There are many folk idioms or simply popular observations which would appear to be wrong at any number of levels. One that comes to mind is “Half of the people you meet each day are below average.” Clearly, that depends on the number of people you meet per day and where you meet them. For example, if you walk around the campus of Harvard and meet 87 people, they will, most likely, not be below the societal average. If the phrase was that one-half of the people you meet each day will be below the statistical mean of intelligence, then you may be closer to correct, but, you would have to meet a really large, random sample of the universal population to be reasonably certain that one-half of the people were below average.
Another One That Sounds Right
Another idiom which at first blush sounds right is “All generalizations are wrong.” Generalizations about race, social status, education and so forth are frequently wrong and are little more than the result of our prior experiences. When you see a fellow with long hair, double earrings, tattoos, and tattered clothing, you may be inclined to categorize him as a less than trustworthy fellow. However, during the conversation which was probably strained and uncomfortable at the start, when you discovered the two advanced degrees he holds, his career, and his background, you may find that the idiom has a hint of accuracy to it.
One that is right, makes sense, and cannot be easily contested is that “Man tries to put a question mark, where God put a period.”
The Ten Suggestions Rewritten
At one point, the things listed in Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:5-21 were known as commandments. There are only ten, the first three are to show the relationship of God to Man, the remaining seven are for man’s relationship to man. However, as that which we call Society evolved, the commandments have become more of “The Ten Suggestions.”
The ten suggestions become really weak when mankind goes ahead and changes the punctuation mark.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me?” Actually, many people do have other gods before Him. The Career becomes a deity for many people. Working 60, 70 or more hours per week in pursuit of the ideal career, means less time for family, fellowship and most importantly for the Big Guy. The Ab-Six-Pack and physical fitness can become a deity for some. An hour or so in the gym a few days a week are really good things, producing better health, stamina, and fitness. However, 4 or 5 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week may be a bit excessive and may indicate that the perfect body is more important than the one who gave it to you. Anything which consumes a disproportionate chunk of your time for an extended time runs the risk of becoming your deity.
How is that keeping the Lord’s day holy thing going for you? Is Sunday used for prayer, rest and work for the Lord, or is it another day to get tasks done, errands run, and left-over work?
“Thou shall not kill?” We could always ask the scores of millions of children who have been ripped out of the womb, quite often in little pieces. We could ask the few children who didn’t have the common sense to die during a failed chemical or saline abortion and who were killed ( abandoned, etc ) after they dared to be born alive.
A Question Mark on a Business Practice
Thou Shalt Not Steal?
“Well, there wasn’t any real theft, it was just padding the expense account from lunch.” The company won’t miss the extra few bucks that I put down. Really? A few dollars here, a few pads of paper there, and a couple of magic markers can’t make any difference to this company’s bottom line. Multiply a few dollars each month by the number of employees and the results can be dramatic.
Well, how about that false testimony thing that is found in the ten suggestions, how is that going for you? Well, it wasn’t really a lie, I am after all a salesman, and I was just making certain that the client was aware of all of the features of the device.
A Throwaway Line at the End of a Homily
The first time I heard the line about Man and the question mark, it was nearly twenty years ago at the end of a homily by a saintly priest in a small parish in Central Texas. His comment at the end of his homily produced one of those cosmic head slaps that can cause you to stop and give pause to a wide variety of topics. His comment was, in essence, “…it has been my observation that life and Society go all amuck when a man puts a question mark where God puts a period.”
That comment stuck in my brain and as I went through my daily life, the comment would resurface at different times and demand attention. Frequently, when the comment came to the surface, I was busily involved in using an eraser to remove a period, or a magic marker to convert it into a question mark.
It became obvious to me as I was being forced to look at these punctuation marks, that I have moved quite far down the path away from the guidelines the good nuns had equipped us with in primary school. The question marks had appeared at the end of many of the ten suggestions, there were a few that I had not yet replaced, but their replacement was all but a certainty.
I was forced to look at myself, look at my career, look at all of my circumstances and I came to the realization that the life I was living was not the life that I had intended for myself. It took a great deal of work and a great deal of prayer, but, I have replaced the question marks with periods. Those question marks which still may bleed through from time to time are being replaced with a magic marker exclamation mark.
Please take a few moments during your prayer and meditation time to ask yourself where in your life are there any question marks. Be prepared to have them shown to you and to have them appear in unlikely places.
Know that the exercise, the revelation and the replacement of question marks will be a highly rewarding experience for you and those with whom you interact.