Eats, Shoots, Discusses Theology, and Leaves

Growing up, Mom took us to the town library once a week. Bare hands or a library bag alone were not enough to contain our haul. We were probably the only family in town lining up at the library check-out counter toting a battered laundry basket, its handles repaired with supportive duct tape. The unlucky child delegated to tote the over-laden basket staggered wheezing back to the car each week like a drunken asthmatic.

Experience taught Mom that books not corralled were lost, resulting in heavy fines. Some families institute library book shelves in their home to solve this problem. Not us. We had an entire library cupboard (which, incidentally, was a great spot during hide-and-seek if you could pull out the front-most books, crawl into the dark recesses of the cupboard, and pull the books back into line behind you). We learned to love books both for their camouflaging properties and their contents. Having grown another three feet since then I’ve given up on hiding behind literature. However, to this day few things beat the free pleasure of a whole new stack of books in crinkly library covers.

Our new library is just three minutes away. The selection is poor. There’s not much point browsing for books outside the well-stocked cooking and state travel guide sections. We’re also on a probationary new-member ten book limit (oh, the suffering!) as new residents. Still, you can order whatever you like through inter-library loan, then drop by once a week to pick everything up.  Last week I ordered Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. It’s timely since my grammar generally stumbles ’round about second grade graduation standards. Plus, the examples are great:

For example…consider the difference between the following:

“Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”


“Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret the passage (Luke, xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were) and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it.” (Eats, Shoots & Leaves, p. 74)


Punctuation didn’t come around until centuries after the Bible, which is part of the reason most churches and denominations require at least three verses in support of any definitely held doctrinal points. I’ve heard and read many sneers about this category of indecision as if it were a crushing blow to belief. But why should it be earth-shattering when academics and others point out there are things we’re unsure about? We already knew that. We worship an infinite perfect God. And yes, while we worship a perfect God we live in a fallen world (ref. the entire story of salvation/entirety of scripture). This means we will always live with some uncertainty and real life human limits like our three-pound brains and the historical development of punctuation.

It’s a bit of a contradiction in terms to claim Christianity is just a made-up crutch for the weak, and in the same breath hope we’re such extreme weaklings that we’ll leave the church due to angst over comma placement, and thus through our being too weak to be in the weaklings group become just like the mentally strong. Eh what now?

As an aside, this is not the type of doctrinal debate that gives me insomnia. It is not that I don’t care about truth, Holy Scripture, doctrine, or theology. I do, deeply, and have my own views. However, I also care about ecumenicism in the church.  I don’t mean watering down doctrine. Just in welcoming brothers and sisters in Christ, who believe in the same Triune God, our own sinfulness, and the saving work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Again, we worship a perfect God, but live in a fallen world, which means we will have uncertainty as long as we live here. 

It’s easy to lose sight of the goal of glorifying God. Why? Because we genuinely worry that another person is in spiritual error, and because, if we’ll admit it, it’s a lot of fun to win an argument. But what holds greater value – verbally crushing a follower of our Lord, or remembering Christ’s statement that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, standing shoulder to shoulder, and together facing the real enemy “who can destroy both soul and body.” It doesn’t mean ignoring your convictions. It just means trying to hold onto a little humility when discussing them with others. 

Which is all a long side-track to say it’s a fun book full of great examples (and British humor!). And also that these days I get a little perverse pleasure coming up with descriptions like: “Well, my husband and I are both Christians. One of us is Catholic and one of us is a Christian of no particular denomination” and leaving it to the other person to figure out which one of us they’re supposed to disagree with.


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