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Retribution (it just doesn’t work that way)

The world is broken, and it’s frustrating. We all know dozens of truisms: you reap what you sow; you get out of it what you put into it; it’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. And those things are truisms. They’re mostly true, in general, but not always.

That’s the frustrating part. I know better than to have a purely retribution-theology view of the world (that is: obey = rewarded, disobey = punished), but it tends to feed into my thinking, especially in moments of panic. And the world doesn’t work that way, but I start to wonder if it does.

I was having a good morning last Monday. I had done a lot of things exactly the way I wanted to do them. It was awesome. I got into the car running 10 minutes late, not bad for a Monday morning. (I should note, it was 7:00 in the morning. I start early.) On my way to the post office for work, I drove through the usual speed trap. Since I wasn’t speeding, I didn’t worry a bit.

And then, in my rear view mirror, I saw the police car pull out into the road, lights flashing. He found his way quickly behind me. I pulled over (in retrospect, I pulled into a not-so-safe spot, double-duh), and did the right thing – hands on the steering wheel, window rolled down, and I waited. As I waited, I tossed my brain for what on earth I could be stopped for. And then it hit me… I bet my tags are expired.

The nice (genuinely) officer came up and said, “Your tags are expired… licensed and registration, please.” (Side question: the sticker that shows that my tags are expired is seriously 1.5” x ¾”. How did he see that from the other side of the road at 50 mph? I don’t understand.)

He was gracious. He told me to bring the paperwork by the station within ten business days, and it’d be dropped.

And I’m glad for the grace, but it still feels like a punishment. In the cosmic scheme of things, the question I want to ask is, “Why am I being punished when I did things right?”

Of course, the answer is much simpler. I’m not being punished in some cosmic sense. I’m being pulled over because I made an administrative error in my life; I didn’t renew my registration.

But my brain automatically asserts all kinds of additional things. There must be, as Joshua learned, sin in the camp.

Instead of processing that way, I need the gospel. I need to remind myself that I was lost, but now am found. That I was a slave to sin, and now I’ve been set free to be a slave to righteousness in Christ. That who I am is no longer defined by who my great-great-great-great-great grandfather was, but instead by my savior.

That’s a good reminder. I need that.

I’m okay with Literally

Last week, the news broke that several dictionaries were adding a secondary definition for the word Literally. Here’s the new entry from Google:

  1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly: “the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle”.
  2. Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

There is a little bit of an uproar about it. See here or here.

I’m not only not bothered by the move, I think it’s probably the right decision. It comes down to your understanding or philosophy of dictionaries.

Traditionally, dictionaries have been tools that describe language as it is used. They are not a plumbline against which language is measured, but a reflection of language the way it’s used by its native speakers.

That’s a little confusing, because in some ways a dictionary does serve a prescriptive purpose. “You can’t use that word that way.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah, here’s the definition of it.” “Oh, I guess you’re right.” Those discussions happen all the time. Especially if you play scrabble against my family members.

But, we have to acknowledge that language shifts. Rewind no longer means to rewind a video cassette tape, but we still use the term. A record seldom means a vinyl LP these days, but we still call them records.  Words shift as our usage of them shifts. It’s why Irregardless has become a word, regardless of the fact that it’s dumb. It’s used. Google ™ may not want us to use google as a verb, yet in common usage, we do. So dictionaries define it that way. They reflect the real world usage of the term.

And that, dear friend, is why it’s right for dictionaries to add a second definition for Literally. Because, in common usage many people literally seldom mean literally when they say literally.

The nice thing about usage, though, is you get to choose. If you don’t like a certain usage, you may choose to disregard it. So, if you want to use literally to mean, well, literally, you’re free to do so. Just don’t expect Merriam-Webster to fight that battle for you.

80s Movies

Days of Thunder is on Netflix. I have a soft spot in my heart for late 80s / early 90s movies. Iron Eagle. Red Dawn, Back to the Future, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the list goes on and on.

There’s something about these movies… they’re more earnest? Is that the right word? They’re more earnest than the movies we release in 2013. The characters believe their own PR better, or so it feels.

Is that good writing, or is what we have now better writing? Current films tend to value the conflicted protagonist much more than 80s films did. I just can’t figure out what’s better.

Project Lists

I’m not entirely sure that I’m sold on the system, yet. I spent a little time today trying to visually organize my projects in list form, organized into some key areas of life. It’s very much a product of reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Allen’s system is all about making sure you write things down, under the premise that information stuck in your head leaves no room for actually, you know, getting things done. (For the curious: I’m using Evernote right now for most of my electronic data capture, and a cost-effective Moleskine wannabe from Hobby Lobby for paper data capture.)

The benefit of organizing things visually is seeing the extent of the projects I’ve committed to. It’s been good / healthy / hard to move projects that realistically can’t be done right now to the “Future / Maybe” list that I’m keeping separately. It’s been a little overwhelming — it’s easier to not think about the scope of things when they’re not staring you in the face — but it’s good.


Good Socks

I was putting away laundry today and thinking mundane thoughts. Among the mundane thoughts, “These socks are the best socks the world has ever seen.”

Now, give me a second to explain:

These are not just any socks. These are the socks I bought before Christmas when Sears told me that if I spent $11.49 more, I could have free shipping (I know, I know, I probably ended up spending an extra $4.00, but it got me $5.99 worth of free socks). I was buying my wife a Christmas present. And I needed comfortable socks.

And now, when I wear those socks, I’m comfortable. They are great. They look like socks, but they feel like a cushion of air. I’m mostly joking, but I have many socks, and none of them compare to these socks. These socks make me genuinely a little bit brighter in the morning.

And the point, dear reader, is that if something so minute as socks can make me a little brighter, then human beings are certainly silly.