Righter Comparisons

The teachers at Wadsworth Elementary School attempted to ingrain the laws of grammar into the minds of my classmates. We memorized language rules by rote and then learned the exceptions to every rule. While writing, I still find myself mumbling arcane, grammatical incantations like: “I before E except after C unless followed by ‘eigh’ as in neighbor or weigh.”

Language experts state that English is one of the most difficult languages to master. Think about it—American children spend twelve years in school learning how to read and write a language in which they are naturally fluent!

GrammarOne of the trickier rules of English grammar concerns comparisons. According to Wikipidia.com, “Comparison, in grammar, is a property of adjectives and adverbs in most languages; it describes systems that distinguish the degree to which the modifier modifies its complement.” So there you go.

Comparisons are made in one of two main ways. Words with less than three syllables typically use the suffix –er for comparisions and –est for superlatives. For example, “John is taller than Juan” or “Susie is the fastest person in her class.”

Words with three or more syllables are normally preceded by “more” or “most.” For example, “Sean is more productive than Jean” or “Katie is the most prolific writer in her school.”

Back in the day, our teachers taught us that words with one or two syllables use the suffix –er or –est; and words with three or more syllables use more or most. Today’s grammaticians are a more wishy-washy group who ambigiously mumble that words with two syllables can go either way.

One site advised that –er or –est should be used unless the new word sounds awkward. Well, THAT clears things up.

Grammar PoliceI confess to being a bit of a grammar geek and often critique miscues in grammar and spelling. One of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of comparisons. A recent commercial on TV for a public utility invited people to become “More Cool.” Memo to the advertisers: it should read “Cooler.”

Others creatively combine comparisons. I heard a weather reporter describing how an approaching front might be “more stormier.”

English is such a complicated language that there are always exceptions to every rule. Comparisons have a subgroup of irregular words that march to the beat of their own drummers. Common examples include: good (better and best), many (more and most), and bad (worse and worst).

Another group called “absolute adjectives” supersede any comparison. Consider words such as “perfect” or “unique.” By definition, nothing can be more perfect than something already perfect. If someone is unique, then another person cannot be uniquer. Although I will note that the spell checker on my word processing software did not flag “uniquer.”

So be carefuler in your comparisons and more rightest in your superlatives. Otherwise, you might just end up looking like the most foolishest one of aller!

30th Anniversary

On May 17, 1986, Tracy Proctor and I said “I do” at the Unity Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia. Today we celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary.

Decades later I still vividly recall our first date. Tracy weddinganswered the door, and her appearance left me breathless. I thought to myself, “Why are YOU going out with ME?” Thankfully, I possessed enough self-possession not to ask.

The first date led to a second and a third as days turned into weeks and months. The following Christmas I popped THE Question. She amazed me yet again by saying, “Yes.”

Despite watching the video repeatedly, much of the wedding service remains a blur in my memory. However, I remember the weight of those sacred vows: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” Other than the death-parting thing, we’ve hit them all.

We quickly discovered that a wedding is a day but a marriage is a lifetime. The statement sounds like a cliché because it is, but clichés begin as truths. Couples that endure faithfully fulfill their vows one day at a time.

In traditional wedding services, the minister never asks the bride and groom if they FEEL in love. Instead, the pastor charges the couple with questions that begin with the words: “WILL YOU?”

We learned that love is both feeling and willing. Sometimes we acted in love because we felt in love. Other times we acted in love because we willed our love. Then we found the feelings all over again.

Tracy has seen me at my best and worst and loved me still. She accepts me for who I am but has never let me settle for any less than who I could be. Her gracious love transformed me into a better husband, son, father, pastor, and child of God.

Most love letters remain private and rightfully so. On the occasion of our 30th  Anniversary, however, I wanted to publicly share how God has so richly blessed me in and through my wife, Tracy Proctor Burch.

I love you.

2016 General Conference

Cross and FlamePeriodically, someone will approach me with a newspaper article clutched in one hand and ask, “Do you know what the United Methodist Church has done NOW?” Then the person will share some real or imagined grievance about the denomination.

Upon closer examination, I usually discover that a person or group in the United Methodist Church has said or done something controversial. These individuals certainly have the right to express their opinion. However, the only body that speaks for the entire denomination is the General Conference.

Under the United Methodist system of church government, the General Conference is the ruling body of the denomination. The conference is made up of lay and clergy representatives from every annual conference in the denomination, spanning not only the United States but also the world.

The General Conference only meets every four years, and it passes the church’s laws, rules, guidelines, and policies. The final result is then published on a quadrennial basis in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. (If you ever suffer from insomnia, I highly recommend the book!)

General Conference 2016The 2016 General Conference meets the next two weeks in Portland, Oregon. The assembly
will prayerfully make decisions affecting the future of the denomination. If you would like to keep up with the conference’s latest deliberations and actions, United Methodist Communications has a link at: http://www.umcom.org.

Please join me in prayer during this important time in the life of our church. May God continue to bless our congregation and denomination.

An Open Letter of Apology

I graduated from Candler School of Theology in May of 1982. A month later Bishop Joel McDavid appointed me to the Mount Carmel and Emory Chapel United Methodist Churches outside Newnan, Georgia.

PreacherOn our first Sunday as pastor and parish, I preached what—in my own modest estimation at the time—might have been the finest sermon in the history of Christendom. In retrospect, it might have fallen a bit short of such a lofty appraisal.

I awoke on Monday morning feeling pretty good about myself. Then it hit me. The two congregations expected me to preach again the following Sunday; AND they probably anticipated something new! So I slowly learned how to preach on a weekly (weakly?) basis.

God bless those long-suffering congregations in Coweta County who faithfully supported a preacher learning his trade. They took pride in training young pastors, and they gracefully endured rambling sermons with twelve points that never really made a point. The members shook hands after the benediction and assured me they had never heard a sermon quite like THAT before.

I recently flipped through a file drawer that contained some of those first sermons. I blushed bright red while reading the manuscripts. In those early days, I spoke authoritatively about marriage while living as a single man. I instructed parents how to raise children without any of my own. I encouraged people to joyfully endure suffering without any life experience in the subject.

So I’m writing an open letter of apology to those first congregations I served from 1982-1987. God bless the good people at the Mount Carmel and Emory Chapel United Methodist Churches. Precious in the sight of the Lord are those congregations who train up young pastors in the way they should go.

I am who I am today because of who we were together yesterday. I will be forever grateful for your patience, tutelage, and love.

And about that first Sunday when I preached what might have been the finest sermon in the history of Christendom —I really am sorry!