The very worst phrase in Bishop Bittman’s letter to me was this: “hyperbolic approach.” (Here’s his full sentence: “I respectfully suggest that this hyperbolic approach is unproductive and unhelpful to respectful and courteous dialogue.” You can see the rest of the letter and the lead-up conversations on post 150.)
Do you know why that’s bad?
Do you know why that’s offensive?
Because it comes very close to calling me a liar.
That’s why it’s bad.
After all, a hyperbole goes something like this: “I’ve told you a million times.” You see? It’s a gross exaggeration of fact. Now of course, people use hyperbole in everyday speech. It makes things interesting. Nevertheless, both the speaker and the listener are having fun. You say things like, “Hey, Wayne Gretzky was a gazillion times better than Player-I’ve-Already-Forgotten-His-Name!” The word ‘gazillion’ isn’t even real, but it adds to the zest of the conversation. Everyone partaking knows what’s going on.
And as far as “everyone partaking,” is concerned, a blogger is in a tougher spot, because she’s addressing a faceless group of unknown size. Arguably, she must be more careful, since she addresses a large group. On the other hand, if she has reason to believe that she has only two subscribers, her father and the webmaster, then the standards may differ. Hmm. But should it be subjective like that? What if she goes back and forth? What if one minute she thinks barely anybody is listening and then another minute she feels like everybody is?
And considering the lack of prerequisites, screening and qualifications required for those who wish to stand on the Blog Soap Box, well – I don’t know that anyone should be permitted to be Entirely Harsh. Yeah, I’m just another blogger, hey? Not like my first name is Blogger. Not like I go around with a business card that says “The World Famous Blogger.” (But maybe I do, or maybe I will.)
There are a lot of angles here.
But anyway, a hyperbolic approach, then, would be one where the speaker frequently uses hyperbole.
In other words, Bishop Bittman accuses me of frequently exaggerating what is factually true.
That is a bigger attack than he realizes. It’s not just a whine that I’m Not Playing Nice. It’s an attack on my integrity of speech.
This is actually quite grave.
Beware, Bishop Bittman, of the phrases YOU use.
You are not being careful with your own words.
I see a precipice, and you’re quite close to falling off it. If I were a lawyer, I’d caution you from going any further along that line. Don’t accuse people of a “hyperbolic approach” unless you are 100% entirely prepared to flesh out your accusation.
What full sentence can you produce to back up your assertion?
And as I said before, let’s go with full sentences.
After all, if someone is so Deeply Concerned about exaggeration of truth, then wouldn’t it be more important to not delete the modifiers used by the writer? If I said (which I did) “nearly scandalous” then doesn’t the word “nearly” matter very much to someone who is ready to accuse someone else of hyperbole?
I should think so.
I would hope so.
And let me inquire, since when does talking about nativity plays in basements require an Entirely Different Vocabulary than what I might use day-to-day? What’s all this talk about “respectful dialogue”? Do you not remember talking like an ordinary person back before being a clergyman? Do you not remember talking like an ordinary person while growing up with your brothers? No? Were you altogether full of Respectful and Courteous Dialogue? Is that what they would testify? Maybe you were. Maybe your speech, even back then, was Entirely Sanitized. Maybe you stood, even back then, taller than your brother, taller than others.
(Let’s compare transcripts. Grab any random month. October 1990, how about? Let’s put them side by side. Whose speech is cleaner? Yours or mine? Who displays more Refined and Dignified Verse, you or me?)
Well, I’m not a bishop and I’m not a priest. I’m still a member of the laity. I should be allowed to talk like a regular person. And I should be allowed to talk to priests and bishops as if they’re regular people too.
Being able to just relax and be ourselves will do far more for open and real dialogue than having everybody put on their fake masks of Respect and Deference and La-Tee-Dah-ness.
I should be allowed to talk
And say what I think.
If I think a decision stinks, then I’m allowed to say that. Is it clear? Is it concise? Do you follow my meaning?
Good. Then let’s move on. Deal with it. Don’t lecture. Don’t reproach.
Don’t give me a talk and don’t give me “Suggestions.”
I didn’t ask for any suggestions.
I just asked for a basement.
And please note that there is a common law defence to things like slander and defamation and it is called ‘truth.’ Last I heard, it was still a legitimate defence in Canada. I invoke Truth in my defence against your unnecessary and unfair accusation of hyperbolic speech.
But carrying on about full sentences versus partial, let me illustrate the effect you can get by using partial phrases, as occurs often in something called ‘poetry.’
Let me play English teacher this time, young man.
It goes like this.
It’s a poem based on my life.
From my lip fall drops of blood.
at the Edmonton Police Fingerprint
From my lip fall drops of blood
My young prince
It is him I will miss
I kind of like how that turned out.
Not bad for a quick tap tap.
You see the effect? What do you picture, when it’s one word here and there, without explanation? All of it is true. Moments from my life in a few lines.
Now let me explain.
I’ve had a lot of trouble with my lips this spring. They were so chappy and lip balm seemed to make it worse (almost like an allergic reaction.) So I walked around for most of the spring with a really Cool Look. The skin on my lips was peeling like a banana and they alternated between bleeding and scabbing. During the allergic reaction time, this was pleasantly accented by a bright ring of red skin where I had scratched at my face. Quite becoming, I’ll tell ya. As a matter of fact, I’d say my lips looked Dreadful. (Is that hyperbole? No, it is not.)
How can you tell that your lips look Dreadful?
This is how.
People look at you and go: “Hey! What’s up with your lips?”
That’s how you know.
That it isn’t Just You.
That’s how you know It Looks As Bad As You Thought.
On with the poem.
I did get my fingerprints taken
At the Edmonton Police Fingerprint Station.
A terribly long wait.
And from what I can tell, nearly every parking spot at that place
For everyone Else in the World.
But yeah, got my ‘prints taken.
Apparently that’s what you need to do if you want yer name changed.
I’m changing my first name to Blogger.
And as for the Prince
That happened around the same time.
I received notice by email
From a woman advising
That her high-school aged son
Was withdrawing from participation
In something I had hoped to produce
For August 2017
He was going to be Prince Charming
An answer that began as a Yes
Changed into a No
He would have been good
It would have been nice
But I guess it won’t happen
His mother advises
His schedule will be full
In August 2017
No man for the lass.
I dedicate my poem to G.N.,
For a show called
The least I can do
But anyway, someone suggested coconut oil for my lips and that was an improvement because at least I’m not allergic to it. As for the name change application, it was granted, in about half the time they said.
And no, it ain’t Blogger.
I was just kidding.
I changed my middle name to something more pretty
Than it used to be.
But mainly, I don’t want no ‘membrances of her
Hanging out in my moniker.
As for the Prince, I don’t have a Plan B. Don’t trust anything called Plan B. Just go with the flow. If God has put you on some kind of ride, follow through. You’ll come out ahead. Don’t sweat it.
Ah yes. Back to the Bishop.
Let’s talk a little more about hyperbole.
Here’s some more data from my life, but without so much poetry.
I’ll give you my opening line:
In the 46 years of my life, I never heard a homily as dreadful as the one delivered one weekday afternoon at St. Thomas More Parish, in Edmonton, Alberta (but it wasn’t delivered by a regular priest).
It was entirely weird.
The congregation was composed mostly of school-aged children but it wasn’t limited to that. There were teachers and regular folks from all walks of life. I was one of them.
During the homily, we were directed to all raise our hands in the air.
(Uh, this is weird – never did that before during Mass – does my shirt go up too much when I do this? Are the arm holes in my shirt showing too much?)
And then we were asked to reach over to the person next to us
(Uh, you mean that guy? That stranger that I don’t know? Or – even worse – the creepazoid who likes following me everywhere but who I’ve been trying to ignore – )
And hold his or her hand.
In the air.
(Uh, this is Not Entirely Pleasant. Why are we doing this?)
But I guess, well, he’s Directing this Show.
The homily-giver looked out upon us all. My hands were in the air, holding hands with the person seated next to me.
That’s when he said, “You’re CONNECTED!”
It was really icky.
(Can I let go now?)
If you think that’s hyperbole, well, it wasn’t.
I was embarrassed for the Church.
I was embarrassed that now all these young people had witnessed something Entirely Weird, and I was afraid that they would think that this experience was typical and representative of what Catholics did
when they went to Mass.
And I was dismayed that the homily delivered was such a dumbed-down version of Catholic teaching. That ‘exercise’ was meant to illustrate that we should be connected to God in the same way that we are connected through the World Wide Web.
Or something like that.
Forgive me if I didn’t get the analogy exactly entirely right.
So was I pretending to be a computer? Or was I a cell phone? Or was I a person using a computer?
Next time, I want to be wireless.
Don’t ask parishioners to hold hands with the stranger/person/relative/friend/“friend” next to them. What do you know about who is seated beside whom? This married woman is now supposed to hold hands with the married man beside her? Just because they teach at the same junior high school, this does not mean that they should be seen ANYWHERE holding hands, for ANY REASON.
Delivering a homily does not give you carte blanche to demand hands to be raised in the air or hands to be held as you direct.
So that is my description of the worst homily I ever heard in my life. I went to the sacristy afterwards and complained. I said, “Most of the people attending the Mass don’t even know why they’re kneeling at the moment of consecration. Why not use the homily to tell them?”
At the very least, it could be Mentioned in Passing. (Just slip in a little teaching, along with the inspiration, is my thought.)
I can’t remember what was said in reply. I spoke to two people, one was a priest and the other was a bishop. It was a bishop who delivered that homily.
I use no hyperbole when I say, “The worst homily I ever heard in my life was given by Gregory J. Bittman, Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton.”