February 21, 2017
My wife murders clichés. But because these are unpremeditated, we should probably reduce it to manslaughter.
Once, after a meeting, she was upset that the real issues had not been addressed. "There's a pink elephant on the table," she told me emphatically.
"You mean, 'There's an elephant in the room,'" I offered helpfully.
"No," she replied, "my elephant is pink and it is definitely on the table!"
On another occasion she could tell I was about to say something that could get me in trouble. "You are treading on thin ground, Le Peau!" she warned me. Well, at least if I fell through I wouldn't be in danger of drowning.
Every writing teacher, every book on writing tells us to avoid clichés, those turns of phrase that are so familiar they have lost all color and have no punch left in them. They have become bland and ineffective. The crutch of bad writers. Such advice has even turned into a cliché itself: "Avoid clichés like the plague."
Not only are clichés boring, they can also be problematic if misused. I was reading a recent fantasy novel about an imaginary world that was basically Medieval in nature. At one point a character offers the advice, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Really? Is it possible that the exact same proverb developed in this alternate world as ours? To combat this, Tolkien created dozens of his own such as "The wise speak only of what they know."
Writers and speakers can (and largely should) just cut clichés, but there are two ways to use them effectively. One is to give them a twist. Suppose you are writing a detective novel. Your main character might say, "This guy had been a problem to me for years. As I held the gun I thought about how good it would feel to put him out of my misery." By switching one word, his to my, we give the cliché a twist and make it fresh again, hopefully bringing a smile to the reader.
To contrast something effective in a small way with something big that is unnecessary and counterproductive, try, "Better to light a candle than burn down the whole house."
A second way to make a stale expression much less so is to extend the metaphor the cliché suggests. That's what happens in the first two sentences above. "Murdering a cliché" is not quite a cliché, but it is a somewhat tired metaphor. By extending the metaphor to include manslaughter, we give it a good shot of caffeine.
Perhaps you want to consider the advantages of being sure to get something now versus the slim chance of getting everything later. This might do the trick: "Maybe you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch, but at least you can have some eggs for breakfast."
If you want to express your dislike for someone, try this: "I held her at arm's length, wishing my arm was longer."
I had a teacher who said, "Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it's not true." Clichés begin as hard-won pearls of wisdom that have become hidden in shells of overuse. But if we can give a cliché a twist, perhaps it can become the best of all possible pearls.
Credits. Elephant: www.clipartpanda.com/ Eggs: Andrew Le Peau
February 15, 2017
I told them it was okay to be mad at God. Afterward I got a phone call.
I spoke to over a hundred college students about the book of Ruth. After Naomi's husband and two sons died in Moab, she told her daughters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah) not go back to Israel with her "because the LORD's hand has turned against me!" On her return Namoi told the women in her hometown, "Don't call me Naomi. . . . Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter" (Ruth 1:13, 20).Continue reading "Getting Mad at God"
February 10, 2017
Augustine, the great church father, has been such a giant on the theological landscape for so many centuries, he has become a huge, lifeless statue to some. In The Mestizo Augustine Justo González pumps life back into our view with a fresh and fascinating look at the humanity and the competing cultures at work within Augustine.Continue reading "What Augustine Offers Our Multicultural World"
February 2, 2017
It seems obligatory these days to begin any discussion of sex and society with autobiography. So here goes. I'm an old, white, heterosexual male who basically doesn't have a clue when it comes to understanding gender dysphoria. (But I guess the second half of that sentence was redundant with the first half.) That's why I appreciated psychologist Mark Yarhouse's book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, so much.Continue reading "Understanding Gender Dysphoria"
January 17, 2017
I have lived with the New Testament letter of James for many decades. And I frequently puzzled over one aspect of a particular verse: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (Jas 1:27) Why widows and orphans? Why not people who are hungry or ill or grieving? Is there something special about orphans and widows that should take our attention?Continue reading "Widows and Orphans"
January 12, 2017
God is active in all cultures around the world, even before Christianity or the Bible reach them. That's what William Dyrness contends in Insider Jesus (which I discussed here). If he is right, the implications go far beyond missionary efforts. They encompass how we should view our own faith.Continue reading "Insider Jesus 2: Did the Reformation Make a Misstep?"