Saturday, 25 July 2015

Slippery Words: 3 - "Courage" (and bravery)

The English word "courage" is rooted in the Latin word "cor" meaning "heart".

Here are some other words with the same root (cor/cord):  accord, cordial, core, concord, discord, discordant, encourage, record.

"Brave" is a  Middle French word which has been directly imported into English.  It meant "splendid, or "valiant".

 ( In former times, a man decked out in his finest clothing would be described as being in his "braveries"  - how splendid!).

I do not believe that the two words are synonyms.

I think that "bravery"  is a learned behaviour.  For example, the best military training teaches women and men how to be brave.

Thus Senator John McCain exhibited bravery when he flew his naval jet on combat missions in Viet-Nam. Similarly the Viet-Nam era American and Australian ground troops know as "Tunnel Rats" were brave -  as a result of their training.


When I visited Viet-Nam I tried to enter one of those tunnels.  Even 'though it had been enlarged for the benefit of tourists I had to withdraw after no more than 10 yards. I was overwhelmed with claustrophobia.  I was not brave, even in peace time.

I was not brave, but what about courage?

It seems to me that those who have not been trained to be  brave are very often courageous.

I think of those women and men who sheltered Jewish men, women and children during the N-zi era.

One such courageous Polish  woman sheltered Jewish children in her cellar, even as Gestapo agents sequestrated her home.

After WW II,  (and following  the subsequent Soviet Russian domination of Poland),  this woman was free to speak her mind.  Her witness was that she had never planned to protect Jewish children,  but when the time came she knew what she had to do, and to hell with the consequences..

Oh such genuine courage!  A courage for which she risked her life.


 Courage bears a price; it holds a risk.

That is why I am a skeptic regarding the recent ESPY award for courage  which was awarded to the man who wishes to be known as Caitlyn Jenner.

If he, Bruce Jenner, wishes to be known as Caitlyn -  all well and good.

But let us not describe his/her decision as courageous,

It is a decision of convenience which bears no price, and carries no cost,


COURAGE, if it is applied to Bruce/Caitlyn is an entirely slippery word,

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Slippery Words: 2 - "Forgiveness"

Many were shocked/surprised/amazed at the reaction of some Amish families after their young ones had been horribly murdered.  This National Public Radio story sheds some light on the forgiving spirit of Amish families whose children had died.

In a similar vein, some members of  the A.M.E "Emmanuel" Church in Charleston, S.C.  offered forgiveness to the alleged murderer (evidently a White Racist), of their brothers and sisters.

How cozy it is to "coo" with pleasure when Amish and A.M.E. Christians forgive those who have brutalized them.

But what about us: do we have the same ability and willingness  to forgive?

I think about a woman I know,  who finds it impossible to forgive the man who murdered her daughter.

I have suggested to her that it is indeed  utterly difficult for her  to forgive a man with whom she has no relationship;  a man who has never asked to be forgiven.

AND YET  true forgiveness is not  dependent on the one who needs forgiveness; instead it is routed in the one who is called to forgive,  ------  at a price

The  forgiving  person has to pay the price of abandoning pride, bitterness, resentment, anger, self-righteousness,  and the like.

That is why forgiveness is so difficult.  It carries so much pain for the potential forgiver.

BUT the refusal to forgive is even more painful.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Oh those rumours, or "ain't that the truth!"


A rhyme from 1916/1917  -  re the rumours in London during "The Great War".

Absolute evidence have I none,
But my aunt's charwoman's sister's son
Heard a policemen on his beat
Say to a housemaid in Downing Street
That he had a uncle who had a friend
Who knew for a fact when the war would end.
I happened upon this rhyme in the book  * "The Panther's Feast" by Robert B. Asprey  ( Published by Johnathan Cape, 1959).
Asprey attributes it to Sir George Aston.
Other sources say that the rhymer was Reginald Arkell.

* "The Panther's Feast" is a historical novel about Alfred Redl, the notorious head of Military Intelligence in the Austrian Army, who was also a spy for the Russians -  between 1901 and 1913

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Slippery Words: 1 - "Love"

I was chatting with a colleague last week, and I ventured to say that the word "love" is so over-used (especially in the pulpit) as to become the verbal equivalent of debased coinage.

I reminded him that the late Bishop  Krister Stendahl (a man of immense wisdom) urged preachers not to use the word (love) unless it was specifically used in the biblical passage for the day.

Bishop Stendhal not withstanding, it is hard for me to recall a recent sermon in which there was no  reference to the love of God.

Of course I trust in God's love (most days), but I believe that the Christian message should not, and cannot be reduced to the simplistic message that "God loves everyone".

When I hear "God loves everyone"  I respond by thinking "why?", or "so what?".  Is God no greater than my beloved pooch Penne who seems to love everyone?

My musings on the word "love"  were stirred when the United States Supreme Court ruled that we Americans have the right to marriage whether it be between a man and a woman, or between two women, or two men.

The Supreme Court does what the Supreme Court does.

But the Supreme Court cannot and should not determine the popular response to its rulings.

In this case, the most popular response (in my liberal circles) to the Court's ruling was  "love wins".

I did not like that response.

For you see "love" is a fungible and malleable word.

For instance,  we have all heard words such as these:
1, "I am telling you this because I love you"  (or maybe because I want to control you).
2, "If you truly loved me you would do this......" (even if it offends you).
3"Don't leave me because I love you"
4,  "If you loved me you would have sex with me".
And the list goes on, and on and on.
For my part the Supreme Court ruling,  good or bad as it may be, should be understood  in the realm of equality, or justice, but  most certainly  NOT in the realm in the malleable and fungible concepts  of 'love".   

Monday, 20 July 2015

When relationships interfere with theory,

I had planned to post some of my "profound" thoughts and theories about the meanings of the word "love" today.

But "real life" intervened.

A friend from Church stopped by. 

We had a couple of drinks and nibbled on some chips ("crisps"). 

Then we got real, and opened up our souls, each to the other.

We took off our masks. 

We abandoned pretense. 

We refused to stick to the generally approved scripts of the play-acting which masquerades as human life and experience.

Instead we "got real, and opened up our souls, each to the other".

Thus we enjoyed some moments of silence.  Thus we shared our teary eyes.

A poem (attributed to George Elliott) describes well this opening of the soul to another:

"Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person.
Having never to weigh thoughts, or measure words,
But pour them all out, chaff and grain together.
Knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them.
Keep what is worth keeping,
And then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."