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By John D. Pierce

Words can lose much of their meaning when they get repeatedly misused. The words “university” and “clearance” come to mind first.

Some small colleges, even those in decline, will take on the university name in an effort to enhance their reputation. The name used to evoke images of a large secondary educational institution with professional graduate schools. Now it is often applied to small colleges seeking perceived significance.

(I’m a college, not a university, grad and am glad my alma mater still identifies itself accordingly — even with a growing student body, advanced degree programs and a sprawling campus.)

clearanceA “CLEARANCE” sign drew my attention to a new door at a home improvement store. The price had been discounted less than 10 percent. Other items at Lowe’s (see recent photo) bear the same false witness.

There should be a rule: Unless the highly-inflated original price has been cut a bare minimum of 50 percent, you can’t call it “clearance.” (My preference is for those signs that read: “Take an EXTRA 50% off the lowest marked price.”)

America’s uniqueness and greatness is clearly tied to the tried and tested principle of religious liberty. Sadly, today the term “religious liberty” is being misused as code by Christian fundamentalists who seek legal discrimination against gay and lesbian persons.

Religious liberty is in danger in many places. Yet the term “religious liberty” is endangered as well by those who use it to suggest: “My freedom to discriminate tops your right to equal treatment.”

That is not religious liberty. It’s still discrimination.

Be leery of those who are overly or only concerned about “freedom” and “rights” that apply to themselves and those like themselves rather than “liberty and justice for all.”

And then, of course, there are other words and phrases that are continuing being redefined: “patriot,” “evangelical,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “express line,” “All are welcome” and “Going out of business.”

Original or technical meanings versus pejorative meanings create communication challenges. And we all like to think our definitions are the right ones.

At least that’s my conservative-liberal-patriotic take on the subject of words and meanings. “All are welcome” to agree or disagree — or make up their own definitions.

Think I’ll go over to the university bookstore and see what’s on clearance. Or perhaps get in the express line at the furniture store that’s been going out of business for six years.

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce is editor of Nurturing Faith Journal — the signature publication of Baptists Today, Inc. He is also publisher of Nurturing Faith Books and Resources. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates.