Specifically Vague

Life Notes—September 26, 2012 

“Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14 

Politicians and writers of horoscopes are masters at it.  Lawyers and doctors, too.  As an employer I practice it on a regular basis.  What is ‘it?’  It is a practice that consistently fools many people.  It is to provide information that sounds specific, but on careful listening is not.  For politicians, a little strategic vagueness helps show that what may have seemed like a promise some time ago was really just a comment now taken out of its proper context.  For lawyers, it allows wiggle room if a court applies a legal principle differently than expected.  For doctors, it allows falling back on the “art” side of the healing arts when the science side fails.

For the intentionally vague among us, words like might and should and perhaps and hopefully are some of our favorites.  Instead of saying, “I will take out the garbage after dinner,” implying immediacy, I am more likely to say, “I may wait to take out the garbage until after dinner.”  Notice this provides several options for me to keep my word, as long as I take the garbage out sometime.  I didn’t specify how long after dinner—it could be days.  We often hear politicians qualifying statements from earlier speeches that sound less than truthful today.  And then making more bold-sounding proclamations that will be equally difficult to tie to specific actions in the future.

Jesus was also vague, although in a very different way.  While much of the deception practiced today is intended to leave options open and to escape accountability, Jesus’ lack of specificity prevents his followers from assuming they have grasped Truth too easily, quickly and definitively.  Jesus taught in parables, rather than in specifics.  He told stories that could be interpreted by one person one way and another person another way, and they could both be equally right.  An accurate understanding of a parable in one phase of life will often give way to a different and deeper understanding in another phase.  The teachings gain their timelessness and brilliance by being specifically vague—specific enough to help us identify a link with our current situation, yet vague enough to be applicable to many different life experiences and challenges. Applicable, that is, as long as we don’t attempt to contain Truth in boxes too small for its intended application.

Tom completes his sermon series on James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch completes his series on All Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience vagueness that challenges, not deceives.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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