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.


On Highway 82 just outside of Albany, GA, near a landscaping firm, there is on a hill a single tree done up completely in white lights. Simple, bright, elegant.

Just up the road is another business, a car dealership, featuring a used car in gaudy livery, with Santa waving from the driver’s seat, with colored lights and the traditional mash-up of accoutrements of Christmas. Vulgar, overdone, in your face.

I thought as I drove past these displays last Friday evening that they represented two approaches to this season. One is quiet, contemplative, focused, restful. The other is rushed, full of unnecessary drama, stress, and worry. And it further seemed to me that the way people approach Christmas is the same way they live their everyday lives. Some seek to do one thing well and without shouting and self-promotion. They are the single tree standing bright against the night. Others are constantly rushing and spending and running, and to what end? Only their own exhaustion and brokenness. They are the gaudy, too-much Santa car.

“Purity of heart,” said the philosopher, “is to will one thing.” And Jesus, the baby of Bethlehem grown up, taught us what that is: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

A single star shone at Christmas, pointing the way. Maybe God was reminding us that life doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

© 2011 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