Friday, September 30, 2011

Is it Easier to be Half a Christian, or Half a Comedian?

Uses and Misuses of the English Language

In a recent newsletter from my pastor, I see that he quotes a book by Steven Furtlick titled Sun Stand Still.  Pastor Furtlick apparently dislikes a phrase from contemporary Christian practice: "full-time ministry."  He says, "I know what it's supposed to mean, but I vehemently disagree with its implications.  To say that someone is called to 'full-time ministry' suggests that others are permitted to do 'part-time' ministry."  He disagrees, and goes on to say that Jesus "didn't die on a part-time cross."  He says, "There's no such thing as a part-time Christian, and [ so therefore ] there's no such thing as a part-time ministry."

This passion (which I do admire, separate from any theological discussion) reminds me of the late, great George Carlin.  He said about the instructions to cook a turkey, how can one "pre-heat" an oven?  After all, there are only two possible states for an oven to be in, ON or OFF.  If it is on, even a little bit, it is a heating (or heated) oven.  If it is not, it is not.  After all (I will say, agreeing with his outrage), if in one's pre-heated oven, while inserting the turkey, one's hand touches the rack, then you're injured.  You're not pre-injured, you're just injured, and go ouch and reach for an ice pack.  Ovens are either on or off, either hot or cold.  If you turn the switch to off, are you pre-cooling it?

I suppose my kids might disagree with my analysis.  As a cook, I was (and am) notoriously casual about such things as measuring cups, cooking times, and, in fact, directions in general.  Next time somebody asks me what I am doing in the kitchen, perhaps I can answer, "pre-burning tonight's dinner."

George Carlin also objected to the phrase when in an airport that a given flight was about to begin pre-boarding.  As with an oven, either people are getting on (they are boarding) or they are not.  Who gets on first or second doesn't change that: the first folks to exit the terminal and walk down the jetway are not pre-boarding, they are completely and utterly boarding, plan and simple.  I do agree with him on this: to my mind, the only way any of us could preboard would be if they had some kind of module with all of the seats attached to it.  If in some kind of a holding area all the passengers took their seats in the module, and then, only later, if the module were lifted up by a skip loader and slid into the side of the plane sideways, THEN I would agree, we had pre-boarded.

Recently I heard a German banker talking about the Euro debt crisis.  He said (in very good English) that it is not just premature to talk about further loans and rescue attempts, but that it is MORE than premature.  This makes no sense to me.  How can something come before the fact that it has not yet come yet?  It is either a premature plan or else it is a timely plan, but it can't be a pre-premature plan yet.  That sounds like a biological impossibility: mom and dad haven't even met at Schooners yet for their first date, so the baby isn't premature because it does not even exist yet.

Of course we are used to living with contradictions and redundant phrases.  I am at a conference in Reno, whose central street has this sign:

Apparently, as little cities go, Reno used to be a littler little city, because I remember this same slogan from the mid-1960s, and the sign was definitely smaller then.  (If I can find that image, I will add it to this post once I get back to campus.)

Isn't this Reno phrase a sort of demographic impossibility?  If it's a little city, it can't also be a big city.  Only in particle physics can light be a particle and a wave at the same time.  In Newtonian physics, big is big and small is small.  If it keeps growing, will Reno some day be the littlest big city in the world?  And, eventually, with a few more malls and casinos, then the middle-littlest big city in the world?  The expression makes no sense.

We use the term at AVC that so and so is a "part-time student."  I feel about this the way that Pastor Furtlick feels about Christians.  One either is a student or one isn't, and if one is, then learning and growth and discovery are constant goals, constant companions.  I would hope that whether one is taking six units or twenty-six, the openness to ideas and new ways of being would be equally present.  (As Furtlick might say, one does not go to just a part-time Heaven.  And for us, there are no half-credit degrees.  Either you have the credits for a degree or you do not: Dr. Fisher at commencement this coming June won't be handing out 3/4 diplomas or 5/8th ones.  All or nothing, in learning as it is in life.)

Of course maybe for some of my students, the ones, say, texting during the lectures, we might say that they have already started to pre-fail the final exam....

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