Archive | December, 2012

Words that must go!

banished words

Here’s my favorite year-end news story…

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – While the U.S. Congress has been kicking the can down the road and inching closer to the fiscal cliff, the word gurus at Lake Superior State University have doubled-down on their passion for the language and have released their 38th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

The list, compiled from nominations sent to LSSU throughout the year, is released each year on New Year’s Eve. It dates back to Dec. 31, 1975, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe (RAY-bee) and some colleagues cooked up the whimsical idea to banish overused words and phrases from the language. They issued the first list on New Year’s Day 1976. Much to the delight of word enthusiasts everywhere, the list has stayed the course into a fourth decade.

Through the years, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which now includes more than 800 entries.

This year’s list is culled from nominations received mostly through the university’s website, Word-watchers target pet peeves from everyday speech, as well as from the news, fields of education, technology, advertising, politics and more. A committee makes a final cut in late December.

So, let’s see what’s trending. Grab your favorite superfood (boneless wings) as the list creators at LSSU reveal (spoiler alert!) their bucket list of misused, overused and generally useless words and phrases. YOLO!

As one might expect, this phrase received the most nominations this year. If Congress acts to keep the country from tumbling over the cliff, LSSU believes this banishment should get some of the credit.

“You can’t turn on the news without hearing this. I’m equally worried about the River of Debt and Mountain of Despair.” — Christopher Loiselle, Midland, Mich.

“(We’ve) lost sight of the metaphor and started to think it’s a real place, like with the headline, ‘Obama, Boehner meeting on fiscal cliff’.” — Barry Cochran, Portland, Ore.

“Tends to be used however the speaker wishes to use it, as in falling off the fiscal cliff, climbing the fiscal cliff, challenged by the fiscal cliff, etc. Just once, I would like to hear it referred to as a financial crisis.” — Barbara CLIFF, Johnstown, Penn.

“Continually referred to as ‘the so-called fiscal cliff,’ followed by a definition. How many times do we need to hear ‘fiscal cliff,’ let alone its definition? Please let this phrase fall off of a real cliff!” — Randal Baker, Seabeck, Wash.

“Fiscal cliff, fiscal update, fiscal austerity…whatever happened to ‘economic’ updates? Fiscal has to go.” — Dawn Farrell-Taylor, Ont.

“Makes me want to throw someone over a real cliff,” — Donna, Johnstown, NY

“If only those who utter these words would take a giant leap off of it.” — Joann Eschenburg, Clinton Twp., Mich.

“Usually used in politics, this typically means that someone or some group is neglecting its responsibilities. This was seized upon during the current administration and is used as a cliché by all parties…Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Tories, Whigs, Socialists, Communists, Fashionistas…” — Mike Cloran, Cincinnati, Ohio

“I’m surprised it wasn’t on your 2012 list — were you just kicking the, um, phrase down the road to 2013?” – T. Jones, Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I thought that perhaps you weren’t ready to deal with it. You just kicked that can down the road.” — Rebecca Martz, Houston, Tex.

“I would definitely like to kick some cans of the human variety every time I hear politicians use this phrase to describe a circumstance that hasn’t gone their way.” — Christine Tomassini, Livonia, Mich.

“Much the same as ‘put on the back burner,’ these two phrases still have heat and are still in the road. Kick this latest phrase down the road.” — Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio

“I can’t turn on the TV any more without being informed that can-kicking has occurred. What’s wrong with the word ‘postpone’?” – Kathryn, West Chester, Ohio

“This blackjack term is now used as a verb in place of ‘repeat’ or ‘reaffirm’ or ‘reiterate.’ Yet, it adds nothing. It’s not even colorful. Hit me!” — Allan Ryan, Boston, Mass.

“The next time I see or hear the phrase, I am going to double over.” — Tony Reed, Holland, Mich.

“Over-used within the last year or so in politics.” — John Gates, Cumberland, Maine

“Better nip this in the bud – it’s already morphed into ‘quadruple down.'” — Marc Ponto, Milwaukee, Wisc.

“It implies supernatural powers — such as the ability to change the weather or levitate. Most new jobs pay less than the lost jobs to ensure stratospheric CEO compensation and nice returns on investments. I respectfully propose a replacement term that is more accurate — job depleters.” — Mark Dobias, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

“One of the most overplayed buzz terms of the 2012 presidential campaign. Apparently ‘lowering unemployment’ doesn’t have the same impact.” — Dennis Ittner, Torrance, Calif.

Since jobs are only created by demand, consumers are the real job creators. — Scott Biggerstaff, Redlands, Calif.

“It’s been over-used and pigeon-holed into political arguments left, right, and center to the point that I don’t believe it has any real meaning.” — Adam Myers, Cumming, Ga.

“To belong to this tax-proof club, you don’t have to create a single job. All you need to do is be rich. In fact, many people who call themselves ‘job creators’ make their money by laying off people.” — S. Lieberman, Seattle, Wash.

“Uttered by every politician who wants to give big tax breaks to rich people and rich businesses…” — Jack Kolars, North Mankato, Minn.

“If these guys are capitalists, as claimed, they are focused on reducing expenses and maximizing profit. Jobs are a large part of expenses. So, if anything at all, they minimize employment to maximize profits. Up is down, black is white. Job creators are really employment minimizers.” — Bob Fandrich, Fredericksburg, Va.

“Diabetes is not just Big Pharma’s business, it’s their passion! This or that actor is passionate! about some issue somewhere. A DC lobbyist is passionate! about passing (or blocking) some proposed law. My passion! is simple: Banish this phony-baloney word.” — George Alexander, Studio City, Calif.

“As in ‘that’s my passion.’ Please, let’s hope you mean ‘enthusiasm.’ ‘Passion’ connotes ‘unbridled,’ unmediated by reason and sound judgment. Passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, and chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists.” — Michael T. Smith, Salem, Ore.

“Seared tuna will taste like dust swept from a station platform – until it’s cooked passionately. Apparently, it’s insufficient to do it ably, with skill, commitment or finesse. Passionate, begone!” — Andrew Foyle, Bristol, UK

“My passion is (insert favorite snack food here). I’m passionate about how much I hate the words ‘passion’ and ‘passionate.’ Don’t wait for next year’s list! — David Greaney, Bedford, NH

“Stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ and used by wannabe Twitter philosophers who think they’ve uncovered a deep secret of life. Also used as an excuse to do really stupid things, such as streaking at a baseball game with YOLO printed on one’s chest. I only live once, so I’d prefer to be able to do it without ever seeing YOLO again.” — Brendan Cotter, Grosse Pte. Park, Mich.

“Used by teens everywhere to describe an action that is risky or unconventional, yet acceptable because ‘you only live once.’ Who lives more than once?” — P.P., Los Angeles, Calif.

“Just gives people, especially teens, a reason to do stupid things. I find it annoying and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.” – Daniel, Hickory, NC

“Only a real yoyo would use the term ‘yolo.'” — Sandra McGlew, White Lake, Mich.

“What was once a polite warning has turned into a declarative statement: I have just spoiled something for you. When news outlets print articles with headlines such as, ‘Huge upset in men’s Olympic swimming,’ with a diminutive ‘spoiler alert’ on the link to the rest of the article, I think it’s safe to say we’ve forgotten the meaning of the word ‘alert.'” – Afton, Portland, Ore.

“Used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it, no matter what.” — Joseph Joly, Fremont, Calif.

“The expression makes me cringe every time I hear it — and we’ve been hearing it for several years. I’m surprised it isn’t already in your master list. Let’s emphasize life and what we do during it. It’s such a grim way of looking at ‘what I want to do,’ and often it is in selfish terms.” — Shea Hoffmitz, Hamilton, Ont.

“Getting this phrase on the Banished Word List is on my bucket list!” – Frederick Fish, Georgia

“A trend is something temporary, thank goodness; however, it is not a verb, and I’m tired of news stations telling me what trite ‘news’ is ‘trending.'” — Kyle Melton, White Lake, Mich.

“I’m sick of chirpy entertainment commentators constantly informing us of what ‘is trending right now.’ I used to like a good trend until this.” – Nancy, Victoria, BC.

“Trending leaves me wondering ‘in what direction?’ It seems to mean ‘increasing in attention received’ or ‘frequency in which it is referenced.'” — John Hannon, Springfield, Va.

“It’s food. It’s either healthful or it’s not. There is no ‘super’ involved. — Jason Hansen, Frederic, Mich.

“Can we just call them chicken (pieces)?” — John McNamara, Lansing, Mich.

“Unless you’re teaching transcendental meditation, Hinduism or Buddhism, please don’t call yourself a guru just because you think you’re an expert at something. It’s silly and pretentious. Let other people call you that, if they must.” — Mitch Devine, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

A Word Banishment salute to John Prokop of Oakland, Calif., who sent us a list of nearly four dozen words, phrases and acronyms that “bug the heck” out of him. Most of those that he mentioned are on this list or have been on previous lists.

Lake Superior State University is Michigan’s smallest public university with an enrollment of 3,000 students. It is known for its academic programs such as fisheries and wildlife management, engineering, nursing, criminal justice, fire science and business management. For admissions information, go to LSSU’s web site,

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Professional ethics

church drawing


When I became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, I agreed to the terms of my departure.

It’s surprising, but true.

When I leave, or announce my retirement, or otherwise decide to stop being pastor here (which is hard to imagine on a beautiful December day I spent sailing on Biscayne Bay), I made promises about my behavior after I leave.

For example, I won’t be coming back to officiate at weddings, baptisms, and funerals.  Ever.  It won’t happen.  In fact, I promised to leave and not set foot on the campus for a minimum of two years. I signed my name.

This is hard for church members to understand, I know, but to keep coming back I make things harder for my successor.  In other words, as long as I keep playing the role as pastor, even though I’m officially gone, I create confusion in the minds of the members.  So, in those cases, it’s my responsibility to say, “I can no longer be your pastor; I can be your friend in the years to come, but I can’t be your pastor.”

I can’t tell you how hard this has been in the years following my departure from other congregations I have served.

When I left, I cried.  I grieved terribly. Leaving churches I loved has been the hardest work I have ever done.  I experienced loss in those situations as profound as any death.  I loved the people I served, and when they called in the years that followed, I wanted to respond as I always had.

But if I did, I would have created problems for my successor.  If I were to act as pastor, even in limited ways, after my departure, I would have created obstacles as my successor tried to initiate a new relationship.

Susan and I attended a retirement seminar last June for “mid- to late-career clergy,” and at one point in the seminar, after talking about the need to leave the community we once served, the leader asked us to stand, and with hands over our hearts he asked us to repeat, “I am not an exception.”

With sadness, I did.

Pastors have a very difficult time saying good-bye.  Pastors, trust me on this, have a very difficult time saying good-bye.  And the responsibility for healthy departures – I hate this! – must always fall on the departing pastor.

So, the next time a pastor says, “I would love to come back, but can’t,” that pastor is exercising the very highest standards of professional ethics.

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Best photo of 2012

Baboons are dangerous

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Unto us a child is born

king size bed


For unto us a child is born,

unto us a son is given:

and the government shall be upon his shoulder:

and his name shall be called Wonderful,


The mighty God,

The everlasting Father,

The Prince of Peace

(Isaiah 9:6).

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My prayer at the Broward College Commencement


graduation day

Holy One, at this season of the year, people of all faiths – and people of no faith – look for signs of peace and hope and meaning in the world.  And so, here, today, at the beginning of this program, we turn to you.  We watch, and we listen, and we want to believe that there is among us today something more powerful than evil, something stronger than senseless violence, something more compelling and satisfying than hate and despair.

And fittingly, we need look no further than this place, on this day.  We give thanks for graduates who have worked for something more important than themselves, who have given time and energy and dollars, to achieve something that has meaning and value in the world.  We give thanks for family members and loved ones who also worked and sacrificed and waited for this day to come.  We give thanks for faculty members who believed in what they were doing and believed in their students and believed that with knowledge and skill and practice doors would open, lives would improve, hope would grow.  We give thanks for Broward College and its vision and purpose and place in this community.

With degree in hand, with classes and papers and reports at an end, with mission accomplished at long last, we pray that we may see this day not as the end or the culmination of anything, but rather as the beginning of something.  We pray that you will grow in each of us a sense of purpose that transcends this degree.  Help us to take what we have learned and mastered – and then become aware of a calling or vocation.  Help us to live with purpose – the conviction that we are here for some reason, that wherever we are, wherever we go, wherever you lead us, we will make a difference.

Push us, we pray, as we’ve never been pushed before.  Guide us, when we’re lost.  Grab us with your strong hand, when we’re about to fall.  And grant us your peace as we set out on the sacred journey of our lives.

Glory to you…in this holy season.  Amen.

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Applause in church, part deux

applause in church2

I thought you might like an applause update. My blogpost last week on “applause in church” generated 125 views in the first hour. That’s strong interest.

Yesterday morning in worship, which was mostly given over to Christmas music with our Cathedral Choir and the Symphony of the Americas, I made an announcement at the beginning, asking worshippers to hold their applause until after Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” at the very end.  I even said that this was the request of the choir and orchestra, which it was.

You might think that in my position I carry a great deal of authority with my congregation. Well, apparently I don’t.

To be fair, the congregation at the first service, which tends to be a bit smaller, did not clap their hands until the very end, although I could almost feel the desire to do so long before then. One of the choral pieces was so good, so moving, in fact, that it just didn’t seem right to sit in silence. But we did.

And I thought, “Okay, that’s some progress.”

By the later service, however, when we had a nearly-full church, there was only a minimal attempt to hold off on the applause. By the end of the first choir anthem, the congregation was very nearly on its feet with clapping. I half expected shouts of “bravo!”

Since the service was structured, more or less, as a service of lessons and carols, I went to the lectern after the first outbreak of applause to read scripture, and the congregation smiled back at me as if to say, “Sorry, but we couldn’t help it.”

And that’s okay. I get it. But I intend to carry on my little crusade to encourage mindfulness in worship. I would count it a big victory if the people in my church enjoyed quiet reverence in the presence of the holy every bit as much as loud and noisy responses to most everything that happens on Sunday morning.

Quiet can be good too.

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Thermocline of grace and amazement

graduation cap

I’m giving the invocation once again at the Broward College commencement next week and am excited about it. To have been invited back I must have done a good (enough) job the last time.

But here I sit today, in front of my laptop, wondering what to say. Of course I could use the same words I used last time. The President, Board, and Faculty heard them before, but for the graduates and their families my words (from last May) will be fresh and new.

I don’t as a rule recycle old sermons, however, so I’d better not start recycling old prayers either.

My next thought was to search one of my favorite worship blogs titled – with astonishing directness – re:Worship (you can click on it here or at the right side of this page). I found there the following prayer offered by Dr. Tom Cheatham at the Mississippi State University commencement in December 2006.

I must say, I like it. It’s fun, but also right on point. Now that I’ve read it, I’ll find it hard to not to copy it.

A Prayer for Graduates

God, what a great and joyous night this is. It’s graduation, marker of success in college, the commencement of a new era in life. Let’s get out of here!

God, what a lousy and sad night this is. It’s graduation, and we’ll never pass this way again; it feels like something is dying inside. Why do we have to leave?

What do we do now? And what are you going to do? We’re on this boundary between now and not yet, and we need help to sort out the feelings, the what if’s and the why not’s, the grief and the giddiness.

Lead us then into the mystery of this time and help us embrace it; teach us the power of this thin place where heaven and earth meet and in the passing of the old something new is being created. Make this night a thermocline of grace and amazement, where surface gives way to depth, and we know what you might do in and among us.

Go with us, God, when we leave this place. Go with us: goad us into tomorrow, guide us when we’re lost, grab us with your strong hand when we’re about to fall off the precipice of wrong choice, and grant us your peace so we may go confidently on this footsore and sacred journey of our lives.

Glory to you in heaven and on earth. Amen.

Doug’s note: Look, if you go to college, you have to expect to hear words like “thermocline,” don’t you? And then you go home afterward and look them up… ther·mo·cline [thur-muh-klahyn] noun: a layer of water in an ocean or certain lakes, where the temperature gradient is greater than that of the warmer layer above and the colder layer below. Now you know.

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My annual Christmas letter

Advent 2012

Dear family and friends,

Susan and I have been empty nesters for a while now, so you’d think the focus of our lives would be on this exciting next chapter of our lives.

Not so.

We’re still mostly focused on the kids and their lives – to the point of texting each other all through the presidential debates last fall and sometimes even during University of Michigan football games. Lizzy calls us on her way to the library, and Sarah calls on her way to the gym. And then we use the speakerphone to hang on every word. I hope that’s not pathetic.

The highlight of the year for our family – without even a close second – was Lizzy’s wedding, and Susan who is now nearly retired spent the better part of the year getting ready for it. I had no idea weddings required so much preparation.

Lizzy met Daniel a few summers ago when both of them were counselors at Camp Roger in western Michigan – ironically enough, the same camp Susan and I attended most summers when we were children. (All former campers may now sing “On the Shores of Little Bostwick.” If you’ve forgotten the lyrics, which I find hard to believe, click here.)

The wedding and reception were held in Holland, Michigan, where our family vacationed most summers and where we still seem deeply rooted even though we’ve lived elsewhere most of our lives.

The weather on that August day was beautiful. In fact, everything about it was wonderful. Wedding day photos included all the favorite Holland locations – from the Peanut Store on 8th Street to Ottawa Beach State Park.

Lizzy is finishing her Masters in Public Health at the University of Michigan and applying to PhD programs for next fall.  I used to help her with editing and proofreading her school papers, something I very much enjoyed, but the last item she sent – titled “Decentralized Financing of Health Facilities: Policy Lessons From Flexible Financing Under India’s National Rural Health Mission” – was very nearly impossible for me to understand. I’m afraid she may have to find a new editor.

Daniel is riding the crest of the wave known as Apple, and now works at their Ann Arbor location. We’re thrilled of course that he’s part of our family – and not just because of his amazing technical skills, though we do seem to have lots of little jobs for him when he visits (like resetting our chirping smoke detectors).

Sarah is living in St. Louis now and serving as Associate Pastor for the Ladue Chapel in the leafy suburb of Ladue. (Yes, another hyperlink. Once you figure these things out, it’s hard not to make use of them!) It’s fun to have another Presbyterian pastor in the family, but to Susan’s dismay lots of our phone conversations consist of much-dreaded “church talk.” Sorry, we can’t help it.

Sarah and Ben bought a house in an interesting and charming University City neighborhood last spring.  Susan and Lizzy went out “to get them settled” which, from the looks of the credit card statement, meant buying lots of sheets and towels and then going out for dinner and drinks.

Ben has a job he likes – with Lockheed Martin – and seems to be making ample use of his graduate degree in environmental policy which I didn’t think would be possible. Not as much fun as his old job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but fewer really tall people.

The regular readers of my blog already know about the trip Susan and I took to Africa last month. For those of you who are new to Doug’s Blog, welcome, and here’s a brief recap.

Cape Town is a gorgeous city. Table Mountain is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and now I understand why. Kruger National Park and the game preserves in the northeastern part of South Africa are fascinating.  And the tiny bit of mission work we did at the end of the trip was, as these things almost always are, life-changing.

Being asked to preach at the Calvary of Hope Christian Church in Acornhoek, South Africa, was fun and humbling. When I first stood up front and looked at the congregation that morning, with my interpreter standing next to me, I choked up and couldn’t go on. Occasionally I have these moments when I realize where I am and what I’ve been given the privilege to do.

Life in Florida is good.  We’re in relatively good health, and if I finally learn to use sunscreen on a regular basis, I might have a few good years left. We like winters here a lot.  We’re not, however, in love with Florida summers, which seem to stretch well into October. Susan is sadly no longer with Habitat for Humanity, but she’s with me, which I like.

We love the people at our church who have welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically. We were drawn initially by the loving group of people we met, and we continue to enjoy that and – I hope – respond in kind.

As always, I look to this season of the year to re-kindle the hope that God is about to do something new in the world. And so we watch and wait along with people of faith down through the centuries. Advent is also the time of year to renew our friendships with you. We wish you a joy-filled Christmas.


Doug and Susan

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Applause in church

You’re thinking that I’m out of ideas already for this blog.

Applause in church? Really?

Stay with me here, because there are some important issues at stake. The people at my church like to clap their hands. They clap when the children sing, they clap when the adult choir sings, they clap for just about everything but the offering and – this hurts a bit – the sermon.

And not surprisingly, I’ve heard from a few people about it. The last person who wrote told me that it was my job to teach people how to behave in worship.

So, here goes.

On one side of this argument you have people who think that applause is appropriate for entertainment, not for worship. God is the only one in worship who gets to clap his hands. God is the audience for all that we do. So, stop it with the applause!

Support for this view comes from none other than Karl Ratzinger. Never heard of him? He’s now known as Pope Benedict XVI. Back when he was just Karl Ratzinger, here’s what he wrote…

“Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

You get the feeling that he disapproves.

And part of me is sympathetic to this point of view. I like worship that’s filled with wonder, awe, and reverence. I like silence … sometimes. When we fill our worship with noise and applause, we tend to diminish the wonder. We make it less about God and more about the people who are performing up front.

On the other hand, I’ve served a church that had plenty of wonder, but very little joy – or hospitality, for that matter. We were long on reverence, but tended to be short on spontaneity. I missed it too. I serve a church now that’s demonstrative, that hugs and claps, that laughs at my humor, for which I’m grateful. A couple of weeks ago, following a report from the mission team that went to Africa, we even danced – a little.

For those who like to search the scriptures to find support for their positions, you probably can’t do better than the Psalms, especially Psalm 46:1…

“O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.”

Whoever wrote the Psalms is a big proponent of expressive worship. But one of the problems with this use of scripture is that it tends to be selective. We like the part about clapping, sure, but just about everyone ignores the part about shouting. I’m not sure Presbyterians are ready for shouts “with the voice of triumph.”

So, where does that leave us?

Culturally, we have few choices. Applause is one of the few ways we have to express ourselves in a group context. Frankly, I don’t think we’re going to get rid of it in church, and I’m not about to scold people who do it. I would be happy, though, if we became more mindful of what we’re doing. Applause after a particularly rousing choir anthem? Okay. But what about some silence following a more meditative or contemplative piece of music? Not every element of worship calls for us to make noise. Sometimes our quiet reverence is more fitting and – can this be? – more pleasing to God.

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Thank you!

Thanks to all who’ve helped to make my new blog such a success.  Yesterday was the first time I reached 100 views!  I’ve been averaging 60-70 views per day.  The 12 days in Africa without access to the Internet slowed the momentum a bit, but am now back on track.  It’s been a good, fast start.

In the next couple of days, look for my annual Christmas letter, which will appear for the first time, not in your mailbox, but as a blogpost – with lots of photos and hyperlinks.  (My wife told me yesterday that she wants to sign off on it before it’s posted.)

Here’s a shout out to Mike at The Blog Designers for getting me started on my own site.  Thanks for the design and technical assistance, Mike!  (If you ever visit from Australia, please look me up at First Presbyterian Church.)


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