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January 2005


I was thinking about writing on this topic, but had decided not to. Then I read Tim's blog today. It is the teacher in me.

In the September 25, 2000 issue of Newsweek (I'd link, but you have to pay to view it), Anna Quindlen wrote a good column on the nature of cussing. She reminds us of some things related to the nature and history of language and clarifies what are currently the words that are considered inappropriate.

A Brief History
Originally it begins as cursing. These are the words and phrases that you say in order to curse someone. This is sort of a supernatural/magical belief. I assume that none of us believe that saying "Go to hell" to someone will actually curse them (no matter how angrily it is said).

Since the Norman Conquest there has been this battle in the English language between the Anglo-Saxon words and the Romance words (that come from Latin, especially through French influence on the English language). The elites often despised the old Anglo-Saxon words that the common (or vulgar) folk used. The Victorians take this to its furthest point by deciding that these old words for sex and bodily functions are inappropriate. Instead they used the new medical terms or those that came into English from the Romance languages. There is nothing inherently wrong with the word itself, just a cultural construct.

In the late-twentieth century there was another shift. The words that became inappropriate were racial slurs and other euphemisms that truly insult someone because of some group of folk they are a part of. Unlike the old cuss words, these words do cause injury -- it is not just that they sound vulgar (or common).

What Type of Issue is This?
I think the use or non-use of these older curse/cuss words is an issue of prudence, of pragmatics. It is neither a moral nor a religious issue.

Here is how it is a prudential issue. It is not prudent to use words that you and your friends don't find offensive in front of folk that do. Older adults still have issues with certain words that younger folks don't find offensive, but it isn't prudent to use those words in settings where folk might find them offensive or inappropriate. If you saw The Apprentice last week, the losing guy used the F-word in the boardroom. That's just not a prudent place to use that word, even though he probably wasn't intending anything offensive.

But it isn't really a moral issue. A person offended by a certain word needs to provide an ethical argument for why it is morally wrong. It seems that the reason most folk are offended by certain words is simply that they've been conditioned that way. They were taught that the words were "bad words" and so they believe them to be bad words. There's nothing either good or bad about this; it simpy is the acculturation process. But there is nothing inherently "bad" about using the Anglo-Saxon word for sex. Like other words (even "good" words) it can be used in abusive ways or in an abusive tone of voice, but as a word it is nothing special.

It does become a moral issue for minors who have parents who have said that using such words are wrong. The minors are supposed to obey their parents. If there parents don't want them to use certain words, then they should respect their parents wishes.

Nor is this a religious issue. The scripture seems to want us to guard our tongue from gossiping or speaking abusively to one another, but there's nothing about what we call "cussing" in the Bible. Rather, Jesus and Paul both use language considered offensive in the first century. Jesus has choice things to say to the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, "brood of vipers," etc. And Paul uses the word "skubalon" which is often translated "rubbish" but means "human excrement." Actually, it means "shit." That's what the highly esteemed "greatest-Baptist-preacher-in-Oklahoma" Dr. Mack Roark taught us in Greek class would be the proper translation, though he advised not to translate it that way from the pulpit. He said skubalon didn't simpy mean "human excrement" but was in fact a word that was considered offensive to Paul's audience.

I don't think that this issue falls under my purview of youth-minister-qua-youth-minister. All adults who are in the lives of teenagers need to help them learn to navigate the complex waters of adulthood. All adults need to educate teens on learning things like what language is appropriate in what settings. It isn't a ministerial, religious, or moral thing, it is just good pedagogy of the rising generation in the pragmatics of adult life.

Recently I realized that I do not cuss. Sure I use words that my mother considered cuss words (she didn't even like "shoot" or "darn"). But I don't use the words that my generation considers inappropriate -- racial slurs, other negative euphemisms based on demeaning a group of people, etc. When I use those words my Mom didn't like, it isn't because I'm "cussing" it is because I think that those words most effectively carry the weight of meaning that I'm trying to communicate in the moment -- just like every other word I choose to use.

Iraqi Elections

Even if you did not support the war, feel that the reconstruction was handled poorly, and overall oppose this American administration, we should all be excited about the elections in Iraq. I took joy in the fact that voter turnout was high. I loved the images on the news yesterday. Democracy is a beautiful thing to watch.

So I will congratulate this administration when it gets something right (even if they went about it the wrong way). But the real congratulations go to the Iraqi people. May they have a better future than the past they have had and may they forgive us for what we've done wrong.

The Rest of the Trip

I really enjoyed my visit to Fayetteville. You should see the new public library! It's gorgeous. We were so excited when the plans were released a few years ago. I'm so proud that some of my tax dollars for a time when to construct this building. It sits nicely just a few blocks from the square and makes splendid use of the landscape. There are huge windows looking out on the Boston Mountains with great reading areas from which to look. Everything about the design is spectacular -- it is roomy, attractive, functional, inviting, easy to understand, easily accessed, etc.

Stopped by my favourite used bookstore. I used to drive over to this bookstore even before I lived in Fville, and it was one of the reasons I was excited to move there. I had thought I wouldn't go by, because I didn't need to buy any books. But I can't help it. And I bought a bunch of books (as always). It is one of those bookstores where the rooms just keep going and going and the shelves and piles are everywhere and half the fun is just looking for what you are looking for.

I had a delightful lunch with Henrietta Holcomb, Mary Jane Haley, and Mary Ann Haley. Mary Jane is 91 and Henrietta is 83 (I think). I always have a blast with them. Then coffee with the Fergusons who are hardly every in Fville because they RV a lot and go all over the country. They've got this peaceful place out in the same valley I lived in. So I got to drive by my house and get annoyed that all the lovely and expensive landscaping I did has not been taken care of -- it is overgrown and the grass has invaded the flower beds. ARGH!

And there was a nice winter mix on Friday. Saturday as I drove back down through the Boston Mountains, the freeze line was just above the road, so all the trees at high elevations were covered in ice! Lovely!

So I had my good time and was ready to get back to Dallas.

God Acts

I finally think I know what I want to say, with a minimum of metaphysical jargon.

Classical empiricism (Locke, Hume, etc.) made at least two fundamental errors. First, its view of experience was almost solely limited to perception (or at least that was the dominant mode that influenced their view). Second, they were still committed to a substance metaphysics(as had most folk since at least Aristotle). Because of these commitments they, along with most of the other moderns, had problems explaining causation, mind-body relations, action, all sorts of issues. These problems have persisted into their heirs in the 20th and 21st centuries.

One recent book on mind-body that I read a few years ago by Fred Dretske, a prominent fellow, admitted in the introduction that he didn't know how to deal with proprioception -- our feeling of the presence of our bodies. Given that the book goes on to find it difficult to explain mental causal efficacy, I think not dealing with this more fundamental mode of experience was part of his problem and a problem for classical empiricism.

At the most fundamental level of our experience, we feel or grasp the world around. Whitehead coined the term "prehend." And this is most evident in proprioception. We feel the very presence of our bodies. We feel causal influences and actions within our bodies. We feel our bodies interactions with the environment. Moving up from that we feel when someone is watching us, even if we do not perceive them. In the dark, we feel the presence of objects around us, even if we do not see them.

Taking experience at its most fundamental level for human beings, we don't run into the same set of problems that the moderns did (discussing some of those would lead us down tangents). And these few paragraphs are my simple way of addressing the Humeans out there (who won't be satisfied with these few paragraphs, but I'm not boring my general audience with a treatise on the Treatise).

The other problem for the classical empiricists was that they were committed to substance metaphysics, particularly as the moderns had come to describe it after Descartes. Whitehead (and others like James, Peirce, Dewey, Bergson, Alexander, Bradley, the early Russell, etc.) questioned this metaphysical assumption. Given what was going on in scientific circles at the time, Whitehead developed a metaphysics based on process. Instead of some sort of substance being the fundamental unit of actuality, processes were. Instead of "being," actuality is composed of "becoming." He thought this even fit better with our experience that never took things in little units and chunks, but experienced this flow and interaction in the world (the Romantic poets were actually a serious influence here, particularly Wordsworth).

God, along with all of the cosmos, is one of the process of becoming. As such, God interacts with the world, influencing its processes and being influenced by them. I do not completely buy into Process "Orthodoxy" and hold that God has no coercive power, but I do agree that God's power if primarily persuasive power. Whitehead called it a "lure for feeling." To put this in language somewhat conducive to evangelicals -- God has a will for the entities of the world. But they are free to actualize that will in their lives. God works to draw them along, to lure them, but God doesn't make them do anything. If they go another way, then God takes that into account, readjusts and presents a new lure (accomodates his will to the free choices of the creatures). In this way, over time God is drawing the world freely along toward greater goodness, beauty, adventure, and peace. Sometimes the world goes drastically ary. Holocausts happen. See, the process is fragile and not guaranteed.

And this is where I find such resonance with my Christian discipleship and Christian hopes. Who is the church? The church are those folk committed above all to actualizing God's lure (the kingdom of God) within this world. It is only a hope, faith, that good, beauty, adventure, and peace "win out" in the end. If these things fail to materialize, it is partially our fault.

The Drive Up the Mountains

As soon as I made the turn north onto 540 I started smiling. I LOVE this drive, always have. The hills, trees, farmland. I was driving along listening to my Best of 2004 cd and so many of the songs really fit with different parts of the drive. "Wanderlust" played as I went through the tunnel. Johnny Cash as I looked out over the mountains. U2 as I rounded the hill and had the great view of Fayetteville. Wow! I drove through town, instead of the bypass, enjoying every bit of it. Got to the Wardlows and let myself in. My last day in town, as I left their house (where I stayed the night before), they gave me a key to the house to indicate that I was always welcome. Then Derek got home from school and asked "Do you want to go jogging three miles in the cold?" And I did.

When In Creation

I've been meaning to post this all week. Last Sunday we did our Tsunami emphasis in worship. There were already a handful of Tsunami-inspired hymns to choose from. The following is the one we sang. Sorry, I can't seem to find the name of the author anywhere. It is to the tune KINGSFOLD.

When In Creation

When in creation life is lost, the power of God seems weak.
When young and old are swept away by rivers in the streets,
We seek the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day,
and pray to God that lives be saved and hope will find a way.

Where is the goodness of our God when seas force life to die?
Where is the powerful love of God when people hurt and cry?
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed, where e'er I turn my eye,
O God, our help in ages past, be with the world today.

How can the glory of our God be known through tragedy,
when water, rock, and sand be made to kill humanity?
While all that borrows life from thee is ever in they care,
O God, where were you on that day when darkness shook our sphere?

When in creation life is lost, we turn to God for peace,
and seek the one who came to serve the greatest and the least,
O Christ whose presence comes to us in the Spirit's flowing power,
abide with us and give us strength to face life's darkest hour.

Off to Fayetteville

Today I'm headed to Fville. I've not been there since last March, for Crissa's wedding. This trip has no other purpose than to see folk. I felt bad through most of 2004 that I couldn't get up there. And around the holiday I promised some of my friends and quasi-families that I'd get up there in January or February. I'm really looking forward to conversations, favourite restaurants, lovely drives, and renewing my small-progressive-beautiful-town bug. Fville is the town that changed me pretty dramatically in my 21 1/2 months there. I've long thought it is as close to paradise as I've experienced (just wish I'd had a social life there).

February is usually my busiest time of the year other than the summer. And this February has ended up fitting the pattern. Next week I've got youth camp spring planning in Austin, Jacob Zimmer is coming to visit, and I'm attending a Peace Conference here in Dallas (one of like four things that weekend that I've had to choose among). The next weekend is our first adult retreat of the year. I've been working on this event for months. The next week is back to Austin for Kevin Mitchell's wedding. And the next weekend to Oklahoma to spend my birthday weekend. Plus all the usual meetings, programs, etc.

So even though I've got to drive five hours today, I'm looking forward to a few days away before this crazy month begins.

Voices of Poetry

I just got back from something fun. Kevin Sutton, who teaches voice lessons here at the church, asked Harry and me to be on one of his radio programs today. This particular program is called "Voices of Poetry" and is broadcast on a special station for the blind and visually impaired that reads books, magazines, newspapers, etc. We were to read selections of religious poetry. Harry read a handful of selections from Ann Weems. Kevin read some Christina Rossetti. I read "The Sycamore" and "Meditation in the Spring Rain" by Wendell Berry, "Batter My Heart, Three Person'd God" by John Donne, "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Lecture V from Six Lectures in Verse" by Czeslaw Milosz, and "Psalm 8: Two Views of Creation" by Marty Peercy (who I introduced as "a contemporary poet from Chicago").

The program was a blast. It made me miss my days of doing tv shows in Fville. I think I might volunteer down there some more. You can go in and read novels in one hour segments, and when you are done, they broadcast the book in episodic fashion. Sounds fun!


So the other day a guttering company called and said they were doing estimates in the area. Since this is something I've been planning on getting around to since I bought the house two years ago (but have been delayed by other projects), I decided to have them come by and give me one.

In Fville I had guttering put on the house. It only cost me $280. The highest bid was $350.

The estimate I was given tonight?


Regarding Open Water

Since my picking Open Water for the worst film I saw this year is under attack (even on other websites), I want to say more than what I said in my comment in response to Greg and Kristen (go read that first).

Yes, the audience one sees a movie with highly influences a film. That's why I tell people that if they aren't going to go see a Star Wars movie on the opening weekend with the packed crowd who is fully into it, then don't go see it. Because if you aren't caught up in the magic, it won't work.

So I saw Open Water with a packed audience with no open seats. Usually such an audience has come because they are really excited about seeing a movie and want to give it their all. And that audience hated the film, all of us I surmise.

Maybe watching at home on your tv is different, but when "scary" things happened in this movie, we were all laughing. Loudly. And dismissively.

The only sequence that I even found remotely tense, was during the storm at night. Otherwise it was lame. Sure it was innovatively filmed, which was why we all thought it would be cool. But it wasn't. It simpy wasn't. One of the few films in my life that I'd ask for my money back and the 3 and 1/2 hours of my life spent seeing it.