Things that make you go hmmm ...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Arsenio Hall, the most recent "Celebrity Apprentice" winner as per Donald Trump, used to have a wildly successful late-night talk show -- one that may have hastened Johnny Carson's 1992 retirement from the genre. Hall, the Ohio-born son of a Baptist minister (which helps explain Hall's dead-on impersonation of a pastor in the 1988 film "Coming to America"), used to employ a phrase on his eponymous program that often springs to my mind. Pondering a deep thought, the television entertainer would muse aloud, "It's a thing that makes you go hmmm."

While tagging along on a business trip this past week with my wife in Van Buren, Mo., I did some research on the origin of the name of the small Ozark community -- perhaps best-known for float trips down the Current River. Van Buren is named for Martin Van Buren, America's eighth president. President Van Buren has no obvious Missouri connection. He was the first U.S. president whose roots were not from the British Isles (Van Buren's ancestry was from the Netherlands and his wife spoke with a distinct accent).

Van Buren is also considered an early pioneer of the current Democratic Party. The thing that makes me "go hmmm" is that the first widespread American use of the colloquialism "OK" dates from Van Buren's unsuccessful 1840 re-election campaign for the White House. "OK" was short for "Old Kinderhook," a reference to Van Buren's hometown in the state of New York. Placards from the time reading "Vote for OK" were considered a more compelling message than using Van Buren's Dutch surname -- which, in a then-culturally homogeneous United States, may have sounded odd to British-tuned ears. Although the origins of "OK" are dated well before 1840, the word did not spread into the widespread discourse of our nation until that year. Hmmm.

Pastor Steve Koerner of New Salem United Methodist in Daisy said something last Sunday that got me pondering deep thoughts of a decidedly religious nature. Using the King James text, Steve read the following: "Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13b-14)

In other words, Pastor Steve pointed out, you and I are God's purchased possessions -- bought with the blood of Christ. When you buy a home, it is usual protocol to put down "earnest" money. My wife and I have purchased four homes in our lives and we've indicated our intention to buy each time by placing an earnest money check into the hand of our realtor-of-the-moment. An earnest check is a commitment made by buyer to seller. If you follow through with the purchase, the earnest money is applied to the total price. If you don't follow through, you might not lose all of your earnest deposit, but absent extraordinary circumstances, you will certainly lose at least some of it. Earnest money is a risk for the buyer but it is a show of faith made to a seller.

The Apostle Paul, in using this language in Ephesians 1, details God's show of faith in us. The Holy Spirit is God's "earnest money," God's pledge to us. To expand the metaphor, the Holy Spirit is God's constant, in-this-life reminder that we have a great inheritance awaiting us in heaven. This inheritance has been bought and paid for by Christ, and the Holy Spirit is our earnest money guarantee. The analogy doesn't hold together perfectly but it is close enough.

I love the things that make you go hmmm. OK!

Dr. Jeff Long is adjunct faculty in religion studies at Southeast Missouri State University.

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