Word Play & Dog Walks: Fun-Ambulist

As a writer, I am a total geek for fun words. I have fond memories of spelling and vocabulary lessons as far back as elementary school; also, some not-so-fond memories when, because I was such an avid reader and therefore exposed to oh so many words, my spelling words were marked incorrect because I wrote the alternate rather than teacher-approved spelling – for example, theatre as opposed to theater. Both correct, only one the right answer.

I also have a quirky memory of being in the children’s section of our local library, seated at a tiny table covered with books I had cherry picked from many shelves. I may have been seven years old. An older girl sat down across from me and commented on my book stack. She couldn’t believe I could read the books in front of me. She picked up a biography with the word “colonel” in the title and demanded I read it aloud. I pronounced it properly: “kernel.” She laughed triumphantly, and insisted that I sound it out: “It should be col-on-el, not kernel,” she snickered. I silently stared back at her, proud of myself, pitying her.

Because I enjoy words, I often subscribe to vocabulary emails. Recently I began receiving daily emails from School of Word Play. I don’t actually remember signing up for this list, but so far it has chucked some playful words in my direction. Words like “funambulist.”

I hadn’t encountered “funambulist” before. It looks like fun-ambulist, and I thought it might be someone who walks for fun…like me. However, the correct pronunciation is fyoo-nam-byuh-list and the definition is a tight-rope walker…absolutely never will be me. [The “fun” comes from the French or Latin funis, or rope].

Let’s go, boys!

Still, it’s been making me laugh on my many, many dog walks to think of myself as a fun-ambulist, as a fun-walker, strolling along with our three funny dogs. A neighbor recently hollered at us from her jog on the other side of the road that seeing us with our entourage, our dog-tourage, makes her laugh. In the best way, I assume. We are quite the pack.

Most days Guy and I walk together. When he’s unavailable, I do two “laps” of the neighborhood, taking the two younger dogs first before returning home to swap the middle dog for the older one; the Power Puppy needs more than all the exercise we can give him, so he gets to trot along on both laps.

Power Puppy likes to hold the Old Lady’s leash

Walking these dogs has been one of the great joys of my life in this strange year. I have walked and prayed, walked and ruminated, walked and ranted (to myself), walked and pondered, walked and noticed, walked and wondered, walked and meditated, walked until I’d burned out whatever frustration the day has presented, walked until I’d paced myself back into being present and peaceful.

What’s been adding life (and laughter) to your life in this strange year?

More painted rocks I noticed on a recent walk

Speaking of word play, last night I wrote a list-poem that made me laugh…

Boring Words
Just
Very
That
Really
Right
Stuff-Thing
Then

Exhilarating Words
(The) Whimsical
Funambulist
Futz(ed and)
Lollygag(ged, then tumbled)
Catawampus(, causing a thudding)
Brouhaha (for the)
Nincompoop (spectator below)

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay

Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

Re:Create
One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

Re:New
I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Re:Write
Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.

rehle-bio

 

Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at www.randehle.com.

So Many Words

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Some days I feel crazy, like the words are eating me from the inside out.

I haven’t written in a few days, haven’t had even a spare minute to grab the computer. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I just haven’t gotten the words down on screen/paper. The words don’t stop. They don’t go silent just because the blog does.

Some days the sentences seem to form themselves. I’m having a normal experience, a hike with Guy, for example. I might even carry on a normal conversation. Meanwhile, internally, my brain composes its own narrative.

Too many days like that, without writing, and I begin to go nuts.

Today I woke up rested, ready to run. Instead, I grabbed coffee and a book, content to enjoy a day off. Guy pulled boxes from the rafters, more than enough to decorate our small home for Christmas. He pulled the nostalgia boxes, sorting through old pictures and our love letters, stuff from when our teens were babies; he interrupted my reading with memories. I should have participated, indulging my heart each long-forgotten missive (how did I make my handwriting so small?) or the figurines from Teen’s 1st birthday cake (we meant to buy each number in the set, and yet we have only 1 and 2). My head felt too full to participate. I couldn’t even take in the words in my novel, reading and rereading paragraphs.

I made a simple lunch and, a few bites in, it looked funny, smelled off, tasted…like I might vomit. Teen looked, smelled, tasted, and devoured, thanking his good fortune he had walked through the room at just the right moment—my work, his gain.

Starting to feel downright grumpy, I grabbed a full, clean laundry basket. As I folded and stacked, I heard the words banging away in my crowded brain. “You can’t eat,” they explained, “because you are already full. Full up on words. Vomit the words, pour us out, and you’ll be free to eat.”

Yuck! Only, now I can’t. The words have become gobbledy-gook, gibberish. I’m no longer sure what they have been trying to say, because they’re no longer saying it. What felt effortless now feels insurmountable. To go back, to recreate the narratives, oh my… But to have lost those words, making real those thoughts, feelings, experiences, feels much worse. I will have to try.

The words fight me either way. They fight to get out//they fight my attempts to arrange them again when I haven’t immediately complied. Demanding, slave-driving words. Blessed, precious taskmasters.