Monday, April 21, 2014

The Perils of Wit

Laughter is wonderful, and the art of making others laugh is a highly-prized skill. There are, however, some distinct downsides to attempting humor. This is a list I can recount with a fair amount of confidence because I am guilty of them all.

All who consider yourselves wits, read and take note. 

The Perils of Wit:

Danger 1: Making jokes that nobody understands. Oh, the shame of dropping a particularly delicious witticism only to have your sally greeted by the blank stares of your companions and the chirping of crickets. This is a distinct downside not only because of the disappointment you feel over the wasted wit but also because all it takes are a few misguided Robespierre jokes for everyone in your life to suspect that you've gone insane. When you ignore this warning (meaning that you allow your need to express a well-timed quip to override your better judgement and you drop a Soylent Green joke despite the questionable demographics of your audience) you'll have no one to thank but yourself.

Danger 2: Feeling that you must rise to meet expectations. Have you ever caught people pausing in conversation to stare at you as if waiting for droll comments to drip freely from your lips? Once you suspect that people think you're witty, you may fear that they will become disappointed if you don't rise to the occasion by constantly entertaining them with a stream of lively banter. The danger here is that in attempting to be "on" all the time despite occasional dips in mood, intermittent personal struggles, or a temporarily sluggish mental state, you may wind up displaying a grotesque parody of humor that delights no one. Better by far to keep your mouth shut and let the moment pass you by.

Danger 3: Confronting the assumption that you don't think too deeply. For some reason, people tend to equate seriousness with depth and laughter with shallow flippancy. Although there's some truth at the core of the assumption, it's still a dangerous over-generalization. Yes, it doesn't cost much to be flippant, but not all humor is flippancy and not all earnestness is solemn. C.S. Lewis acknowledges joy as the "serious business of heaven," and perhaps it's time for more people to apply this concept to their earthly lives. There is a type of joy that is serious just as there is a type of humor that is actually very sad.  The point is that if we assume that those with light hearts only skim the surface of life, we must think again. It often costs a great deal to learn to respond to the serious business of life with quips and laughter. 

Danger 4: Allowing wit to trump all other considerations. One of the worst perils of wit is the constant danger of letting the words fly without first considering the requirements we should place upon all communication. Unfortunately, individuals blessed with quick, sharp minds will often allow their tongues to run on ahead, speaking first and considering the ramifications later. This is perhaps the greatest peril of wit, and one not easily remedied.

If you find yourself grappling with this last danger as often as I do, take heart. There is hope.

A good first step would be to fill your mind with things worthy of being said (Philippians 4:8) so that in the event that you do open your mouth, you have a lower likelihood of saying something foolish. Next, memorize and meditate on Psalm 141:3: "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips." Another helpful step would be to consider simply talking a whole lot less. (I didn't say it would be an easy step. I just said that it would be a helpful one.)

Now if you will excuse me, I will be over there in the corner, sitting quietly and concentrating on remembering to think before I speak.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

All For Me

The Mighty One has done great things for me
Holy is his name
Bless the Lord, oh my soul
Forget not all his benefits
Praise be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings
Praise be to the Spirit
Who comforts and guides us in all truth
Praise be to Jesus
The way, the truth, and the life
Who left heaven's throne
For me
Who offered himself freely
For me
Who was beaten
For me
Who was mocked
For me
Who suffered and died
For me
Who rose again
For me
Who lives to make intercession
For me
Who is a rock
For me
Who is a shield
For me
Who is a defender
For me
Who has overcome the world
For me
Who is preparing a place
For me
Who will return 
For me
The Mighty One has done great things for me
Holy is his name
My hope is found in Christ alone
Holy is his name

Friday, April 11, 2014

Read Between the Lines: a Literary Love Song

Scrooge is in his counting house, counting all his money;
Pooh is down at Rabbit’s place, eating all the honey;
Pippa’s singing her sweet song, tripping through the dew;
While I'm still sitting lonely here thinking, dear, of you.

Catherine's up to her old tricks, wandering ‘cross the moors;
Aragorn’s at the black gates, kicking down the doors;
The Mariner still tells his tale of bird and ship and sea;
While I’m still pining, dear, for you. Can’t you pine for me?

Atticus is in the road, sighting down the barrel;
Mary’s Apple Cart Upset left her with Yellow Peril;
Beowulf foams 'cross the waves, plowing the whale road;
While I'm still sending signals, dear, in hopes that you’ll decode.

Poirot strokes his long mustaches, chasing a loose end;
Viola’s dressed like a boy, but it’s just pretend;
Fred and George go out in style, kicking up a fuss
While here we be, still you and me. When will we be us?

©2014 Ruth Buchanan

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Very Favorite Word

I traffic in words.  

I read them, write them, sing them, memorize them, teach them, misunderstand them, fall into fussy little debates about their proper usage, and spend way too long analyzing them. 

Words comfort, soothe, challenge, entertain, fortify, and protect--and I love them. I'd like to say that I love them all, but the truth is that A) I don't know them all, and B) some words are just plain awful -- hard to pronounce or awkward or gross or stupid or pointless or dumb. 

Yes, we all have words that we hate (impactful, moist, mammogram), but we also have words that we love: words pregnant with meaning (redemption, justice, vow), words that are a sheer delight to say (cattywampus, effervescent, galumphing, piffle), and words that we'd love to drop in conversation but avoid using too often for fear of sounding pompous (ubiquitous, erstwhile, obstreperous, panoply, contretemps). 

My favorite word, however, carries none of these qualities. This word is not necessarily pregnant with meaning by itself (although its presence does alter the meaning of the overall sentence). 

It's small, simple, and unimpressive, but what a difference it makes.

The word is yet.

Consider the difference:

"I haven't won the lottery" vs. "I haven't won the lottery...yet."

See what I mean?

Such a tiny word, but look what it can do:

"I haven't seen the world," vs. "I haven't seen the world ...yet."
"I haven't started jogging," vs. "I haven't started jogging...yet."
"I haven't quit smoking," vs. "I haven't quit smoking... yet."
"I haven't met the President," vs. "I haven't met the President... yet."
"I haven't made amends," vs. "I haven't made amends...yet."
"I haven't learned to juggle," vs. "I haven't learned to juggle... yet."

A change in tone. A statement of intent. A world of hope in three little letters.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Sadly, the word yet can be harnessed for a darker purpose, one favored by those who live in constant fear of the next unknown disaster:

"I haven't been ripped off," vs. "I haven't been ripped off... yet."
"I haven't contracted cancer," vs. "I haven't contracted cancer... yet."
"I haven't failed as a parent," vs. "I haven't failed as a parent... yet."
"I haven't screwed up at work," vs. "I haven't screwed up at work.. yet."
"I haven't gotten a divorce," vs. "I haven't gotten a divorce... yet."

The word yet is a hinge that affects our mental balance, and tipping too far in either direction is unhealthy. Remember that all goals aren't necessarily accomplished just because we believe they are possible, and all catastrophes don't strike simply because they might.

The word yet is not a guarantee but a word that creates space in our minds for possibilities.

Let's learn to use it wisely.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How to Deal With Hair

If You Are a Woman

Dealing with your hair is very simple, ladies. First, cut your hair short. Immediately decide that you miss your long hair. Spend the ensuing months attempting to suppress the explosion of ridiculousness on the top of your head. Consider having the phrase "I'M GROWING IT OUT" printed on a sandwich-board and wearing it around town as explanation.  

Once it's grown out, begin complaining that you miss your short hair. Spend hours culling examples of various pixie cuts from the internet and send them to your friends for analysis. Debate your friends' opinions ad infinitum. After much dithering, cut your hair short again. 

Immediately decide to grow it out. 

Determined that this time you'll manage to look somewhat classy while growing your hair out, watch a dozen YouTube videos explaining how to tie elaborate head wraps. Wear head wrap for one day before deciding that 1) it's too much work, 2) the tightness of the wrap makes your head hurt, 3) you are too white to masquerade as an African princess, or 4) all of the above. 

Continue growing out hair until you decide to cut it short again.  

And so forth.

If You Are a Child

Remember that your hair exists for wiping your hands, storing gum, experimenting with scissors, and investigating the combined properties of dirt clods and tree sap. You should not bother with the question of whether it's clean or how it looks. Such lines of inquiry are time-consuming and pointless.

Since forced hair-combing has caused more pain and suffering than all the world's wars combined, on no account should you allow yourself to be tricked into such a dangerous situation.


If You Are a Man

Let your hair sit on top of your head. Cut it when it starts getting in your eyes.