Randomness, Years 3 & 4
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Now that you have perhaps gone through hell, unless you caught onto the trick, I'll explain.  What you see above is a fine example of boustrophedon, the way in which ancient Greek was first written on papyrus.  Horrifically, in other words.  In this manner of writing, the first line goes from left to right and the next from right to left.  It weaves its way down the page, and its name comes from the word "as the cow shambles."  The point of this exercise in idiocy?  Well, initially just because I thought it would be fun.  And fun is maybe all some things are good for, which is perfectly acceptable, because we all need fun in our lives.  But there, as it turns out, is a point to this (besides "I never want to read ancient Greek papyrus").  Outside purposely baffling people, such as, "Does zither in the wombat?" or "Clearly that statement was made periphrastically and could have been achieved with less circumlocution," coherence or comprehensibility is important.  Coherence is important in daily life, in essays, in explaining things, in proclaiming the gospel, and . . . stuff. (<-- not so coherent)

Every time we open our mouths (outside of vomition, eating, spitting, moaning, yawning, etc.) we risk the chance of being misunderstood or rejected.  Every time we say something, we put ourselves at great risk because we are putting at least a part of our innermost being out for all to see.  Speech can create conflict.  The spoken word can tear asunder relationships.  Oral expression can produce mockery.  Yet our verbal communication can also bring people together, mend brokenness, and heal wounds of the spirit.  But when someone opens up his or her oral cavity, the results are uncertain.  A kind word can be misunderstood.  An idea can be rejected.  Desire can be misplaced; love can be refused.  Indeed, in reaching out in love great danger is always before us.  If that love is not reciprocated, we come away damaged and wounded.  Or we make another uncomfortable.  And when love is rejected, we retreat.  Not only that, but Jean Vanier points out that a lack of love can lead to violence.  Imagine the life of someone whose every attempt to show love is rejected.  Unloved by father, mother, sister, brother, friendless and alone.  What a life that would be.  Suddenly, my own lack of love is seen as horrible, vile, and loathsome.  Suddenly, my own feelings of rejection are petty.  And can we truly understand what it is to feel so unloved that we kill, rape, and maim people?  It is unjustifiable, yet it is a deep, sorrowful thing.  So we come to one another equipped with little more than words--words that can heal or wound a soul. When they come out, we risk vulnerability and damaging another.  If we are to say something, we should say it well.  We should be coherent because that minimises the risk of hurting someone else.  It does not eliminate pain, yet lessens sorrow.

Envisage a being which is the subsisting, personified incarnation of the stultifying, fatuous, pragmatic fomentation of ennui.  Or, if you prefer, imagine someone who is the living, human embodiment of the crippling, foolish, utilitarian rousing of boredom.  I can assure you that anyone with a thesaurus is capable of writing the first sentence.  Anyone with a brain and an ounce of sense would write the second.  Simplicity is a virtue, fools complicate affairs. The locutive ability of six thesauri doesn't obligate someone to utilise that extensive store of words.  It would be impressive, but if no one understands what a person is saying, then it really doesn't matter.  Part of coherence is to use the best word for the job.  The best word is both the most accurate and will reach the broadest audience.  For example, I could sit here and write all about filew, but although it's the most accurate word, I'm not sure you can all recognise it for what it is: phileo.  And even then, it is not the best because it still will not reach the widest audience.  "Friendly love", on the other hand, may be a little more coherent. 

This principle applies both to the oral and written word.  I am guilty of often talking about things in such a way that not everyone understands because I live in my own little word.  I unconsciously assume that everyone around me knows the four loves in Greek, who Brahms is, what cosmogony or ecclesiology or apostolicity means.  Or I assume people use words the same way I do--materialist referring not to consumerism but to the idea everything is material and nothing is metaphysical, for example.  This principle is most important for writing.  Academia hates people who try too hard.  Never use the phrase "pragmatic fomentation of ennui" in an essay.  The professor will find you pretentious and hate you.  In expounding an argument, be it philosophical, historical, literary, psychological, or whatever, make it as clear and concise as possible.  If you can say it ten words, don't use eleven and certainly not fifteen!  Imagine buying a book full of idiotic words you don't understand.  Maybe you are an idiot.  Maybe the author is.  Since we are all certain that we are more assuredly not idiots but a grand host of genii, it is obviously the fop of an author who is the idiot.  Write as though your readership is considering actually paying money to read what you have to say (unlike you lot, who get this folly free, or profs who get paid to read our jibber-jabber).  Suddenly, instead of writing insouciant the produces lighthearted.  Funny how these things work, isn't it?  Therefore, in all attempts at verbal communication, use the best, most accurate, most understandable word available.  This will produce greater coherence and work towards making people understand us better, and work against us damaging them (plus maybe score a point or two more with the profs!).  For example, if I say, "Your pulchritude is transcendent," to a girl, I'll probably get a funny look more than anything else.  Or, "I've been a bit of a bugbear.  I'm contrite, please exculpate me," I would not likely be exculp . . .er . . . forgiven.  Spread love--coherently.

The other day, I spent four hours translating T. Livius.  I had a lot of trouble because his account is full of ablative absolutes, past perfects with no form of esse (some could have been the supine for all I know!), subjunctives, and a whole mess of subordination.  When I see accusatives, I'm not even always sure what they go with.  Sometimes my nominatives have no verb, sometimes my verbs have no nominative.  Yet I plod on, massive sentence after massive sentence.  I'm guessing I lost you after "T." and got you back at "Yet I plod on."  The above is a prime example of jargon, on a similar level with the last point.  The difference is, though, that every word I used had no replacement besides "T.", which could have been "Titus", and "Livius", which could have been "Livy."  Clearly if I were writing for an audience that is acquainted with Latin grammar, the above would have been vague, not incomprehensible.  Therefore, consider your audience!  If it is an audience that shares a special language with you, go ahead, use that language.  If not--beware!  In avoiding jargon in situations where people will not understand it, coherence rises from 0-10% to at least 50%.

All of this is pertinent to the Christian, and the last point especially so.  Although it would take an idiot to say, "The Spirit moved me to an exegetical insight upon the sanctification of the primitive church from this passage of Acts last night," to a room of agnostics, Christians are still guilty of jargon more than anyone else I know.  We get so used to it that we forget that those with whom we are trying to communicate don't share our lingo.  For example, I often talk about "celebrating Eucharist" or "celebrating Holy Communion."  To many Christians, this makes sense.  To many who are not Christians and many others who are, this is not necessarily understood.  If we are to glorify God in all we do, we ought to do it well.  When we talk of the things of God, especially so.  Therefore, if you want to explain why the back of your T-shirt says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God," don't use words such as salvation, justification, or substitution unless you are explaining that word.  Saying, "Well, it's because I was saved by Jesus and now my sins are justified because he took my place on the cross," is not actually useful.  Especially since people think they know what justification is and think they know what it means for Jesus to take our place on the cross.  But they don't.  Followers of Christ barely do.  Furthermore, we are to love.  If we are to show love, we must not hinder this love with words.  Instead, words should further this love.  Therefore, in all we say, we must be most careful in diction (what we say, not how we pronounce it--that's a different kind of coherence).  We want people to know we love them, and we want to love them back.  If we are to show that love, doing it as clearly as possible is the best way.  And we must do everything well, but not because it is required of us.  Very little is required of the Christian.  Things should be done well because they are not required.  My parents went away on holidays, for example.  Before they got home, I (with the excellent assistance of a volunteering friend) cleaned the house.  All that was required was a swept floor, a sink devoid of dishes, and a vacuumed rug.  Yet out of love for my parents, I washed some extra dishes, mopped the floor, dusted, and my good friend did some other work I didn't even ask for (it involved bathrooms--she volunteered...and I thank her).  All that is required of the lover is love.  Yet he will give his beloved far more than that--he will give his life.  All that is required of us is repentance and faith in love.  Yet how much more excellent is that love when we do things well for our lover, for God Almighty.  And so, whether we speak or write, or whatever we do, let's do it all to the greater glory of God.  And that means being coherent and comprehensible.

One could make other points regarding why coherence is important, or ways to be coherent.  For example, vagueness ought to be avoided.   It ties in with the first point.  Or maybe intelligibility (When the people aadlk blbldede...?).  Yet these are a few of the major points regarding coherence and the situations in which it tends to come up.  Therefore, always remember that unless non evitabilis est, lucidity is to be sought unremittingly.  Pax vobiscum.

Copyright 2004, Matthew Hoskin