Sunday, August 13, 2006

(Happy Birthday, Melba!)

Wings of Angels?

I read the local newspaper everyday—religiously. It’s a habit I started as a kid because my mother did it. Half the time we didn't believe what was printed there. I wanted to be a newspaper journalist, anyway. But I let life and other people’s opinions get in the way as a young woman in college, and I dropped my journalism scholarship and major to pick up a degree in education. I took another path. Wistfully, everyday, as I read the newspaper, I think about the choices I made. (That’s for another blog, another day.) I could’ve been an editor by now. And I would’ve questioned this front page quote in Sunday's paper.

Now, maybe the speaker at the Indiana Wesleyan University graduation DID say exactly what the reporter from the newspaper quoted, but I tend to think the reporter misunderstood what was said. The words sound similar and she may have made a judgment based on a common misconception of Christians. It has been my experience that most of the reporters are young, and newspaper articles happen fast, so it is easy for something to not be quite right in a newspaper article. When I was in journalism school I had this curmudgeon ex-editor professor who didn’t exactly chew cigars in class, but he looked as if it may have been a habit. He looked exactly like the Perry White editor-stereotype (Clark Kent/Superman’s editor) only he had black-rimmed glasses. And he was every bit as ouchy as Mr. White. Anyway, everyone has heard this in the writing business, but my prof said it to us, too, which has stuck with me, way back when—“If your mother says she loves you, verify, verify, verify.” It’s a journalism catechism. I have doubts that the quote I read was verified.

I have been told that if a passage in the Bible is important, there will be 3 “verilys,” as in “Verily, verily, verily, I say unto you….” So, I take it that 3 verilys equal 3 verifies, and it’s a writer’s clue equaling important. (Ok, I haven’t exactly verified this. This is a blog, not a newspaper. It’s all opinion here--remember that we’re here in my café and it’s just conversation.) Obviously, this reporter, or whoever was copyediting, didn’t check the quote at this graduation ceremony, is what I think, and I’m going to tell you why, based on my experience as an old lady Christian.

I wasn’t there, but 1,200 people received their diplomas yesterday at this small, Midwestern Christian university. One of the graduates was a 40-plus woman, whose daughter took her photo on her first day of college, obviously just as the mother had done for the daughter as a child (who is now probably in college herself.) The woman was a speaker and she talked about how it was a network of family, friends and God that made it possible to go back to school at her age. (And it’s more common today, but still tough to do—go back to school after 40.) The quote in the newspaper from her speech to her fellow graduates is: “If we live our lives with tenacity and perseverance, we can, and we will, mount up with wings as angels.”

Ok, pause here. What is wrong with that sentence?

If you have been a student of the Bible for very long, you will note that something is “just not right” about this sentence, as well as its meaning in the Christian faith practice. Maybe you even corrected it in your mind when you finished the sentence, just as I did. If you are that young reporter or someone who hasn’t studied the Bible, (and there isn’t anything wrong with being either of these things—I’m not judging this aspect) you’re missing something in this woman’s message. And even if you don’t believe the way a Christian does, as a journalist, you have a responsibility to get the facts straight instead of making assumptions about the message. Ok, to give the reporter a break here, maybe the reporter put it down right (or what I think the speaker was saying—ha!) and some editor or copyeditor changed it. I’ve heard more than one reporter lament that her words were changed and she had to go apologize to the person in her article. It happens—a lot. It’s not always an exact business. Some might argue, “Who cares? It all means the same, right? And just why are you writing all this when you haven’t verified, either?”

A lot of people will just skim right over that sentence and think, “Yeah, yeah, them Christians are always glory halleluiahing about something. Yeah, up on angel wings. Whatever.”

Reminds me of that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the bartender rings his cash register dozens of times, snarling his line, “Hey! Looky here! I’m making angels’ wings.” (Obviously wasn’t a believer.)It’s no wonder our theology and Christian doctrines are often more legend than fact, even among Christians. Some people even think that if you die as a Christian, you believe that you’ll become an angel. (Most of us don’t believe this. Angels are a whole ‘nuther topic—and being.) But is that what this speaker was saying? That if we, as Christians, hang tough and persevere, we’ll get our wings like an angel? (The rock group Aerosmith said something about “getting our wings” in the ‘70s and that’s an entirely different meaning.)

I don’t think so. I’d have to verify, verify, verify by contacting this Christian woman, but knowing my Bible verses, I think she was referring to a well-known verse that Christians have used for centuries to uplift each other. It is conveyed to me in how she expressed it, even when one of the words isn’t quite right. (And writers like to get the right word.)It’s a verse that’s been quoted, framed, engraved, spoken, underlined, and even painted in image only. Christians are immediately comforted, uplifted and “get it,” just as she encouraged these grads yesterday with these words (when you see what she said in context.)

Isaiah 40: 31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” *

Now, go back to that quote from the woman speaker. (Just to remind you: “If we live our lives with tenacity and perseverance, we can, and we will, mount up with wings as angels.”) I think she was referring, in context with her words “tenacity and perseverance” to eagle’s wings. That is a whole different picture and understanding than angels’ wings. Eagle's wings are something which is tangible and makes sense in image to even someone who doesn’t believe angels exist.

Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, centuries ago, penned this word image, and it still holds meaning to us today. There is a hope built into the image.He could've written yesterday, just like the reporter wrote the article yesterday. It is a hope soaring as high as earthly and nature-bound as possible. We don’t have to scrape through a bunch of convoluted images of various angels from the media—from John Travolta as Michael, to Clarence as Jimmy Stewart’s guardian angel, to New Age angels and spirit guides, to a certain fallen angel who tries to mess up God’s simple messages to us every day.

On wings like eagles. Strong, high and sure. Soaring. You get the picture.

Oh, and the reason that this verse is so appropriate for a 40-something mother who just graduated from college is not lost on me here, either. Read the verse that came before:

Isaiah 40: 29: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
: 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.
: 31 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” *

Now, that’s hope for you. And probably something someone who has lived twice as long as her fellow graduates would say. (I should know.)

* New International Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers copyright 1983

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