Saturday, September 26, 2020

Jumping Through the HOPES...Together

Note: This article was originally posted on July 28, 2020. It includes many common idioms whose origin is explained with a click of the orange bold text.n
Sometimes speakers or writers have reasons to pretend to be talking about one thing while really making important points about something else. To get their full meaning, we have to read between the lines, and that is true of this post about idioms.

Idioms are expressions that lose their original, literal meanings and are used to convey a more figurative thought. The confusion of idioms becomes obvious when talking to a student unfamiliar with the language. Imagine a foreign student new to English who asks an American friend if it is hard to get a visa to study abroad. His friend replies, "It's really a piece of cake if you have friends in high places, but it will cost an arm and a leg if you can't jump through all the hoops." When the words of those four idioms are translated literally, the inquisitive young man may think that getting a visa could be a delicious hike up a mountain or a horrible fall through amputating swords and hula hoops. Sometimes idioms are like that.

Take that last one I mentioned: "Jumping through the hoops." Its origins are from the circus (and venues like SeaWorld) where dogs, horses, lions, tigers (and seals and dolphins) literally jumped through hoops to entertain an audience. Why were these acts impressive? Because there is no natural reason to do it, and sometimes the hoops were on fire, which meant the animal was trained to ignore its natural fears. All this to get something in return (e.g. a treat, sugar cube, chunk of meat or fish). Circuses and SeaWorld grew less popular in the 21st Century as people became more sensitive toward animals, but the notion of "jumping through hoops" as an indiom lives on for humans. 

This idiom typically means that "the party of the first part" is willing to perform tasks imposed by "the party of the second part" with the hopes of getting something in return (a bike, a car, a diploma, a job, a degree, a visa, etc.)  "Jumping through hoops" almost always has a "task master" who places higher value on the "hoops" than those jumping through them. For this reason, the idiom tends to sound like a complaint by the person saying it, as if they fail to see the purpose in all the rigamarole (an idiomatic word with a story of its own).

While "hoop jumping" does have a negative connotation--right up there with "red tape." There is usually a "method to the madness" that is not all bad. 

For instance, the hoop-jumping principle is at work wherever there are rules to follow. It makes competition fair: Nearly all sports are basically a test to see which team can "jump through the hoops" better or faster than the other. It is frustrating, however, when the objectives are more difficult for some than for others. It is because we value "fairness" that there are weight classes in wrestling, and yet sometimes unequal things are asked to compete. Even so, sometimes a tortoise may beat a hare --and we love cheering for the underdog--but if real "hoops" had been involved in that race, it may have ended differently. Sometimes competition is like that.

The hoop-jumping principle can also bring order to our world: whenever you drive a car and jump through the hoops of getting a license and insurance, buckling up, obeying the stop signs, following speed limits, and driving correctly down a one-way streets, etc. you're basically "jumping through the hoops" that mitigate the risks of driving. Even so, thousands of traffic accidents happen every day, yet millions continue to weigh these risks and rewards of travel each time they pull out of their driveway or enter a cloverleaf. Sometimes risks are like that.

It's also frustrating when hoops being imposed bring equal or greater risks than the danger they hope to mitigate--especially when the rules for such "hoop jumping" change on a whim. It's even more frustrating if those mandating the hoops give themselves a "home field advantage" and act as if the hoops they impose on others do not apply to themselves. Sometimes rules and rulers are like that.

It's confusing when the data behind "hoop jumping" is in conflict with other known data or when  statistics are manipulated to justify the talking points of the day. For instance, when Hank Aaron beat Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1974, he had the advantage of a dozen more games per season (for 21 seasons), meaning he had 240 more games and 12,364 at bats to hit 755 homers while Babe Ruth had 714 homers with only 8,399 at bats. The huge disparity of one batter have 4,000 more "tests" at the plate renders the comparison moot. Equally moot would be any comparison between one country conducting tens of millions more "tests" for a virus than countries lacking the capability to conduct as many tests. This is obvious, and yet... sometimes statistics are minipulated like that.

Sometimes politicians and fawning media can take several hoops and connect them like a big chain that is used to block something or to change the natural flow of events. It's especially discouraging when the reason behind the hoops or chains seem to favor one group over another, and when the less favored group seems silenced by the same media. Sometimes the media and politicians are like that.

I confess, sometimes I'm not happy with the media or the politicians or the  "red tape" or the  "hoop jumping" that hinder important aspects of our shared life. Do you ever feel that way?

"After all," we rightly tell ourselves, "We are free people--not trained seals needing fish from someone else's hand.  We are not going through the motions to please men like animals in a circus cage. We were meant to live freely and to weigh the risks and rewards of our own hoops." 

I get that, and it's true, we are citizens of an exceptional country that has operated under an enduring constitution for more than 200 years, and as such it is frustration to see the constitution ignored or "overstepped" by over-reaching people temporarily in authority. Even so, there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to such frustration. We see wrong ways playing out on the evening news each week. Sometimes human nature is like that. 

But as believers we are more than "free indeed." We are image bearers of the Creator God. Even those who do not acknowledge Him are His image bearers, but they are not the light of the world. As U.S. citizens, we understand that it sometimes takes time to restore a country (or the original intent of founding documents). Likewise. as believers we understand that since the fall when sin first entered the world, God has held out the promise of restoring His original intent. He will restore the original meaning to His creation in His time. God's plan is like that.

In the meantime, His Word tells us that the trials of this life purify us like gold ... that sometimes its by deferring to "hoops" without complaining" that we beam in the darkness around us and shine like stars... (Philippians 2:15). This was the tone of our "Back 2 School" Plan.

So from here in our corner of the world, perhaps this is our time to shine to more than 200 nations/territories attempting to mitigate a new virus that has spread around the world in nine months.

All things considered, we are doing a pretty good job of mitigating the risks without losing all of the rewards of freedom. Sure, it is an imperfect and sometimes frustrating process, but let's not lose HOPE as we jump through the hoops.  

This, too, shall pass, and as long as TEMPORARY HOOPS CAN REMIND US OF OUR ETERNAL HOPE... and of what we believe and why we are here on this earth... so long as this can be said of us in these times... let us jump through the HOPES together and do whatever it takes to be exemplary as we gather safely together for school in the fall. Better days are yet to come. Sometimes HOPE is like that.

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