Friday, May 26, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: "I’m proud of you" vs. "I’m pleased with you"

The blessed man in Psalm 1 “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (v. 3a). Spring for us means Juggle Jam season, followed by much motivation to achieve records at every level, yielding a harvest of all kinds of fruit throughout May each year. With the applause of JJ19 still echoing in our ears and hearts, I’ll compare two kinds of accolades (i.e., fruits) and why I avoid one in favor of the other.

As with some of my other linguistic convictions, the following preference isn’t an indictment on others’ choices. But for me, I avoid the phrase “I’m proud of you.” First, it’s not a sentiment I see in Scripture (every form of “pride” in a concordance is almost always negative); second, I’m not sure what it means. 

Regarding my second objection, I realize that for an authority figure (parent, coach, teacher, peer-leader, etc.) to express pride in an individual likely means a satisfaction in knowing from where a student has come in achieving any given feat. A younger person may have overcome a broken bone, a broken heart, or a learning disability to conquer a performance or task. I understand that “pride” could describe my emotion when I get teary any time a group dance move is pulled off, a big laugh is heard, or a dropless routine is performed. But to describe that as my pride may be claiming too much credit.

The word I strongly prefer to “proud” is “pleased.” The related word, “pleasure,” is a much broader description of my emotion toward a person who has accomplished something, and it avoids presumption on my part that I had much if anything directly to do with said milestone. Even God the Father didn’t say He was “proud of” Jesus at His baptism or Transfiguration. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). That’s a good Model to mirror. 

So I say to the Jugheads: Well done this year and in JJ19! I’m pleased with you immeasurably; you bring me joy as someone who (by God’s grace) has had any part in your development. I’m inspired as you overcome, grow (including your names!), and reach beyond what you thought possible. Keep seeking pure, true pleasures this summer and beyond.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Good Luck vs. Godspeed

I don’t believe in luck. Luck is a superstitious notion that somehow “the Universe” or “random chance” (over millions of years, I might add) is determinant of one’s success, failure, and fate in life. First, the word “luck” is not ever mentioned in my set of Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (the Bible); second, I simply have an aversion to trusting something as crucial as my well-being, joy, and eternal destination to random, impersonal chance.

Pop culture backs me up in a couple of ways. Despite the obvious overtones of Eastern Mysticism in “Star Wars,” I do appreciate the line of Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Episode IV: A New Hope” when he remarks to Han Solo, “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” In the novel The Hobbit, Gandalf clarifies his own casual use of the term “luck” when recounting Bilbo’s adventures at the end: “Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” So, whether science fiction or fantasy, even the illusion (or presumption) of “luck” yields to a higher purpose.

How much more, then, should anyone with history-based faiths such as Judaism and Christianity eschew using “luck,” even as a form of well-wishing? Whether for a specific event such as an athletic contest or a Juggle Jam performance, or for a long-term blessing at a graduation or for a big change in life, my term of choice is “Godspeed.” Both and my Merriam-Webster app trace that term’s origin to Middle English (either the 14th or 15th century) based on the phrase “God spede,” or “God prosper you.” Interestingly, our ubiquitous parting phrase, “good-bye,” didn’t originate until the 16th century but has a very similar meaning: “God be with ye.” 

Why does this matter? Well, for me, I’m so very grateful that I’m not sovereign over my own life. True, I admit that I’m somewhat of a control freak when it comes to handling my resources of time, treasure, and talents. However, that’s stewardship, not sovereignty. I believe that God is sovereign over my life, which means I don’t have to “trust to luck;” I trust in the LORD. So, whether it’s the challenge of directing my 22nd annual juggling show (don’t forget we had three spring shows in the 90’s as the Wise Guys!), mourning with those who mourn (due to deaths or cancer diagnoses), or even celebrating small victories that are nothing to the world but could be the world to a child, I’ll use “Godspeed” as a practical prayer for any given person’s endeavor or struggle. And in this groaning lifetime which yearns for redemption, I’ll also say “good-bye,” for we all desperately need Him so very much.

Friday, March 3, 2017

"Amazing Grace" Verses: The Unsung Stanza

This third in a 2017 column series on the importance and proper use of words is based on a homonym for “versus.” Taking a long-time international icon, the 1779 hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, I’ll examine the unsung verse and its conspicuous absence from almost every rendition. I share this to shed light on a deep aspect of this ubiquitous song; to personalize it to my own life; and to honor a family dear to us in the midst of a severe trial.

We’ve all heard the beautiful bagpipes at funerals and other solemn occasions. Most of us have memorized Verse 1, which Rev. Newton wrote when recalling his countless sins as the captain of an English slave ship. We’re familiar with “dangers, toils and snares,” the precious hour of first belief, and the final verse referring to 10,000 years (added long after Newton’s original hymn). But Verse 3 in many hymnals (Verse 4 in some anthologies) is probably my favorite:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Interestingly (and unfortunately, since this verse is so often neglected), this is the only lyric that mentions “the Lord” (a title for Jesus) and the only one that refers directly to God’s Word, to hope, and to the Lord Himself as the Source of protection and inheritance for believers. The theological depth of this verse underlies my personal experience and is currently being lived out among old friends.

In 1992, I embarked on a year-long local tour of a semi-pro musical variety show called “Get a Grip!” with a four-person cast (including Joy Donley) of The Refreshment Committee Theatre Company. Our musical director, Michael Pearce Donley, composed a new melody for “Amazing Grace” to end the show. Rather than omit Verse 3, he actually used it as the chorus, so we sang it repeated times each show for many months. The song became even more dear to me as a result, even through my engagement to Wendy and our wedding toward the end of the tour. The lead singer in our finale, Paula Jean Brown Adamsson, died just a few years after our tour, succumbing to lymphoma in her mid-30’s. She lived out saving grace in her life, and her widower, (Jerry), two sons (Sam and Hans), and their subsequent step-mom (Kathy) have endured in life based on His promises.

Mike Donley himself experienced amazing grace and the Lord’s protection when he survived cancer in his 20’s, early in his marriage to Joy and years before he co-created Triple Espresso. On 12/15/16, their only son, Lewis, took his own life in a moment of crisis. He was 16. The same pastor who dedicated Lewis to the Lord as an infant delivered the eulogy. He said, “Lewis did not commit the unforgiveable sin...but it was unforgettable.” Mike & Joy are absolutely leaning on the promises of God, the personal Shield and Portion of Jesus, and the hope of this life which endures past death until their reunion with Lewis. Out of gratitude for their influence on me, and in support of their own acute need of God’s promised good and Word-secured hope, I dedicate this column to Mike & Joy Donley, their daughter Emma, and in memory of their son Lew.

When my own next crisis hits (and I know it will), I’ll once again trust in the truths of Verse 3, clinging to the Lord Himself through Whom all grace comes (John 1:17). And like John Newton, the Adamssons, and the Donleys, I’ll share my story and give God glory.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: Cursing vs. Blessing

Intro. This series on the importance and proper use of words attempts to articulate how language influences how I aim to mentor and lead a flourishing youth company. Whatever one’s worldview, may these topics serve to edify and challenge.

Part 2: Cursing vs. Blessing.
Foul language, obscenity, cussing, swearing, blasphemy, four-letter words, vulgarity, should go without saying that such habits are prohibited at JH, but here I’ll lay out specific reasons why.

Columnist Dennis Prager wrote, “When I was a child, stadiums allowed smoking but not cursing. Today, smoking is unheard of, but cursing is ubiquitous. A visit to an athletic event may be marginally healthier for the body today. But it is can also be far more injurious to the soul.” I’ve never been a smoker, but Prager’s analogy comparing a hazardous physical habit to a hazardous linguistic habit is accurate. Profanity coarsens the soul and pollutes society.

This was poignantly taught to me by my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Robert Ellis. He often likened profanity and even improper grammar to littering, vomiting at the dinner table, or urinating on the sidewalk. Extreme examples, yes, but he got the point across to this former casual curser. (I still strive to tame my tongue.)

When I was in college, my brother and mentor, Tom, challenged me to stop saying “Oh my G-d” (even as I worked to reduce non-blasphemous curse words). He rightly claimed that I wasn’t even aware of it and I was offending those for whom such casual use of even a generic name for the Almighty was off limits. When I began courting Wendy, I learned that she was raised to further avoid “Oh my gosh,” since the heart intention is arguably similar. Admittedly, I’ve historically advised the Jugheads to substitute “Oh my gosh” for the more overt alternative, but I admire (and now try to follow) the wisdom of altogether avoiding sloppy (and for some, offensive) language.

Refraining from taking the Lord’s name in vain (most notably “Jesus Christ”) is paramount for those with a biblical worldview, but other Bible passages such as Ephesians 4:29 and James 3:8-10 indicate that “corrupting talk” and “(cursing) people who are made in the likeness of God” are also acts of evil. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing...these things ought not to be so” (Jas. 3:10, ESV). Even “PG-rated” words such as “damn” and “hell” should only be used in proper contexts; neither flippancy toward eternal matters nor cursing others with these words have any place in pure speech or thought. The 2nd part of Eph. 4:29 prescribes talk “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

I try to reinforce to the Jugheads (and to myself) that it’s healthier for the soul and for society to eliminate cursing in all its forms in favor of self-control, blessing, and a peace-filled demeanor--even when upset, injured, or cursed by others (Romans 12:14).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Importance and Proper Use of Words: "Forever": Flippant vs. Fervent

The ‘Versus’ Series ‘17: The Importance and Proper Use of Words”
Introduction. As a communicator, I deeply appreciate well-placed words as powerful expressions and precious tools for testimony, encouragement, and ideas. As a mentor, I care about the clear and proper use of words. This series may seem nitpicky, but language is crucial to human flourishing and community. Whatever your own worldview or linguistic preferences, please indulge me to dig deep and articulate these topics which influence who I am and how I lead.

Part 1: “Forever”: Flippant vs. Fervent. Time itself is a pertinent topic as we’re in a new calendar year, so I’ll launch this series with an often misused word: “forever.” In most eras of human history, especially in the Christianized world, eternity has been a topic of reverence and awe. Solomon wrote that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11b, ESV), and the whole of Scripture and conscience testify that there is life after death. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” In other words, we’ll all live forever; it’s just a matter of where, and how soon we’re changed to our final state.

Contrast this awesome reality (corroborated by the biblical doctrine of continuity from this life to the next) with the modern trend of throwing around the word “forever” as if it’s a justifiable description for waiting in line, working on a complex project or goal, or the time passing between encounters with a friend. Because of my distaste for the term “forever” referring to inconvenience rather than eternity, I respect those who reserve it (and its companion, “never”) for proper contexts. Toward the end of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn told the ages-old Treebeard, “Never shall (your work) be forgotten in Minas Tirith or in Edoras.” The Eldest Ent replied, “Never is a too long a word even for me. Not while your kingdoms last, you mean.” Fiction, yes, but such linguistic care resonates with truth and precise meaning.

For our wedding in 1993, Wendy & I chose an original song by our friend Michael Pearce Donley: “For a Lifetime.” Since it’s physically and theologically impossible for a human marriage to last forever, a “lifetime” is an accurate reminder of the design of marriage: eternal implications (we’re held accountable), but ‘til death only, and a mist compared to eternity. Just like a marriage, JH itself won’t last forever as is. But I firmly believe this company will resonate on the New Earth (Heaven), by God’s grace and redeeming work.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Domestic Tranquility

I’m both an idealist and a literalist, at least in terms of my views of the origins of our Universe and our Nation. The two sources that best inform my views are the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. I love both documents, although I admit that both can be difficult to interpret and/or understand. But when in doubt, I believe that the Framers of the Constitution and the 40 or so human authors of the Bible largely wrote for the Common Man to understand and apply their wisdom for human flourishing. We stray from such timeless wisdom at our peril; peace is at stake, both personally and nationally.

This column wraps up my 2016 series on how our country’s ideals are reflected in this company. At the risk of sounding predictable or cliche, the topic this month (planned about 11 months ago) seems uncanny in its timing: domestic tranquility. A parallel phrase could be “peace on Earth,” but for the purpose of focus, I’ll just comment on peace in America and in JUGHEADS, LLC.

Our Founders wrote in the Preamble their aim to “insure domestic Tranquility,” meaning that the central government has the right to intervene to protect its citizens against riots, localized tyrants, wars between the states, etc. Of course, it’s still ideal to solve our societal woes on a local level as often as possible (e.g., via the city police and county judges rather than the National Guard and Supreme Court), but the Framers wrote that the federal level may enter state and local crises when absolutely necessary.

My simple parallel to JH this month is that I’m careful to not hastily assert my authority to break up small squabbles among the Jugheads, including annoying disruptions that may affect our subculture any given day. One strategy is to encourage the kids to self-monitor their own behavior (aka positive peer pressure); another is for student leaders to use their own styles of keeping the peace on a more grass roots level then me having to step in. For more on this topic, see my column on “Liberty” (

Far before election protests & recounts (even in 2000), and before the recent trend trying to redefine “freedom of religion” to the rights-strangling and unconstitutional “freedom of worship,” I’ve tried to run JH (our microcosm of America) with peace as the goal through my Christian worldview, even if I personally disagree with any given issue, attitude, or action among our constituents. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV).

I’ll end this series crediting the deepest and dearest of our American ideals, and therefore our JH ideals, to the “Holy infant so tender and mild” who entered the world in the form of a helpless baby in order to begin ushering in the ultimate form of domestic tranquility: Heavenly peace. May the God of peace bless your families this Advent season and in 2017.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: General Welfare

The socioeconomic term “welfare” is largely associated with President LBJ’s Great Society of the ‘60’s. However, I’ll use the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution to flesh out this 9th American ideal as it relates to JUGHEADS, LLC.

The first definition of “welfare” in is: “the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.” When I read “promote the general welfare” in the Preamble, I see something quite different than what our welfare state has become today. While I do believe it’s virtuous to have a societal safety net, I don’t believe our Founders ever intended that 49% of Americans would receive regular government entitlements, and certainly not in perpetuity. Corporate welfare is also extreme.

Note the word “promote” in the Preamble; it doesn’t say “provide.” (The latter applies “for the common defence.”) I believe two of the biggest deterrents to the promotion of the general (and individual) welfare in our society are excessive gov’t regulations and our trading freedom for security. Because of this trend toward a nanny state, the U.S. tax code is often crippling and punitive. In his first inaugural address on 1/20/81, President Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Taken alongside the Preamble, government should, for the most part, get out of the way of people pursuing their own welfare rather than make people dependent on the welfare state.

I’ll tie this in to how I run JH. Any student leader or adult staff will tell you that my directorial style tries to minimize micro-management (and “laws”) and maximize freedom (“ownership”) for each Jughead and representative leader. Yes, I set the vision and tone for the overall company (such as this column), but much of that tone was set during the first 10 years of our existence (1994-2004). The general welfare that I promote, along with Wendy’s innovative help and the plurality of our staff, gives the kids a setting and a structure for their own progress—guided, but not dictated, by the leaders.

Just like America was founded with the hope of achieving both national and personal independence (e.g., faith, family, finances) rather than being subject to a central government’s tyranny, JH parallels that by prioritizing freedom over edicts. Our company structure promotes the good of the kids rather than more power to the leaders. Even if our own U.S. federal government continues its alarming rate of growth we’ve seen over the past 30+ years, my aim is to continue to run JH as a “small government” that promotes good rather than necessarily guarantees success. (E.g., we don’t dole out standards and character; with intentional mentorship, we effectively “get out of the way” for the kids to achieve such goals.) That’s where true youth development occurs, and I believe that’s what our Founders intended for We the People.