November 2010


No post today due to the holiday. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Please check back next week.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

… and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

A recent TV commercial reminded me how we have trivialized certain words. The ad asked the viewer: “Do you suffer from bags under your eyes?” Suffer. From bags!

My wife and I both agreed having bags under your eyes is not suffering. Being hungry every day; that’s suffering. Having to watch your child die of disease; that’s suffering. Enduring pain, physical and emotional; that’s suffering. Living in fear for your life and that of your family; that’s suffering. Calling the way your eyes look “suffering” trivializes the real agony of so many in the world.

“Happy” is another word we have trivialized. I realized that yesterday while reading a blog by one of the publishers of the Common English Bible (CEB). Some had complained to the translators about their (the translators’) decision to render makarios in the Beatitudes as “happy” rather than “blessed.” The upshot of the publisher’s comments was that the CEB committee was not going to allow marketers to define “happy”:  “We might concede that it is possible to trivialize the meaning of happiness in our culture, to mistake happiness for personal self gratification, but the CEB editors are not willing to let a trivial misapplication of the word derail the correct use of the meaning from the Greek” (http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Connect/Blog/ViewBlog/tabid/209/ArticleId/71/Happy.aspx). Others commented that “happy” is a “weak” word in our culture and takes a great deal of “unpacking” to understand properly. Perhaps most telling for what I’m saying today is this comment: “when you use the word ‘happy’ in 2010 USA, people receive the message of personal wishes filled, not heavenly blessing.”

Finally, “Christian” has become a trivial word. It was first applied to disciples as a slur. The Greek word “christianos/oi” means “little Christ(s).” The opponents of the followers of the Way, as believers were first known, joked about the disciples’ efforts to live holy lives. “Look at those little Christs,” the detractors said. But the disciples bore the term as a badge of honor, and adopted it for themselves. They were willing to suffer insult for the sake of Christ, and indeed, turned bad into good, just as God did with Jesus on the cross.

But what does “Christian” typically signify today? Someone who is intolerant, mean-spirited, exclusivistic, even cruel or else a person whose beliefs are irrelevant, who defends the practices and existence of an outdated institution, and who cannot change. No wonder that young adults increasingly reject “Christianity” but like Jesus.

Time to stop the trivialization of faith and recover the element of suffering and sacrifice that characterized the first Christians. Time to love our neighbors as ourselves, though it be costly. Time to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

“Three marketing researchers have concluded that the less religious one is, the more commercial brand names matter…. For people who aren’t religious, visible markers of commercial brands, such as logos on a laptop or shirt pocket, function as a means of self-expression and as an assertion of self-worth comparable to the symbolic expression of faith” (The Christian Century, November 2, 2010: 9).

“In [Christ] you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

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I can’t quote him exactly now, but I recall Alan Flusser, the men’s clothing designer and expert, saying in his 1981 book Making the Man that if you wear initials on your shirt, they should be your own, and not some designer’s. What Flusser advised in that early work and in his subsequent books has been a kind of gospel for me as I built my wardrobe.

Interesting that the actual Gospel preaches a similar message. Our identity comes not from the brand names we wear or own. Rather it arises from our baptism, our being marked with the sign of God’s grace which claims us. Invisible once the water and oil dry on our skin, the symbol of our identity is nevertheless indelibly imprinted on us.

How sad to try to affirm your self-worth by sporting a logo that tells everyone you’ve bought an overpriced shirt or that you are technically savvy because you have a smartphone from the “right” maker! But also how telling. We are all at root people who seek meaning, who want to belong, who desire to be claimed by and identified as beloved by someone, and indeed by Someone, whatever our protestations to the contrary. St. Augustine famously said: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

When the One composer Kurt Kaiser once called the “Master Designer” (© 1969 Lexicon Music, Inc. in Tell It Like It Is) has touched you and marked you as his own, you know who you are. How could you want any other monogram on you than IHS or XP?*

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

* The classic Christograms: the first three letters of “Jesus” in Greek, then the letters “Chi Rho,” which begin the word “Christ” in Greek.

Please check back next week. In the meantime, visit my sermon blog at http://drtomsermons.wordpress.com.

Thanks for reading.