Say the Word

“I’m busy in footwear with an athlete.” That’s what I heard the employee at Dick’s Sporting Goods say into a walkie-talkie. Athlete–she meant me. I chuckled at being called an athlete. Yes, I once ran a half marathon in less than two hours. Does that qualify me as an athlete?

“We call everyone an athlete,” she confided, smiling.

Isn’t that special? Somebody at Dick’s Sporting Goods decided it would be a great idea for their employees to refer to what any sensible person would call a “customer” as an “athlete.”

This isn’t unique to Dick’s of course. Any number of businesses refer to their customers as “guests.” Uber calls their drivers “partners.” Partners? Really? Isn’t a partner somebody who has a partial ownership in the company? Don’t they get to help make day-to-day decisions? And most partnerships cannot be unilaterally terminated with no recourse or compensation. They’re independent contractor drivers, not partners.

At Disney theme parks and even in the stores, the employees are called “Cast Members.” That young woman who rings up your Little Mermaid-themed party supplies at the mall is actually a cast member. All the world, apparently, is a Disney stage and all the men and women merely players.

There’s a reason, of course, why all these companies slap ridiculous names on customers and employees. The idea is that by controlling the vocabulary, we control the way we think about and act upon reality. And when we do that, perhaps we begin to control and create reality. Think of yourself as a “cast member,” and you might remember to remain in character more consistently, you might view your hours as show time. Refer to a driver as a “partner” and she might believe that she has a stake in the success of the company. Call me an “athlete” often enough and maybe I’ll start to take my physical prowess more seriously–and consequently buy more and better athlete stuff.

Words, while significant, do not carry the power to create reality. Despite all our talk of a magic word, there are no magic words. Look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. –Matthew 7:21

We can refer to Jesus as “Lord” a million times a day. We can declare ourselves “Christian” with every breath. That doesn’t make those things true. The odious Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps declared himself a “Baptist,” but that sign on Westboro Baptist Church didn’t illuminate the dark hatred that flows from the place.

Call me an athlete if you like, but until I get back into the habit of running, I won’t be one. Call me a follower of Christ, but if I’m actually following my own drumbeat, then it’s just words.

Words do not form reality, but the Word did:

All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.–John 1:3

Lumberyard Attack

After further review, I have determined that I am the most terrible person in the world or at least in the lumberyard. Let me explain.

I read my thoughts about games and grandsons just a few minutes ago. In fact, I read them aloud to them. They were not overly impressed. But perhaps I was more impressed by the whole thing.

Here I sit, complaining about preteens and young teens acting their age, quoting Ephesians 4:31-32 in a most superior manner. Then I start reflecting on my own thoughts. The weather this winter has been dreadful. That is true. But does that justify me in getting grumpy and grouchy about it? Penny did pour out a perfectly good bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper. Wasteful? Yes. Worthy of my irritation? No. My grandsons do react badly to video game reverses, but that doesn’t give me just cause to react badly to them.

As I sat here, repenting of my comment that “there was nothing decent to eat for breakfast”–since Penny just produced biscuits and gravy–Matthew 7:4-5 popped into my mind:

Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

Now, the sun is coming out and the snow seems to be ending. My grandkids have calmed themselves and will be going home soon. My stores of Diet Dr. Pepper are utterly gone, but I really don’t need to drink that stuff anyway. If my relationship with Christ is really  a complete game changer, then it ought to change how I deal with games and everything else in my snow-bound day. I can’t pretend that there’s not a beam of lumber with my name on it.

Risking the S-Word

ScaleIn a recent post at Desiring God, Lindsey Carlson shares her thoughts about weight loss as it relates to spiritual life. The key thing that struck me–although the entire essay is worth your time–was the nerve that Carlson demonstrated in using the dreaded S-word. Yes, she referred to her excess weight as the result of sin.

While not everyone’s additional pounds are directly linked to sin, I know many of mine are. Historically, I’ve gone through seasons of facing my sin directly, and other seasons where I’ve completely avoided dealing with it and allowed indulgence to rule the day. However, this past year, I’ve experienced a measure of victory both in my heart and, perhaps in smaller measure, on my bathroom scale.

Too often in our society, we avoid labeling anything negative as the result of sin. Identifying something as sin requires judgment, and you can’t utter a (negative) value judgment without being reminded to “judge not lest you be judged.”

Of course, those who will spout off Matthew 7:1 have no problem with positive judgments. It’s perfectly fine in their moral economy to praise, for example, successful weight loss. Constructively criticizing overindulgent weight gain, on the other hand, cannot be labeled as sin.

If a gained pound, a smoked cigarette, a drained beer, or a watched porn video  cannot be the product of sin, then what are they? An awareness of the pervasiveness of sin in this world and, more to the point, in our individual lives stands as a powerful first step to gaining some measure of mastery over that world and those lives.