Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: genealogy

Writing and witnessing

There are two kinds of writers. First is the novice who has a burning desire to tell a story or to announce some truth. Feeling insecure in his ability, he adopts a formal tone, uses the most impressive words he can find, adds adjectives – lots of bold, beautiful, glorious, exuberant adjectives. He leaves nothing out, not even the most minute peripheral detail; yet forgets important information because everybody knows it anyway. His family and friends say the writing is wonderful; he ought to publish it. Other people don’t say much. They just stop reading after the second paragraph.

The second kind is the one who thinks of the reader from start to finish of her writing. She considers what a reader might not be aware of and weaves that into the writing. She prunes out irrelevant information, tries to eliminate all adjectives, and never uses a big word when a small one will do. There’s a good chance a publisher might be interested in this writing.

Most of us start out like the novice, but eventually learn the painful truth that no one is interested in our pomposities. In fact, they are really not all that interested in us. Little by little, we learn to fade into the background and put the story, the article, the Sunday School lesson, into the foreground. We ask ourselves: How can I tell this in a way that others will want to read it?

The same approach applies when we want to share our faith. If we spend a lot of time expounding on our qualifications to share the Christian message people are turned off. They quit listening.

Sometimes a person feels compelled to describe his abject humility. It’s the same thing. He is boasting of his qualification as a man of God to let us know that we should listen to his message. All such boasting is vain.

If our family has been Christian for several generations, we are tempted to credit our salvation to the example and teaching of our parents and grandparents. That is confusing our genealogy with our spiritual heritage, and it gives others the impression that if they do not fit into that kind of genealogy they won’t fit in Christian circles.

God has no grandchildren. How often have we heard that? Has it sunk into our heart?

If we are Christians today, it means that at some point the Holy Spirit has pointed out to us that we were lost. We were sinners, having no hope in anything of this world. The righteousness of our parents could not save us. There was no saving virtue in our genealogy. We were alone before the absolute righteousness and holiness of Almighty God with nothing of this earth to cling to. At that point we pled for mercy and forgiveness and through the blood of Jesus Christ mercy and forgiveness were granted. We became children of God and could say like David: “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name” (Psalm 61:5).

There is no boasting here, it is God who is glorified, not ourselves. This tells others that there is a way by which they too can become partakers of this heritage.

Just as in effective writing, in order to be effective witnesses of the saving grace of God, we have to put ourselves in the background and the message in the forefront. God is the message, not us.

I have a funny name

I belong to an old family, the various spellings of the name revealing to which genealogical line we belong.  Our ancestors came from Wiltshire to Massachusetts on 1638.  The descendents of Edmund spell their name Goodenow or Goodnow and are mostly still found in New England.  Another subgroup of this line spells their name Goodeno or Goodno.  The descendents of Thomas, brother to Edmund, spell their name Goodenough or Goodnough and are found all over North America.  In the case of my particular family, the ‘e’ was dropped by the children of my great-great-great grandfather Ebenezer.  There is a Bob Goodenough in Michigan who is descended from Ebenezer’s brother Levi.

As can be imagined, each variation gives rise to jokes: Goodnow, bad later; Goodno, bad yes; Goodenough, bad enough.  And that’s it, there is really only one joke that can be made about each name.

Nevertheless, it often happens when I meet someone for the first time, that he feels a compulsion to display the originality of his wit by making a wisecrack about my name.   Now, it doesn’t make for a lasting friendship to inform my new acquaintance that this is the 1,723rd time that I’ve heard this particular joke and I’m all laughed out.  It works better to smile politely and try to direct the conversation onto a different topic.

The same joke has probably been told as long as the name has existed.  One theory is that the name began as a nickname for someone who was easily pleased.

There are a couple of examples from two centuries ago that rise above the  jokes that I  hear today.  The first was occasioned by a sermon preached to the House of Lords in England by Samuel Goodenough, bishop of Carlisle, in 1809:

‘Tis well enough that Goodenough
To the Lords should preach;
But sure enough, full bad enough
Are those he has to teach.

The second dates from 1822, when Ira Cooper of Manchester, Vermont married Miss Betsey Goodenough of Hancock, Vermont.  This poem has fun with both names, as the original meaning of Cooper is barrel maker.

Hoop poles with us are rather low,
And times we own are tough,
Since Coopers must to Hancock go
To get one Good-enough.

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