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Hallo again to all.

In last week's letter we wrote about aspects of time, change, and human history. In that, we used an example of humans attempting to forestall, through will power, a particular physical occurrence, and failing. We illustrated this anecdote with what is called a 'ouija board'. Now our front-page letter may have made its point — or not. The example may or may not have been a good one. These are all debatable issues. A sentence 'diagrammed'

What astonished us this past week were a number of letters that decried the image of the ouija board; that declared that we were promoting dabbling in occult arts; that thundered that we had lost our good common sense by sanctioning fortune-telling. You get the idea.

Not one of the letters frothing about the ouija board spoke at all to the point of our example of it. And this worries us. And it makes us fret about the declining ability to read with facility, follow sequential arguments, and grasp meaning within the context of a sentence, and sentences within paragraphs.

Yes, it's a sound-bite, jump-cut world. For better or worse, information is conveyed and understood more readily through more images and fewer words. But surely Anglicans, together bound by texts of prayer book and bible, should be be able to read readily and fluently. We worry when the meaning of standard English sentences in ordinary paragraphs seems to elude some of our readers.

In what we write to the secular world at large, we rein ourselves in, occasionally irritably, to crafting sentences without relative clauses, to choosing the monosyllable over the multi-part. But when we write here, we presume a high degree of literacy amongst our readers. We Anglicans routinely recite words such as 'incarnation', we once a year confront the doctrine of the Trinity, and we worship in buildings that have a 'narthex', to take just three examples of things, persons, and places. The ability to use our minds — to grapple with the word of God, to weigh opposing points of views, to delight in the beauty of the canticles and the poetry of the Psalms, to understand the small hazelnuts of prayer we call Collects — all these presume, it seems to us, the ability to read and to understand. We give up our heritage of literacy at our peril.

We've often commented that the 'plain teaching of scripture' is often not so plain, but layered with meaning and hedged round with historical context. Frequently Hebrew and Greek words are shaded with nuance and ambiguity that translation can flatten out of them. Many our current roils in the church have to do with the meaning of this or that passage of Scripture. Perhaps a more attentive and diligent reading (ideally in the original languages) by more of us would quiet some of our shouting and lead to more civilised discussion. If we read like we consume junk food, much is lost.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 8 May 2005

A thin blue line
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