We had for years a great little toaster oven that finally gave up the ghost a few months back. We bought a new appliance, but, while just fine for small baking jobs or browning cheese toast, it fell down in the toasting department. That task involved turning a dial past 10 minutes, then back to your preferred toast darkness mark; setting the oven temp at 450; and making sure a switch was set on “bake/toast” rather than "”broil.” Even after all these steps, and putting the dial where we thought we wanted it for perfect toast, the bread or bagel always came out either too light or too dark. And worst of all, it took forever to make toast, since the coils did not heat up immediately as in a conventional toaster.

We finally gave up on toasting in the thing and bought a traditional toaster. Wow! Simple. Fast. It does one thing and does it well. No menus or steps or confusing settings.

I like simple. Life is too complicated to have to fool with applicances that give you fits. I guess that’s why I don’t have a smart phone. (I saw a “For Dummies” book about the iPhone 4S in someone’s home Wednesday that was as thick as one of my Bible commentaries!)

There’s an old saw we all know called “Occam’s Razor.” It’s stated a number of ways, but the version I know is “All other things being equal, the simplest solution to a problem (or the simplest answer to a question) is likely the right one.”

In these days when faith is clouded by arguments on hot button issues, debates about standards, and on and on, I like to think that Jesus would have liked Occam’s Razor. And he would also have liked toasters. Both for their simplicity. After all, did he not sum up the gospel like this: “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”?

What would happen if all the preachers, politicians, and pundits today remembered and practiced that simple summons?

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.


When I became interim pastor for a nearby church, I was given a set of keys by the clerk of session during worship on my first Sunday. Being granted access to everywhere and anywhere in the buildings was, of course, a sign of welcome and great trust.

But there were and are lots of keys. One for the front door of the house where my office is and one for the back. Another for my office door and yet another for my desk. And one more for the front door of the church building. I added the ministry key ring to my already existing wad of car key, house key, parents’ house key, and storage unit key, in addition to the keyless remote for my SUV. Pretty soon I began to worry that I would wear a hole in the pocket of my pants from carrying all those keys.

I was considering getting one of those old-fashioned key cases like I used to have years ago. I told Susan about my plan, and as usual, she came up with a simpler solution. I didn’t need to spend time looking for a case or money to buy one. All I had to do was consider what keys I had to have daily and put the rest away. Or take them with me, but not in my pocket.

What a great idea that was, and it’s working out great! And what a model for solutions in so many areas of our lives. So many of us seem to be wired to approach a problem or need by throwing money at it or buying something. We spin our wheels looking for an answer when the one we need is right before our eyes, if we would but open them.

Thinking outside the box these days means looking at life and organizations with the basics in mind. Not how we can spend more money, but how we can enhance relationships. Not how to build bigger buildings, but how to build self-esteem and confidence. Not complicated, wordy liturgies, but worship that touches people on an intuitive,experiential level and transports them into the presence of God. Not the first solution that comes to mind, but creative options that take a little thought.

As Occam’s Razor says, all other things being equal, the simplest answer is most likely the right one.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases…” (Matthew 6:7).


“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’….” (Matthew 5:37).


There are three basic styles of clergy collars. One is the slip-in tab collar, commonly seen on Roman Catholic priests. Another is the neckband shirt, featuring a plastic or fabric band that, as the name implies, goes all the way around the neck, rather like a dog collar. This style is often seen on a variety of Protestant clergy, particularly Episcopal priests.


The third sort is the one I prefer, though I have all three kinds. It’s called a “tonsure shirt” (pictured left, below) and has a band (at righttonsurepurplebig23, below) that encircles the neck between an inner and outer layer of fabric, so that the collar peeks out tonsure-collar1about ¼ inch all around, with about 2½ inches of white showing in front. It’s secured by snapping on two little posts on either side of the opening.


When I first got one of these shirts, I went almost mad (or just got mad) trying to put the collar in. I would snap it onto the fasteners, then try to make the rest of the collar fit between the inner and outer layers. I got all twisted up, trying to reach behind my head to push down the uncooperative plastic on both sides. That effort made me incredibly frustrated, and finally I simply didn’t wear them for a time, opting for the other styles.


Finally, somehow, it dawned on me that if I fed the band in first on the right, then secured it, then did the same on the left, I could have that collar in place in no time. Common sense, right? Well, that’s exactly why it took me so long to figure it out. It was too simple. I guess I was too much like Frasier Crane, who on one episode of the sitcom said “Dad, I don’t do simple.”


I should have remembered the famous principle called “Occam’s Razor,” which says that all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Or more precisely: “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better” (see source note below).


All of us unnecessarily complicate our lives, don’t we? Like me with my shirts or my overly complex explanations of theology or my wordy Presbyterian liturgies. Others fill their lives with so many activities and things that they can’t keep everything straight, even with today’s sophisticated electronic planning and communication tools (which end up adding even more complication. Why can’t a phone just be a phone?) And we shouldn’t forget about the folks who over-think everything—relationships, plans, decisions of any kind—and talk, talk, talk with little action. The old Mary Chapin Carpenter song has the right attitude instead: “Shut Up and Kiss Me!”


Karl Barth, a great Reformed theologian of the 20th century, was asked what he considered to be the most profound summary of Christian faith ever written. He had published a highly influential commentary on Romans as well as the massive Church Dogmatics, but here is what he said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”


Now that’s keeping your “razor” honed and sharp.


© 2009 Tom Cheatham