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A Caveat about Caveats

September 4, 2014 — 4 Comments

cave canemA caveat, most readers will know, is a warning. One of my favorite usages comes from ancient Rome, where many villa owners procured guard dogs to protect their property. Cave Canem–beware of the dog–became a common motif for entryway mosaics.

One of the most familiar caveats is caveat emptor—buyer beware. Not only is this warning well known, it is absolutely true. Without an express warranty, you may have little hope recouping your loss when something you purchase fails.

Caveats, however, need not infer that the subjects they refer to are dangerous.

For example, the guard dog may well be an affectionate “member of the family,” who warms up quickly, even to strangers who have been invited into the home. Likewise, the new car I’m contemplating purchasing may be ideal for me. Fairly priced, economical to drive, and not so dated in appearance that it shouts, “yes, I’m a grandpa.”

Caveats don’t mean “stay away.” They merely advise us all to think before we act. (And, as universal rules go, this is a very good one.) Caveats, and good parenting, remind us to read the “fine print” before signing anything.

I want to encourage all readers of Mere Inkling to use their God-given intelligence to evaluate what you read on these pages. In the same way, I hope you will all apply your God-instilled conscience to measure my words.

In light of this sincere desire, I encourage you to read the gentle caveats offered below.

General Caveats for Readers

What should readers of Mere Inkling keep in mind as they peruse these posts? First of all, there are a number of general considerations—applicable to everything each of us reads and hears.

1.  Understand the perspective of the writer. What are the assumptions and worldview of the person who wrote the piece? It can be hazardous to simply assume that a writer shares your own values—or even definitions. Many people would be shocked at the diversity of definitions for a word like “church” that roam the internet.

2.  Ensure we read what we think we did. By this I mean that we should reread sections that we find confusing or offensive. It may be we have misread what the author intended. (This is especially true when a writer seeks to play with the English language, and uses phrasing unfamiliar to our ear.) In cases where we have normally enjoyed the writing, but now find ourselves bothered by something, it is always good to ask the writer to clarify what they meant. More often than not, I’ve found this opportunity to elaborate dispels the problem.

3.  Reject the myth that anything you read is absolutely objective. Objectivity, except for mathematics, is essentially impossible. Our education, values, experiences and mood all affect the words we write. The best we can hope for in what we read—something Mere Inkling strives for—is personal honesty and fairness.

Mere Inkling Caveats

1.  Mere Inkling’s author is a fallen human being. By definition, that means that I am imperfect. Not all-knowing, nor always gracious. Imperfect though I am, I try my best to speak here in a forthright, considerate, modestly entertaining and, most importantly, a truthful way. When I fall short of that, feel free to write to me about it.

2.  I am a Christian. I certainly don’t apologize for this. Nor do I apologize for the wish of all disciples of Jesus that everyone might know the joy, forgiveness and peace that comes from abiding in the Vine (a metaphor for Jesus, as described in John 15).

3.  Your host at Mere Inkling is an evangelical Christian. This is a hazy adjective, often used in mutually contradictory ways. I apply it here to myself in the context of holding fast to the basic Christian truths, including the aforementioned desire of God that all people might come to him through his only begotten Son.

4.  I am a catholic Christian. Not a Roman Catholic (with a capital C), but catholic in the word’s creedal sense—a member of the one universal Church. As a catholic Christian, I subscribe to the ecumenical creeds, agreed upon as the fundamental doctrines of the faith during its earliest years. These include the Triune nature of God, the Incarnation miracle, and the atonement. Like my mentor, C.S. Lewis, here at Mere Inkling we focus on “Mere Christianity,” the common core of the faith. I consistently attempt to qualify my words on subjects where there is not a clear consensus.

Each of us has his individual emphasis: each holds, in addition to the Faith, many opinions which seem to him to be consistent with it and true and important. And so perhaps they are. But as apologists it is not our business to defend them. We are defending Christianity; not “my religion.” When we mention our personal opinions we must always make quite clear the difference between them and the Faith itself. (C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics”).

5.  I am a Lutheran Christian. Again, I do not apologize. Lutherans understand we are only a small part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic faith.” Each denomination (indeed, each individual) possesses a distinctive interpretation of the Christian faith. We are free, of course, to associate with that community we believe follows God’s leading most faithfully. (It is a given that no community is without flaw, since no human being is.) I have written more on this aspect of my identity in the next point, and on the “Mercy” tab you will find at the top of the page.

6.  I am an evangelical Lutheran Christian. This is not a formal category, but means that I subscribe to historic Lutheranism as it has been taught and held since the Reformation, rather than some of the current expressions of “religion” that may be labeled Lutheran. In essence, this can be summarized in the “solas” of Lutheran doctrine.

Sola Scripture – Scripture Alone meaning that the Bible, the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, are the ultimate authority for determining true faith.

Sola Gratia – Grace Alone meaning salvation is an unearned gift of God, given not because we have earned it.

Sola Fides – Faith Alone meaning that God’s grace is apprehended not through wisdom, good works, or any means other than a simple trust in the promise. Ironically, this faith itself is also a gift of God.

7.  I am a pastor. While pastors with seminary educations do study Greek, Hebrew, Theology and assorted other subjects, we are not the same as what most people mean by the word “theologians.” Pastoral Theology is distinct from Systematic Theology. The former focuses on practical ministry to individuals, while the latter is most concerned with abstract matters. While I also possess a second graduate degree, my Master of Theology degree (much different than an M.A. in theology) was earned in the study of Early Church History. My concern remained the work of God among everyday human beings, rather than scholastic philosophy.

8.  While I never intentionally write anything with the goal of offending any reader, I recognize it is impossible to avoid all offense. (Even the least controversial prose is capable of offending.)

Allow me to illustrate how simple truths can elicit dramatically different responses, with two simple declarations.

God loves all people. This is true, and inoffensive. Most people today, and all orthodox (biblical) Christians would agree with the statement.

Not all people will go to heaven. This too is true. However, it provokes great outcries from many quarters, including some religious organizations that arise out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jesus himself offered “hard sayings” that elicited grumbling. John’s Gospel records a powerful account of this, occurring immediately after the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? . . . The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” . . . “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

C.S. Lewis referred to the alienating nature of some truths when he wrote the essay, “Cross-Examination.”

I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say “Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.” The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

9.  I am an American. Again, no apologies. I applaud much of what this nation has valued and shared during its history. I regret many of the mistakes the United States has made, and continues to make. I recognize how fortunate I have been to live in a nation with access to educational and medical resources not available to all. I genuinely appreciate other cultures and have been privileged to live in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. The right I treasure most—and one I pray will be extended to all people—is freedom of religion.

10.  I welcome offline correspondence. I recognize many people are reluctant to post a comment on a blog, which is visible to the public. I also realize that some readers would appreciate privately offering a comment or posing a question. I welcome this, and encourage you to use the form below to write to me. I will respond from my personal email account and we can discuss sensitive matters in greater depth. I must say in advance, however, that I do not have the leisure time to aid with any research. Similarly, while I am happy to offer general pastoral advice, only a fool or con artist would presume to conduct serious counseling or therapy via email. (You need a local pastor or counselor for that.) That said, I do enjoy spirited and honest discourse, so d feel free to contact me.

_____

The picture at the top of the page comes from the entryway to the “House of the Tragic Poet” in Pompeii.

Promoting Our Writing

June 19, 2013 — 34 Comments

blog promoOne of the common frustrations online writers face is the question: “is anyone out there reading what I write?”

I suspect that’s been the plaintive lament of all authors, since the dawn of written languages. Just as a conversation can’t occur when one of the parties ignores the other, no “communication” takes place when something is written, but never read.

Blogs provide an excellent framework for exploring this phenomenon. Bloggers don’t write merely for themselves. (If they wanted to do that, they’d simply “journal.”) Bloggers long to have others read their words. And the commonest disappointment of new online writers is just how few people actually visit their sites.

Fortunately, communities such as wordpress include features that allow us to track statistics in an accurate manner. Even when visitors fail to comment or formally “like” a post, they still leave digital footprints. I’ve written before about how enjoyable it is to see how frequently your page has been visited by people from all around the world.

At that time I shared my statistical world map, (directly below). Today I follow it with my current status . . . which reveals that I have finally penetrated the Great Wall and accessed the vast population of the People’s Republic of China! (Of course, I have long suspected the Chinese military of spying on my column, in an effort to glean military secrets about the Inklings’ military service during WWI.)

countries

countries 2

Methods of Increasing Visits to Our Sites

There are a number of concrete ways to expose others to our words. A few appear below. Still, it’s good to remain realistic in our expectations.

I recently read that it’s worthwhile being listed in the Technorati blog directories. As part of the verification process for inclusion there, I need to include in one of my blogs the code RFQE8T2R48RG. (I just hope their verification search engine isn’t confused by the numerous occasions when I’ve used that very same code in my previous blogs.)

As promised, here are a handful of nearly universal recommendations for increasing the number of visitors to our websites.

  • Write on subjects we feel passionate about.
  • Write well.
  • Be as unique as possible (in our personal publishing niche).
  • Encourage people to leave comments.
  • Dialog with the readers who do.
  • Create intriguing titles for our posts.
  • Write regularly (at least weekly, but not hourly).
  • Offer RSS and email subscription options.
  • Visit other blogs & offer encouraging comments.
  • Tell everyone you know to read Mere Inkling.

Truly sorry about that last plug. I’m simply trying extra hard to ensure my words don’t drop into the obsidian darkness of digital anonymity. Blessings in your own efforts to ensure the same!

International Blogging

February 13, 2013 — 23 Comments

countries

Who reads blogs? Well, initially, we find just two sources of readers.

  1. Family & Close Friends who we can coerce into reading it, and put on the spot by publicly asking questions related to our recent columns to tighten the screws just a smidge.
  2. Fellow bloggers who search for interesting reads with the ulterior hope that the writers of posts they “like” will make a reciprocal journey to their site.

Expanding beyond those two categories is the challenge. I suspect that most bloggers are resigned to only reaching a relatively small audience. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, junk mail reaches the boxes of millions, but it is tossed into recycling without a second thought. On the other hand, a blog may only be read by a handful of people, but one or two of them may be wonderfully touched or encouraged through that brief encounter. Junk mail is deleted with a groan. Our posts, in sharp contrast, may elicit a smile, a laugh, or perhaps even an appropriate tear.

I can settle for that.

One of the nice things about being part of the WordPress community is the way writers can monitor their site statistics. One fascinating feature is “Views by Country,” which tracks the national origin of visitors to a blog. (Well, not necessarily their ethnic origin, but the country from which they established their online connection with the website.)

Checking out this resource is fantastic for several reasons. First, it’s pleasant as we note visits from locales with which we have a special bond. Republic of Korea, spent a busy year there ministering to those guarding democracy, but still managed to visit many beautiful sites and established many friendships. United Kingdom, got to live there with my family, and visited amazing historic locations too numerous to list. (But, shouldn’t the UK count as three or four countries?) Guam, we got to live there too and enjoy the scenic ocean vistas. (Of course, it’s not a separate country either, being a Territory of the United States.) So what if the word “country” is applied a bit loosely, the sheer breadth of the program’s coverage is impressive.

A second value of the list is that it is educational. You can learn about the existence and/or location of many exotic lands. I’ve had visitors from the Mongolian steppes of the Khans, WWI catalyst Montenegro, freedom-seeking Syria, and the Viking-haunted Faroe Islands.

The third major benefit of visiting the statistics tool is that it can actually reinforce a writer’s sense that someone out there in the vast global unknown is actually interested in their words. I’m amazed, and a mite humbled, to have had visitors to MereInkling from 129 “countries.” Pretty amazing. When I revisit the list every two or three months I see one or two newly reached populations. Yet, as I look at the map, I see many nations remain to be reached. For example, most of the “-stans” and many countries in Africa have yet to feel the warm and liberating glimmer of light MereInkling attempts to deliver.

The Remaining Mystery

I am still plagued by one unanswered question though.

I readily understand why the People’s [misnamed] “Republic” of China has barred MereInkling from internet availability for their billions of prisoners residents.

What perplexes me is why the Kingdom of Denmark has barred access to MereInkling for the subjugated country of Greenland?!? One would think that, in light of their 5 day summer and 360 winter that they would be eager to read something as entertaining as MereInkling. Why has an internet wall been erected to prevent them from doing so? What, we must wonder, is going on behind that impenetrable Ice Curtain?

Yes, for those who think they’ve noted a flaw in my conspiracy theory, I am fully aware that the Faroe Islands are also technically part of the Danish empire. So, why would citizens of Denmark proper and the occupied Faroes be allowed to visit MereInkling while the Greenlanders are left to find enjoyment in measuring the advance and retreat of massive glaciers? The mystery deepens.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in a passage I’ve wrenched completely out of context: “There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore.”

The Bane of Blogging

November 22, 2011 — Leave a comment

In today’s “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip, Rat says, “Hey, Goat. In an effort to improve the readership of your blog, I’ve been studying the google analytics for it.”

“What are those?” asks Goat, who is seated at his computer, presumably typing his latest post.

“A comprehensive series of stats about page views, unique visitors and how viewers find your blog. Anyways, from all that, I think I’ve ascertained the problem.”

“You’re boring.”

The final panel reveals Goat’s reaction to that painful assertion.

Truth be told, many individual blog posts are boring. And, not a few blogs in toto are tedious as well.

Boredom, though, lies in the perception of the reader. What weighs down the eyelids of one drowsy reader may be precisely the message that invigorates another. So, I don’t worry too much about the natural ebb and flow of responses to various things I write.

Many years of preaching has doubtless influenced me. The sermon one person regards as “okay,” may be used by God to create a genuine epiphany in the life of another.

Of course, the overall flavor or voice of an author is something a reader recognizes only after sampling a fair amount of their work. Taking just a bite here or a nibble there doesn’t allow a reader to adequately assess whether someone’s work is truly nourishing.

Sadly, our busy age doesn’t allow for terribly thorough examinations . . . and with millions of blogs to be sampled, we’re lucky to have a reader stumble upon even one of our posts. Then, in the briefest of moments, an assessment is made and a judgment passed.

Is this column boring . . . or is it informative and perhaps even entertaining? It’s not enough to hint at the promise of gratification. Bloggers must deliver. And they must deliver every time they post. Of course, that’s not humanly possible. Striving for an unattainable goal can be quite disheartening. And we all have “rats” out there ever ready to discourage us.

If you write, I encourage you to take genuine comfort in the fact that some readers will be pleased by what you write. Some will even be blessed. Not all of them. But remember that even the prophets and poets of the Scriptures did not delight all of the members of their audiences.

Do your best to write something worthy of being read. And rest in the knowledge that some of those who see your words will be refreshed and encouraged by them.