Category Archives: language

Takes One to Know One

How to Stop an Argument 101 – Part 1

Posted by David—

Everyone argues. It’s human nature, isn’t it? I’m right and you’re wrong and this is why: “Because of (a), (b) and (c)…” Or I might just yell, “nuh, uh!” There have been the times, that justification for my ‘point’ resorted to name calling. And with that the argument really starts to dissolve.  Then comes my personal favorite rebuttal: “Takes one to know one!” At least, there’s a bit of humility there.

I’m finding that all arguing, yes, all, is a completely useless enterprise. In fact, it’s more than that:  it is self-defeating. Everyone has had the sort of argument, when as you start arguing your side, you actually end up justifying your ‘opponent’ through your argument. Digging your hole deeper they say. That’s the way it always is, only sometimes it is more apparent with those who are less gifted in the art of speaking.

Just because I am arguing expresses a hesitance that, um, maybe I’m not fully justified. Truth is self-justifying and we know it in our deepest being.  That’s why we argue, because we want to hide the facts through reason. But the only necessary and valid witness in any argument is Truth itself (Himself). And don’t think that any one side is usually in the ‘right’. I suspect that even if one side of the argument seems valid and true, there’s falsehoods tucked deep within. Truth has no need for aruging, because Truth is self-evident. 

As I have said before I think the only reason language was ‘invented’ by man was to conceal truth through reason. Language was not necessary before man began his path along the big lie. Sure we communicated, but it was probably more akin to song before that.

The flip side to truth being self-justifying is that lies are self-convicting. This is why we never need to argue, nor should argue in our own defense or in the defense of others. Yes, we must witness to the truth, but there’s no need to go further than that. This or that is the way it is. And if we can say something in truth, then the truth will be self-justified. And if we lie or mislead, then no matter how much we argue, the falsehood will be revealed.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

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Yes, Yes, Nod, Nod, Wink, Wink

Hurricane Katarina

Photo Credit: NASA

Posted by David-

Anyone who has spent much time with me knows that I love the weather and that I have special theories that cover just about everything. I suppose, “theory” isn’t the best word for my thoughts. It’s more like I hang on to a map that is based loosely on observation and highly on metaphor. I ask myself, “If [A] works in this pattern, then mustn’t [B] work in a similar way?” Yes, there’s trouble written all over that logic. Or is there?

I’ll share with you one of my special maps that helps me grasp processes in the cosmos. It’s quite simple: all processes of the heavens, including the ‘space’ below our feet, work like weather. I always envision the hurricane as an example because it’s so elegant and its basic processes are fairly well understood. We might not know why it centers on Kingston rather than Havana, but we do know the heat engine that drives it, the steering currents that push and pull it, and the general pattern of wind development. In my personal opinion it is the perfect model for everything from trees to planets and from atoms to galaxies. In my map, the hurricane is the rosetta stone for understanding how all natural phenomena works.

As bold and off-base as this might sound, it actually is my fundamental subconscious map that I use to understand nature. When I think geology, in the back of my head I see the earth as a hurricane. When I think of gravity, I think of the isobar gradients that weathermen plot. If I read about a scientist’s new theory about the cosmos, I always plug the new theory into my ‘map’. Does it fit into my map?

As a result, I have developed a fairly farfetched vison of how nature works. But I enjoy it and if I’m wrong, that’s okay. I’ve been wrong before. My scientist friends think that I hold on to these ideas, because that is what I ‘want’ to believe. They may be right. It maybe that my pride and prejudices need this to be the case so I don’t tumble into existential despair. But I don’t think so. These days, Jesus keeps me humble. It may very well be that I am projecting my ‘maps’ on to the universe, which takes me to one of the other special ‘maps’ that guide my understanding: human projection is a real and powerful force.

I had an interesting experience just the other day that may help me to explain. I’m using this incident as an example and by no means am justifying myself here. I’ve done the same thing many times.

I was at a dinner gathering of 20 or so men, women and children. The friends that I usually chat with were either occupied or absent, so I just sat around and watched the children play. One particular person started telling a story describing something of a political nature. As an observer to the story I listened and the storyteller knew it. Every few moments, my eyes were linked to the storyteller. I listened. As the person spoke, the story was told in a manner that had the general expectation that the audience agreed or should agree with the political position. The storyteller’s eyes were seeking facial cues of “yes, yes, I agree with you.” But I didn’t agree. I rarely agree with any political stance, right or left. But what was interesting was that the storyteller seemed to hunger for acceptance of this particular view.

At first, I felt compelled, almost as if by a power, to agree with my eyes. But my eyes wouldn’t, they tried to stay neutral, which I found to be no different than a lie. It was so difficult. Finally, I burst out and said that “no” what was being described sounded like Hell to me, because that was the truth. Politics are Hell. Politics are simply the societal gossip that lead humans down the road to civil war.

So, how do I explain this common human phenomena, this powerful force that causes us to seek justification of our points of view from those around us? It’s easy. I just look inside myself to see why others do it. I’ve done this before with my ‘theories’. My ‘fallen’ nature desires to be God. I project–as a force–my notions, my thoughts, and my lies upon reality for purposes of dominion and self-justification. At least I’ve done this in the past and I certainly do it at times presently.

I never really understood until recently how sin can have affected all of the cosmos, as is taught in Christian theology. But I now understand it to be because of the power and scope of human projection. Because of our fallen state, when we look beyond our own noses we tend to project the ego outward. However rational and unbiased and scientific we may try to be, we can’t help but apply the root of our pride and prejudices to the universe and to our next door neighbor. This is a true force and can be likened to gravity and to barometric isobars. And it can become malicious and manipulative as we seek justification.

For quite sometime, maybe our whole lives long, we can go about thinking that we’re right and that the other guy is wrong. In fact, because we’re so good at projecting with a force, the universe may even start talking back to us, and nod, and say, “yes, yes, nod, nod, wink, wink, I agree with you. I want to belong to your way of thinking.” But eventually we will discover, that it wasn’t universe talking back after all, it was only our reflection and, oh, how lonely we will be then.

Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.

Romans 8:19-21

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Sehnsucht

Posted by David

I recently came across the curious word, Sehnsucht, while reading an article by C.S. Lewis. It forced me to look it up. It’s German and doesn’t seem to have an adequate translation in English. It’s the sort of word that’s difficult explain in any language. The closest word I know to it is nostalgia.

Wikipedia states, “Sehnsucht is a German word that literally means ‘longing’ or in a wider sense a kind of ‘intensely missing’.” I get the feeling that this word may refer to a peculiar, fleeting mood that overcomes me every now and again.

My wife was looking at a Lopi knitting book a few years back and I noticed a photograph of a house along the sea in Iceland. For a few moments I was overwhelmed with the feeling. It is like deep nostalgia, but because I’ve never been to Iceland, it’s a nostalgia for something I’ve never known. I get the same feeling for the ‘North’ country, whatever that means. High latitude skies, cold winds across the bracken might trigger the feeling in me. I also get this feeling from simpler things, especially good children’s literature. Try the original Winnie-the-Pooh Series, especially the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner.

I also get the feeling when think about The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. After reading those books in rapid succession, I went through a mild depression when I realized I had left the place for good, the series of books were over and I couldn’t go back. Today, I still long for the Shire in my life. But it can’t be. I know that. There is a purpose of Sehnsucht and its purpose is to point us in the direction of life. We are not supposed to go back or retreat into or relive or even seek out to restore the Sehnsucht in our lives. I expect that one day I will awaken into it. I will learn that it was God calling all along. If I understand correctly, this is how C.S. Lewis understood it, too.

Just a couple of days ago I had another experience with Sehnsucht in the early morning hours. I had one of what I call my ‘Nostalgia Dreams’. It’s always the same. I’m in a beautiful dream, usually of childhood. Then I slowly recognize in the midst of the dream that it’s only a dream. Then it hits me. An intense wave of sadness, akin to depression, sweeps over my body. The feeling is so strong that I’m shocked into consciousness. At first, I can still feel the deep longing and sadness. Within about a minute or so, it is mostly faded. But the feeling never really ever fades completely. My entire being lives partially in Sehnsucht. Today, I know it’s God calling me home.

It makes me wonder if Jesus lived his life on earth with this feeling. As Emanuel, ‘God with us’, how greatly he must have longed to return to his Father.

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty…

Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

The Last Battle, The Cronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

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A Colloquy of Saps

Guest Post by Alan Gibson

Social heresy: stop being so cloyingly, insufferably polite

There are variations, but typically it goes like this:

“How’re you?”

“Fine. How’re you?”

“Fine thanks. Nice to see you.”

“Nice to see you.”

What’s the point of all that? Cordiality? I never feel buoyed by one of those exchanges; I feel diminished. For all the “how are you’s” nobody finds out how the other is.

And that’s too bad because it’s a splendid query—how, at essence, are you? But the question presumes a certain intimacy and investment of time. Ideally, the parties would be lounging with drinks, watching water or a sunset.

A friend explained to me that the casual ‘how are you’ is genuine in that the asker wants to be reassured that the other is ‘all right.’ Which to me compounds the disingenuity since no one is ever all right this side of a lobotomy.

“You’ve go a bad attitude,” my friend remarked. “There’s nothing wrong with being polite.”

There is, however, something wrong with emptiness, with essence being trivialized, with substitute yammer for authentic openness of spirit. It would be a fine thing if more of us told one another how we are. But you can’t fake the discourse, or short-cut your way to that kind of understanding.

Previously published in the Picken’s Progress

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Eponymous

Posted by Mike

Last night I was with a group of friends waiting for a table in a restaurant. One of the guys was talking, and he referred to an eponymous something. I jumped in and said “What does that mean? I seem to see that word all the time in magazine articles, have looked it up, but always forget what it means the next time I see it.” It is true that I seem to see eponymous at least weekly in a news or some other kind of magazine. However, what’s really striking about the incident at the restaurant is how real it all was, how current, yet it occurred in a dream. It’s true, though; maybe you too have run up against eponymous recently – and perhaps like me haven’t learned it yet?

Last year it was vet or vetting. People would say to me, “Where did that word come from? What does it mean? I’ve never heard it?” I did find it in the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD). They define it as “to examine or appraise expertly.” My New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) advises that it means “make a careful and critical examination of (something).” And “investigate (someone) thoroughly, esp. in order to ensure that they are suitable for a job requiring secrecy, loyalty, or trustworthiness.” Yes, it appears to be an abbreviation of veterinarian. My impression is that the British have been using “vet,” “vetted,” and “vetting” for some time, maybe back to the 19th century.

I’m reading a book on international law, Lawless World, by Philippe Sands. It’s really interesting. He recounts the development of international law, especially since 1950 and recent developments, and discusses legal issues related to the Guantanamo detainees. On page 130 he writes, “There is no obligation for ICSID awards to be made public, although often they [are made public]…as samizdat.” When I saw that word it had a vague familiarity, but I couldn’t even guess what it meant. Looking it up, I said Ah hah! Yes, it was used in the late Cold War and means “The secret publication and distribution of government-banned literature in the U.S.S.R” (AHD). I then remembered having seen it from time to time during those years. It’s from the Russian, “sam+izdat”, self+to publish.

I guess that all new words that make their way into our vocabularies are useful, or they wouldn’t be used. But some do seem rather silly and pretentious – like eponymous. Eponymous means, “Of, relating to, or constituting an eponym” (AHD). Was that helpful? No? Then – the NOAD advises that eponymous is “giving their name to something: the eponymous hero of the novel.” Like, St. Francis is the eponym of San Francisco; in a sense, his name was his eponymous gift to the city. Eponym was coined in England in the 19th century, and is from the Greek “epi +onoma”  = upon+name.

I woke up this morning dreaming about having saved two people from drowning and then being in the emergency room of a mental health facility helping to admit these two people to a psychiatric unit. That dream seemed pretty real too. It was good also that I played a positive role in the whole affair.

I don’t think there’s anything here that would negatively affect any vetting of me. It’s certainly not samizdat. And I’m not the eponymous hero of a novel, like Tom Jones, or of even a short story! Have a nice day.

“It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to fifty words used in correct context – no human being is reported to have learned Dolphinese.”    –   Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

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Two Years of Language

Posted by David

Our son is turning three years old next week and over the past few days we’ve been compiling some of his best words. I know, as his parents, the words are far more fun to us than are to you, but here they are anyway.

It’s interesting to note that a number of the words contain added meaning, such as swimming cool and sunsit.

beepeeter computer
busy dizzy
earblobs earlobes
firegengen fire engine
hakes thanks
jawbers strawberries
mohsocker motorcycle
moperseeker fish?
onie onion
psyged excited
shark sharp
shish fish
sunsit sunset
swimmin cool swimming pool
tabers potatoes
toothtaste toothpaste
tungle tunnel
zirt dessert

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When Song Breaks Forth

Posted by David
Jan Miense Molenaer (ca. 1610-1668), Young musicians and a dwarf

Jan Miense Molenaer (ca. 1610-1668), Young musicians and a dwarf

I have this notion—whether it is true or not I cannot know—that humans beings sang before we spoke. It may be that I like the idea, so I hope it to be true. It may be that my experience with spoken language makes me desire something more from language.  

Language has been a positive characteristic of my humanity when it was simply about relating to others. In those times when I used my words in context with others for good, it was like touch, like a warming fire or like a satisfying meal. But language has also been a means of pain in my life. I’ve used simple words to hurt others. Haphazardly, I’ve spread gossip’s life-eating fire. I have fought with words, scarring myself and others. Too often in my life this has been the purpose of language.

But on the other hand, song and singing is so elementary, so fundamental that it is more difficult to be corrupted. You can’t make a A minor chord sound like a C major. If A minor notes come out, you’re going to get a solemn feel. The intended feeling within a made-up tune is difficult to disguise. Singing speaks from the heart, especially singing without words. Our personal tunes tell our personal stories that reside in the deepest places.

Why do we have such a range of notes in our vocal chords? Did those evolve for speech or did they develop for our voice of song? I expect the latter. I also expect that human words and spoken languages emerged simultaneously with other forms of human disguise. Like our clothes, words can hide our naked reality, our humility, our strengths and weaknesses. For out of our song we cannot disguise our heart’s story, but with words, we can cloak our heart’s story with various meanings—some true and some false. There was a time in our history when spoken words began to hide the truth of our heart. This is probably why our languages are not sing-songy. Our words have only slight ups and down. For the most part they are monotonal. With monotonal speech we are less likely to give away something that we’re hiding.

The beginning of language was also probably the beginning of History. At that point we could tell stories. Our words could be packed with meanings both true and false.  Our stories could travel through time embedded in language itself. History, once initiated, took to life and we now see it written on our faces, in our stories, and in the landscape itself.  But with that new beginning something else died to make it happen: the free life of the human heart was crushed.  This what happen to us after what the Bible calls the Fall.

History now cloaks the truth. It hides our roots. It covers over what we are intended to be just like words are able to conceal the human heart. But there will be the day when History dies completely and what will break forth will be the most beautiful song you have ever heard.

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. 

Zephaniah 3:14

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