Monday, October 27, 2008

The Mystery of the Misplaced Modifier"

One of my favorite Writer's Digest columns is "The Sentence Sleuth," where I notice that the writer Bonnie Trenga has written a book entitled The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier. While I would love to read the book, I'm not sure I dare. You see, misplaced modifiers have a peculiar effect on me, one that has caused me great embarrassment through the years.

In my college freshman English class, the professor distributed a sheet of examples. Naturally, I began perusing it before everyone had a copy, so I had a head start on the humor.

It all started with a smile that progressed to a quiet snort and on to a chorkle. By the time the professor had gotten through the third sentence<>

I flashed a furtive glance around the room, only to discover that I was the only one thus affected. Again, I made eye contact with the professor. She raised one eyebrow, and I lost all control. I rushed out of the room and down the hall to the nearest restroom. Once inside the security of that room with its stainless steel stalls and porcelain lavatories, I doubled over with laughter, likely frightening a student exiting a stall.

"Misplaced modifiers!" I tried to blurt. She gave me that same deer-caught-in-the-headlights look I'd received from my classmates and hurried toward the door. "You know!" I called after her. "Dangling participles..." She was gone. Without washing her hands.

Eventually, I regained some semblance of composure. Making my way back to the classroom, I stood outside the door, just out of sight, listening, testing my resolve. The professor peeked around the door at me.

"Are you okay?" she asked, broadening her smile. "You can come back in, if you like." I lost it, again, and returned to the sanctuary of the restroom.

When class was over, I hurried to the classroom to apologize profusely to the professor. "Are you an English major?" she said. I told her that I was. "I thought so. You had to be. Did you notice that you were the only one so affected?" I nodded. "They didn't get it. They didn't see what the sentences actually were saying."

If sentences with misplaced modifiers make you laugh, you can stop reading here, unless you're a glutton for punishment. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read on.

A misplaced modifier is a word, clause, or phrase that is separated from that which it modifies (or describes), making it seem to modify a word, clause, or phrase not intended. Here are a few examples:

On the way home, Karen found a gold man's watch. [Oh, really? I'd like to know where she found that gold man. Or could it be that she found a man's gold watch?]

The child ate a cold dish of cereal for breakfast. [Poor kid. He likely would have preferred a dish of cold cereal.]

We ate the lunch that we had brought slowly. [Does the writer mean that it took a long time for them to get their lunch to the place where they ate it? Or does she mean We ate slowly the lunch we had brought or Slowly, we ate the lunch that we had brought?]

After being fingerprinted, the officer put the prisoner in the cell. [So they're fingerprinting officers now, before putting the prisoner in a cell. Hmmm....]

Perhaps you now understand why my reading of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier could prove fatal to me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Disciplined Parent

Painting by Impressionist Mary Cassatt

There once was a young mother who had multiple children. She bemoaned their misbehavior. "I cannot get them to listen to me," she wailed. "They will not obey. They do not respect what I say."

The mother's friends, colleagues, pastor, and others offered suggestions and potential solutions to the situation, but nothing seemed to help. Indeed, instead of the children's behavior improving as they grew older, it actually worsened.

"I have a plan," the mother would say, and the plan of the day often would have some modicum of merit. "I will make a chart [listing various desirable behaviors or tasks to be completed each day or week]. As they do what they should do [or behave in such and such a manner], I will check it off on the chart and grant specific rewards. If they fail to act appropriately, there will be established consequences." Occasionally such plans would last as long as three or four days before the chart would be ripped in frustration from the refrigerator.

As is usually the case, the primary problem was not that the children lacked discipline--though they did--but that the mother lacked discipline. She would say, "This is the way it will be," but she never followed through consistently. Something would come up, and, in the name of convenience, she would toss the latest plan or declaration aside.

Her children saw that. "Mom doesn't keep her word," they would say among themselves. "She doesn't mean what she says. She'll change her mind. She always does."

The youngest child, a little girl, often heard, "If you are good in the store, Mommy will get you a candy bar at the checkout." Then the child, prone to wild tantrums, would scream and act badly up one grocery aisle and down the next, tormenting the eardrums of every other customer in the store. At checkout, the child turned on the charm and chose a candy bar. The last I heard of that little girl was that she had grown into a teen-ager, spent much time in juvenile hall, and had a child out of wedlock.

Nor did this mother's children see her live the disciplined Christian life, although they attended church regularly. They did not hear her lift their names in prayer before the Throne of our Heavenly Father. They did not see her reading and cherishing God's Word. They did not have deep, probing conversations with her about the things of God.

They did, however, notice that she watched movies and soap operas and listened to music which had obscene content. They did hear profanity slip from her lips when she was especially angry. And they couldn't help but recognize that their mother's "Sunday Jesus" didn't make a great deal of difference in her life Monday through Saturday.

Yes, the children lived undisciplined lives, even into adulthood, but they learned it all at Mommy's knee.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pray. Hurry Up!

Today, for the second time, I received a well-meaning email urging me to join with other Believers for one minute each evening to pray for our nation. That magical sixty seconds is delineated across U.S. time zones, so that we can all be on time. Predictably, the message quotes II Chronicles 7:14:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. [ESV]

That verse doesn't say anything about limiting our petition to one minute. Let's take a closer look.

First of all, God makes it very clear that He is talking about His people who are called by His Name. Through a series of expository messages, my pastor is explaining who God's people are and how they should function within the New Testament church. He is debunking any squishy Emergent definitions we may have harbored. The primary--the Only--focus for Christ's people who are called by His Name is Christ Himself. He has placed a seal upon His people for Eternity; we are the Blood-bought Band.

II Chronicles 7:14 goes on to say shall humble themselves. How does one do that? Can it be done in one minute? Go ahead. Humble yourself. Hurry. Time's awastin'. If we follow the pattern for prayer that Jesus gave when He began with, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name," we will worship the Father for Whom He is: He dwells in heaven; He is sovereign; He is holy; His very Name is Holy. When we get in touch with that, it cannot help but humble us. When we realize that in prayer we enter the Holy of holies to communicate with the Creator of all in the universe, we are humbled. But in one minute? We still have a long way to go.

Then we are told to pray and seek God's face. We probably have a fairly clear understanding of praying, but what about that part about seeking God's face? How in the world to we do that? The only way I can think of to truly and authentically seek God's face is to prayerfully study His Word; that is how we can know Him; that is how He chooses to reveal His character to us. Can that be done in 60 seconds?

Finally, we are adjured to turn from our wicked ways. Wait a minute, God! You're talking to Your people! The Blood-bought Band! Don't you mean that those other people need to turn from their wicked ways? We certainly can see the results of their sin. As many at 3,700 unborn babies are murdered through abortion every day, the majority of them from minority groups. Homosexuality is practiced blatantly and thrown in our faces. Children and elders are being abused and exploited. Pornography and sexual perversion are problems, even with the Church. The list of "wicked ways" goes on. But, Lord...oh. I just said it, didn't I. The wicked ways of the world have insinuated themselves into the Body of Christ. God says we must turn from those things. Repent!

In one minute? I don't think so. Let's take all the time we need before the Throne of God.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Happy Harvest Time!

Reclaiming All Hallows'?

[Note: Whenever I refer to the Church, I mean the regenerated followers of Jesus Christ, not some brick-and-mortar structure.]

The Church has allowed Satan, the ancient enemy of Creator God, to steal, or at least taint, many of our celebrations. The man Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave his all to follow the Saviour, has morphed into a jolly, rotund, caricature we call Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny continues to try to usurp the position of the resurrected Saviour. Children are taught erroneously that Thanksgiving was a time when the Pilgrims thanked the Indians for helping them to survive in the wilderness.

All Hallows' Eve also has suffered at the hands of the enemy, though not as much as the afore-mentioned, since it was never purely Christian and has clearly pagan origins. Most agrarian cultures celebrate significant events in the seasonal growing cycle: harvest time, solstices and equinoxes, and planting time, for example.

The origins of All Hallows' Eve--Hallowe'en (don't forget the apostrophe)--go back 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The word means "end of summer." Pumpkins, apples, and various gourds were a significant part of that event. The Celtic new year began on November 1.

By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered the Celts, and within the following 400 years, had integrated their own pagan festivals into Samhain, including Feralia, occurring in late October. Feralia was a day to commemorate the dead.

"Christianity" spread through the Celtic lands by the 800s. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III established that November 1 would be All Hallows' Day. According to Roman Catholic belief, All Hallows' Day was when souls were released from Purgatory and allowed to wander the Earth for 48 hours. Apparently, Pope Gregory was attempting to supplant Samhain with a Christianized version. That was Pope Gregory's M.O. He often claimed pagan celebrations and buildings and imposed a "Christian" significance on them. For example, he claimed the Pantheon (which was dedicated by the Romans to "all gods") for a Christian purpose. His All Saints' Eve was celebrated much as Samhain had been, with bonfires, parades, and people wearing costumes of saints, angels, and devils.

Today, many people claim that Hallowe'en is an innocent harvest festival, but a quick trot through the costume section of the local Wal-Mart tells a different story. With a glance backward to Samhain, Feralia, and, yes, All Hallows' Eve, one can see that the culture of death lives and thrives in today's celebration. It amazes me that many Christian parents continue to celebrate this time of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and witches, labeling it "innocent fun." What is innocent about rubber masks that portray people who have been maimed, disfigured, frightened out of their minds, or murdered? Parents who encourage such "innocent fun" are opening the creaking door on the occult and nudging their wee ones over the threshold. Hallowe'en always has flirted with the macabre. May our All-wise God grant to those children the wisdom that their parents and grandparents lack.

Jesus says that He Is the Light of the World (John 8:12). As His followers, we are commissioned to reflect that light in today's dark world (Matthew 5:14).

As for Hallowe'en, we need not reclaim it; we never owned it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A New Venture

Welcome to "Sweet Water from the Rock." I would never have imagined that I actually would write a blog. We shall see how long I continue.

For the reader, it will be a meandering journey with no particular direction, though I pray that my scribbles will honor Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Lord. I will include poetry and prose, as well as pieces about writing, nature, politics, theology, people, history, literature, and anything else that happens to pique my fancy at any given moment.

It is autumn, one of my three favorite seasons of the year. Mama always said the the crisp air made the apples sweeter, so they must be turning to honey about now. It's 56 degrees outside as I write and on its way downward. I am always inspired to write when God begins painting the tree leaves shades of orange, yellow, rust, scarlet, and a burnished brown.

Autumn lends itself to Bluegrass and folk music, although opera singer Carl Tanner actually is singing Panis Angelicus on Live365 right now. (Now you know that I enjoy Christmas music all year.)

Since 6 a.m. will come early--I'm going to breakfast with a friend--it is time to end today's ramble. I hope you'll come back again. Night-night.