Those of you who have teenage children, or know one with any degree of familiarity, will be aware of their passion, or should I say, dispassion, for the word whatever.
Now after just that one sentence, the rest of you will probably be scratching your head in puzzlement. Whatever?
Bear with me. Let's first go for a definition here, courtesy of Merriam-Webster. We have whatevers that are pronouns, adjectives and adverbs:
1 a: anything or everything that
1 a: any…that : all…that
in any case : whatever the case may be —sometimes used interjectionally to suggest the unimportance of an issue or decision between alternatives
So. Bored? Confused? Can you imagine any teenager able to give any of those definitions, or even want to? I can't.
So why their passion for the word, and why am I going on like this?
Have a look at the adverbial use of the word, and there you will find the answer: the unimportance of an issue or a decision between alternatives.
Many of you are of the age that you can recall the saying, may have even repeated it yourself: What if they gave a war and nobody came?
There was another one that I was particularly fond of in the more cynical years of my youth: Tomorrow has been canceled due to lack of interest.
Whateverrrr. Imagine it being said with the final R drawn out in a bored tone of voice, the sign of a W being made with raised forefingers and crossed thumbs.
Okay, I've made my point. We all know that teenagers, as a rule, have difficult being bothered about anything. It's just too much trouble. (Unless, of course, it's something they want). But try to make a point about morality, or propriety, or good manners, and you'll often as not get that glazed look as the thumbs and forefingers go into action and whateverrrr drawls out.
Now I don't want to offend what I am sure are the hundreds of regular teenage readers of The Continuum, so let me make a disclaimer right here. These attitudes are normal for you, and are part of what makes it fun being a kid. Remember, I used to be the same.
But as St Paul said to the Corinthians: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
I am not talking to you as you are today, but as you may be tomorrow, when you are the parents, or aunts and uncles, of other teenagers. Will you still be saying whateverrrr?
And more importantly, I am also thinking about those people who today are parents, and aunts and uncles.
And I am thinking of them because they are among the most frightening, even dangerous, people in the world. Yes. Moms and dads we all know. Hard-working. Responsible. Thrifty. Perhaps even Little League coaches or den mothers.
Frightening and dangerous because deep down inside, they are still saying whateverrrr when it comes to acknowledging God and their place in His cosmos. They just can't be bothered. It's too much like hard work, and it gets in the way of them enjoying what little freedom and spare cash they might have.
(Ironically, I was late reading my Office this morning, and as I did so, I found that the three psalms appointed for today were 95 (Venite, exultemus), 96 (Cantate Domino) and 97 (Dominus regnavit). These three psalms, in a way, sum up what I am driving at.
"Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice. Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." (96.10-end)
"The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory." (97.1-6)
O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker." (95.1-6)
It takes someone very brave, or very foolish, to say whateverrrr in the face of those few verses. But people do it every day. Indeed one of the psalms even speaks of them: "The fool hath said in his heart there is no God."
They are born, grow up, go to work, build families, retire and die without ever having even heard those words, much less pondered on them or embraced them. These are people who live down the street from you, perhaps even next door, not in the wilds of some far-off tropical paradise.
What prompted this rambling discourse was a comment made by Fr Rob on "Fr. Nalls et al on clergy education," where he said, in part:
"Our clergy ... need to know how to plant and build up churches, evangelize, lead people in evangelism and in start-up situations, work with other denominations, and function in what is truly a post-Christian, missionary, and interdenominational setting. The Evangelical schools educate, train, and build skills in those areas, whereas even the best and most 'orthodox' of the denominational schools are much more geared toward a caretaker ministry model and an institutional setting in which the infrastructure has long been in place." (Emphasis mine).
And what he is talking about here is of supreme importance to us. As has been said so many times on this blog, most recently I believe in this very thread, the continuing movement will not survive, indeed does not deserve to survive, if it limits its mission to being one of providing a caretaker ministry. We must be the Church, not in the sense of THE Church, but in the sense of the CHURCH. And that requires of us today to begin focusing our minds, prayers and energies on the Whateverrrrs of this world. Those people we can't even describe as post-Christian, not even by the somewhat dated terms of heathen or pagan, but as simply apathetic.
I mentioned earlier that I consider them frightening, even dangerous. The reason is because they cannot be counted on to be counted when a matter of great moral import arises. In contrast, I honour people who describe themselves as atheists, because at least they care enough about something, whatever it may be, that they seek to deny that there is a God who can be said to be that something. And I hold more hope that eventually they could begin to perceive that something is really Something. And that's a start.
The Whateverrrrs must also be enormously sad people. Imagine living one's life to the tune of Thomas Hobbes' "hymn" -- Short, Brutish and Nasty. Here today. Gone tomorrow. And that's it. I mean really, why not just cancel tomorrow?
How do we inspire those of the crossed thumbs and raised forefingers? That is the great challenge facing us all.