Tilling at the windmills

The other night, somebody used the word “retarded” as a synonym for stupid.   This is something that irritates me to know end.   I didn’t know the person, but they appeared to be reasonable, mature, and well-adjusted.   And it got me to thinking.

Words don’t have any meaning beyond what we gave them.   Sometimes, we fight these losing battles to hang on to the meaning of words that are changing.  Like everything else in this broken world, it seems like inevitably, words spiral down, down, down, so that even the loftiest of words come to stand for things increasingly negative and impure.

There comes a point when the defenders of the old definition of a word are a bit like Don Quioxite.  We’re so out of touch with how the word is now being used, it’s like we’re speaking a different language.  There’s a sort-of romance in being one of the last few hold outs…

But what happens when we’re literally the last person who is holding on to the old meaning of a word?  It seems like the case is stranger and more interesting than most other Don Quixote-type situations.  Because in this case, you could start off totally in touch with reality… in this case, the definitions of words.  But with out changing, the world can change around you, and you end up out of touch, babbling nonsense, even, because the world has moved on.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Tilling at the windmills”

  1. Jeff, do you know what it means to be a guardian of the something? Not a guardian of another person, like dads are guardians of their wives and children, but a guardian of a thing, and it can be either real estate or something intangible.

    As you know I belong to the Greek orthodox Church. Without ever coming out and saying it, this Church is the guardian of something very precious, something it guards not only for itself but for everyone who believes in Christ. What is that? It is the text of the original Greek New Testament, along with everything else that precedes or follows from it—the Greek Old Testament (LXX), the Church Fathers, and even the language itself. The Greek that is spoken daily by modern Greeks is a subset, a sort of slang, of the Greek of the Bible. This biblical Greek—Western Christians call it koiné—is still a living language for many thousands of Orthodox Christians worldwide, all of its meanings intact. How can this be? Well, two thousand years’ worth of human lives have acted as guardians to that ancient tongue and have kept its meanings clear. All this, the opposition of the world notwithstanding. That’s being a guardian.

    I understand what you are getting at in this post, and my only comment is that we too are guardians of the English language, a very great language that has all the characteristics of the biblical Greek in terms of range of meaning and easy adaptability, as well as an illustrious linguistic pedigree. I suggest to you that if we value this language, we too must become its guardians, especially if we are communicators, and use it correctly but without ostentation or fuss.

    I haven’t visited your blog in a while, brother. I just wanted to greet you in the name of the Lord.
    Grace and peace.


  2. Hello!
    How refreshing. I felt like I was being terribly obtuse as I wrote this. I actually attempted about 8 different poems expressing this idea and gave up. I think you grasped exactly what I was trying to get at. Though I hadn’t thought about this in the biblical/historical context…
    Thanks for your time, insight, and understanding.


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