effectiveness (even though I only found 1 for every 100 saying they were effective). I avoided Maryland, where they were required, and did my shopping in West Virginia, where they weren’t (I live on the border, so this isn’t actually going out of my way, LOL). I laughed about it. I didn’t care. I was convinced I was right simply because I wanted it to be true. I did what I wanted … then I saw a plea from a good friend of mine with immunodeficiency. A plea to think of people like her—people who always have to live with such care, but who cannot even step foot outside her house now as long as other people are being careless. And I was struck.

My stance was all about me. My convenience, my inclinations, what I wanted. My stance had nothing at all to do with my friend or the millions of people in similar situations. Ouch. I wasn’t loving my neighbor. I was only loving myself. I was thinking about whether I got sick…not about whether I was responsible for getting someone else sick.

And that isn’t okay.

Then came the hard question: why? Why was I so determined that my want be right and their statistics be wrong? I had no good answer. So I just asked God to give me eyes to see them and a heart to love them above my own comfort. I tried to think about how I would feel if I was the one who passed Covid to someone who died from it, when I could have prevented it with a few simple steps. And I realized that this is a very simple way of loving my neighbor. Protecting them from me, even when they aren’t protecting themselves.

Then my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This doesn’t put him at a higher risk to catch any illness, but what it does mean is that ANY illness—even the ones that healthy people just get over in 3 days—could land him in the hospital. That was when Mama Bear Mode really kicked in and I started noticing people’s actions. And what I noticed really saddened me. That the “world,” those with no faith to speak of, were doing all in their power to keep my child safe…but the Church, who should be thinking first and foremost of others, were the last to do so and only did it under duress. So many were where I’d been at the start but hadn’t yet had that moment of conscience. Not ALL, of course. But when I opened social media or listened to quite a lot of friends, that’s all I was hearing. What they wanted. What risks they deemed acceptable to themselves.

Why did my fellow Christians not love my son? Not love my friend? Not love the millions of people at higher risk than them? Why were my fellow Christians chanting “my rights” above “our love through Christ”? Why were we more concerned with our convenience than in how it destroyed Christ in the eyes of that scared and hurting world? Because it does, my friends. They are afraid. They see a monster wanting to devour them, and they don’t see us fighting it. When mask mandates changed to “don’t wear them if you’re vaccinated, keep wearing them if you aren’t,” I heard countless Christians say, “How will they know? It’s my risk, I’ll take it.”

The world saw that. The world was horrified. Because the world said, “It’s not about the risk to YOU. It’s about the risk you pose to everyone else.” And they’re not wrong. We are the ones supposed to be more concerned for them than ourselves. We’re supposed to be the ones taking risks to help—not to hurt.

The world should not look at us and see people willing to risk THEIR lives for OUR comfort. They should look at us and see people willing to risk OUR lives for THEIR souls.

This is not what I see when I look around at a lot of the church today. More importantly, it’s not what the world is seeing either. I was not showing them I was a risk-taker-for-Christ last year when I laughed and went looking for facts to back up what I wanted to be true; I was only showing them that I was selfish and didn’t care whether I got them sick. That’s something I regret. Something of which I’ve repented. Something I work hard to avoid now.

I am not a fan of “safetyism”—when we try so hard to protect people, especially our children, that we hinder their emotional and mental growth and make them risk-averse (this word is used in an amazing book I talked about in this post). But there is a line. There are risks to take and risks it’s better to avoid, and the real trick is figuring out where that line is. This is why we shouldn’t put our kids in a bubble, but we DO teach them to wash their hands. (Did you know that the first doctor to ask people to wash their hands when they came into his ward was FIRED for his audacity? The hospital board thought he was infringing on the rights of the employees. How dare he!) This is why we don’t say “never get in a car, people die in car accidents!” but we DO wear seat belts. Doing those small actions doesn’t mean we’re faithless—it means we’re smart and focused on true risk-taking. That’s just safety, not “safetyism.”

So where is the line in this situation? That’s what each of us have to decide, and certainly there are good, valid reasons to have avoided what’s a risk to you and yours. I’d never say there isn’t. The question I hope we all ask ourselves, though, is whether where we draw the line affects our ability to work for Christ.

We know that the world will always call us foolish, yes—foolish because our faith values eternal good above earthly good. But we do NOT want to be seen the kind of foolish that results in harm for ourselves or others. Let people call us fools for rushing to the rescue of dying souls even when it means risking our lives. Not for risking those souls for our own benefit. And here’s the tricky part—it isn’t just about our own opinion, not when it comes to serving others. How are THEY seeing your decisions? And how does that impact their view of Christianity?

I want to be able to serve others. Therefore I will do whatever I can to put THEM above ME. This is a lesson I learned from seeing my friend trapped at home and suffering for more than a year. This is a lesson I learned sitting in the PICU of a children’s hospital with my son and being told they would see us again, because he’d get sick, and that’s what happens. This is a lesson I learned when I looked out at the world and saw a Church ruled by fear—fear of government, fear of losing their rights, fear of losing power. And I saw a world ruled by bitterness toward us for putting them at risk. I am not afraid of sickness, I am not afraid of death—for me. But I should not be the cause of it in others just because I’m stubborn and focused on what I want instead of what they need.

This is the lesson I have learned through all of this. This is the journey I’ve taken from “what I want to be true” to “how my opinions on what’s true affect my ability to serve others for Christ.” Maybe your journey has been different, maybe you arrived at different conclusions, even. But in my house, our rule has become, “We will not take risks with this disease just for our own entertainment—shopping, visiting, birthday parties and so on. But we WILL take risks where necessary to serve God and do what he’s called us to do.” We take what safety measures we can, we do what is possible to protect not only our son but everyone else. And then we trust.

We don’t have to agree on our every stance on this stuff. But we DO all have to ask ourselves the same questions. Are we concerned with US…or with THEM? Because if the risks we take are only for our own convenience and comfort, then there is no glory in that in the eyes of God. Faith and risk are only aligned when they involve reaching others for Him.

Where do risk and faith meet? In service to Him. And ONLY in service to Him.

Word of the Week – Smithereens

Word of the Week – Smithereens

My mom sent me this one, so of course I had to look into it! I found the explanation pretty quick, but nevertheless enlightening, so let’s take a look!

Smithereens dates from 1810 and has always meant “small fragments.” No surprise there. But where does it come from? This is the interesting part. =) The smither part we know–it’s directly from the Irish Gaelic smidirin, which is itself a diminutive of smiodar, which means “fragment.”

So what about that -een? Is that where the “small” comes from? Etymologists can only take a good guess at that part, but their theory is that the -een was indeed applied as another diminutive, quoting names such as “Colleen” as evidence that it was done frequently in the Gaelic language. In my imagination I can see someone looking at minuscule fragments and deciding it was so small, it wasn’t just a smither, but a smithereen. 😉