I’d almost felt guilty for setting aside Eugene Peterson’s “Eat This Book” after picking up Shane Claiborne’s book on impulse and then falling in love with it. But in finishing up “Eat …” I’m also realizing that Claiborne was just the spark I needed to breeze through the rest of Peterson and realize much of what I love about it.
In the chapter covering Peterson’s research during the time he wrote The Message, he gets a little adventurous in his tale. In covering the tendency of language to take the form of sacrilege in two directions: up and down. Down, we’re familiar with: language intended to defile and desecrate.
But sacrilege up? That’s where Peterson goes into some treacherous terrain, most notably in criticizing the way in which the King James Version of the Bible was translated. Peterson’s point in doing so is to highlight the concept of the Bible as being God’s word to us in common, everyday language of the day.
As Peterson points out, the old Greek translations used to have words that only existed in the Bible. About five hundred of them. It was deemed that not only did the Spirit lead people to pen the word of God, but He also provided special “Holy Ghost” words. The result has been to refine and dress up Biblical language.
The excerpt below points out how a 19th century archeological find changed that, putting the the way in which God speaks to us in a vastly different light:
Unstudied expressions. I just love that phrase.
A few weeks back, I was engaged in the highly theologically-correct act of watching the season finale of The Sopranos. I never took to the show in all the years it was on. Heck, I’ve only had HBO for about three years now. But I knew it’s place as a cultural phenomenon and wanted to catch the final episode if only to see if there was something I could appreciate about the show. I didn’t exactly fall in love with it, but there was something about that I sorta admired. I wasn’t sure what, but when I ran across this Leon Weiseltier coda on the series, I think I saw it a bit more clearly:
Words should be fought for. Of course, Weiseltier does tend to put an awful lot of them in front of what eventually is his entire thesis. Another attribute I love – when I have the time to read, that is.
I’m reminded of these two tangents whenever we share praise reports and prayer requests in some of the small groups we share in church. Invariably, it seems, there exists a sermon of sorts in someone (or sometwo) that is just begging to come out. And often, it’s not always the time it’s requested to come out … it just blurts out. As a group leader asks a direct question, a hand goes up, someone in the group gets acknowledged, and a mini-sermon comes out. That might have been better to share during praise reports, but so be it. Ask for a praise report and you may get a full thirty minute sermon – or life story.
It used to be that that bugged me. I’ve since learned to appreciate that life is never as pretty as it should be and that things often go out of order and chaotically enough that it might just be best to appreciate what’s in front of us than to try and force that unplanned sermon back into the virtual toothpaste tube it sprang from.
But from a further step back, it’s worth appreciating them even more as some of those “unstudied expressions,” full of words that are “fought for.”
In Compass Class on Saturday, we studied the chapter from “S.H.A.P.E.” on abilities. We had a nice, handy list copied from the book of abilities we were to check off if we recognized them in ourselves. My own? I had a few to do with communications checked off, among a few others. But the essence of my job is to help people tell their stories. Whoduthunkit – that Marketing degree of mine actually gets some mileage these days. And as we go around the class with everyone rattling off some of the items they checked off, it was apparent that there wouldn’t be enough time to hit everyone in class. And since I didn’t have a good, concise elevator pitch that explained my own list in a way that I felt would have been of any interest to most in the class, I held back – hoping that my silence might quicken the time I get a good seat in the sanctuary (alas, I was only modestly successful on this count).
Yet, another in the class saw the time as an opportune time to give a praise report of his own. Like I said, once upon a time, that might have bugged me. But one of the things I’ve picked up on in communications is that not everyone knows how to wait and find that time to communicate their message with the most impact. I can’t say I master it to perfection myself, even. But in hearing this wonderfully splendid, out of order praise report, I was reminded that it’s not just words that are sometimes fought for – it’s the message, audience, and context that are just as hard to find.
The beauty of unstudied expressions is that the one using them ultimately improves and we’re blessed with a front row seat to a work in progress. What’s the old saying? … if you’ve never failed at something, you’re not trying hard enough. The praise report we were blessed with might well have been the single most important thing that person had to share in a long time. We get a good deal of them in our small groups, too. Sometimes, they’re artfully delivered in picture-perfect storybook fashion. Other times, they’re fought for. And, in this case, God bless those doing the fighting.