Mac McPhail Contributing columnist
March 2, 2014
Words still mean things. Just watch the politician on TV has he tries to scramble out of a touchy situation. Every word he speaks is chosen carefully because those same words could later come back to haunt him. Lawyers spend hours going over contracts knowing that a word or phrase used incorrectly could cost their client. One word, or a few words, can make a difference. So there are reasons when a corporation or organization changes their name, logo, motto, advertising, etc.
I’m a member of the Clinton Kiwanis Club. (By the way, thanks to all of you who helped support our recent Pancake Feast. The funds raised will help support programs that are primarily directed toward the youth in this area.) Early last Saturday morning, we were sitting around eating breakfast before we started serving. The subject came up about the change in the Kiwanis mission statement. The last line of the Kiwanis mission statement for years has read, “changing the world, one child and one community at a time.” Well, it did until this year. Now it states, “improving the world, one child and one community at a time.” Kiwanis delegates approved the change in wording at the international convention last summer. Why the change? Someone, or some group, had a reason to go through all the work of proposing a vote on amending the mission statement. But why do all that just to change one word? And it’s not just to make everyone buy a new banner to hang in the meeting room. It’s because words mean things.
Why was using the word “improving” instead of “changing” so important to those delegates? I have a theory. When you say your organization’s goal is “changing the world one child and one community at a time,” you are implying that the child and the community may need to be changed. And if you are saying the child and the community may need to be changed, you are implying that there may be something wrong with them that may need change. But, who are we, to say something is right or wrong, or that there is a need for change? So, don’t try to “change” the world, let us just try to “improve” it. Political correctness wins out again.
Later that Saturday morning, I attended a funeral. It was a touching service for a young man. During the service, “Amazing Grace” was sung. While the song was sung, I thought about the song’s author, John Newton, and back to the conversation earlier that morning about the Kiwanis mission statement.
Born in 1725, John Newton was the son of a British sea captain, and became a sailor himself at the age of eighteen. To say he was a wild, young sailor would be an understatement. Kicked out of the navy, he ended up working on a slave ship. Much later, he wrote, “I not only sinned with a high hand myself, but made it my study to tempt and seduce others upon every occasion.” His language and actions would shock even the roughest of his fellow sailors.
But one night on a slave ship transporting slaves to England, a storm struck. Everyone feared the ship would sink. In his panic, Newton recalled Bible verses from his youth. He asked Jesus to save him and hoped that he was not too sinful to be forgiven. That night John Newton experienced “Amazing Grace” and became a changed man, not just an improved, doesn’t cuss as much, slave trader. He would later become a pastor, a leader in the fight against slavery in England, and the author of the song that has meant so much to so many through the years.
To be honest, there have been times ol’ Mac and situations in my life needed change, not just improving. And I’m grateful there were people around during those times who cared enough to help.
Back to the funeral service last Saturday morning. The young man, too, had been changed, and was going through the struggles of dealing with the process of that change, when his life was cut short. But the change had taken place. Our pastor related how the young man had accepted Jesus as his Saviour, and there were pictures on the screen during the service taken during his baptism just a few short months ago.
I suppose it’s OK to try to improve the world. But shouldn’t our goal be to try to change it, one child, one community, or, as in this case, one young man, at a time? Before it’s too late.