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Etch a Sketch and other faux pas

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A boy receives an Etch A Sketch as a gift from his great grandmother (Credit: Protoflux via Flickr)

“Etch A Sketch” has never had it so good.  Reuters reports this morning that the children’s toy has supplanted Tim Tebow on Yahoo’s Top 5 searches and swept Twitter’s top slot for two days running.  A device marketed to four-to-eight year olds is now a staple in cable newsrooms.  One commentator fumbled with it as he stated, “I wish we could erase the U.S. debt.”

All this because one of Mitt Romney’s political advisers told CNN on Wednesday, “You hit a reset button for the fall campaign.  Everything changes.  It’s almost like an ‘Etch A Sketch.’  You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”  Romney’s opponents have used the comment to claim that he is a political waffler.  He counters that he has always been a political conservative and always will be.

This commotion got me thinking: what other political faux pas have made the news in years past?  There was the time President Obama tried to toast the Queen of England while the British anthem was being played; she ignored him until the music ended.  In 2000, President George W. Bush told a New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”

Many still remember President Clinton’s infamous haircut aboard Air Force One that reportedly forced aircraft to circle LAX until he left.  Vice-President Dan Quayle, a reliable source of malapropisms, once claimed, “It isn’t pollution that is hurting the environment, it’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”  And President Reagan once told Americans, “We are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we’re going to succeed” (he meant to say “employment”).

If you speak enough words and do enough deeds, some of them will be wrong.  I still remember the Sunday during Operation Desert Storm when I called on our congregation to pray for “General Schwarzenegger.”  I repeated his name two or three times; only when I noted the amused looks on the people’s faces did I amend my request to intercede for Gen. Schwarzkopf.

Unfortunately, our culture confuses performance with identity.  But who of us wants to be remembered for the worst thing we’ve ever done?  The bad news is that God holds us responsible for our words: “Men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).  The good news is that he forgives all we confess (1 John 1:9) and will give us an “instructed tongue” if we will follow his Spirit’s lead (Isaiah 50:4).

Have you submitted the words you will speak today to the King who wants to use them to serve his Kingdom?  Solomon observed that “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).  Let’s speak aptly today, to the glory of God.