Pearls, pigs, Pickles, and Zits

Pig tries his best to navigate a world that is often unfair, unfriendly, confusing and conflicting, and his friends do their best to help him muddle through. But as Stephan wrote, their efforts often fail, at least in their eyes.

If my local newspaper quit publishing comic strips I would probably still read it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much.

Cartoons share information in a unique and effective way; in just a few words and/or pictures, the artist can convey ideas and emotions that make us laugh, cringe, seethe, evaluate, examine, and change , often without feeling diminished or threatened.

I’ve read the “funny papers” since I was a child, and if you follow me on Facebook you know I post a cartoon there weekly, a “Friday Funny”. Through the years I’ve had several favorites-Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbs, Doonesbury, -some no longer in production. But I’ve found new ones that I like and read regularly.

One is Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, a strip about Connie and Walt Duncan , parents of a teenage son Jeremy. Jeremy is a typical teenager, sometimes endearing, sometimes maddening. His parents are health care professionals, Connie a child psychologist and Walt an orthodontist. Years ago, when my husband and I still had a teen son in our home, I would almost believe the writers listened in on our conversations since some days I read my own words in the strip.

I assume the title refers to the frequency that teen boys suffer from “zits”, a slang term for the skin condition, acne. Almost all teenagers develop acne; when severe it can cause significant distress; girls have it too, and sometimes it continues into early adulthood.

Now my husband and I identify more with Brian Crane’s Pickles, a strip featuring a senior couple Earl and Opal Pickles, who are enjoying retirement and grand-parenthood. But sometimes the Pickles find the senior years not so golden; the strip portrays their coping with the inevitable losses of advancing age in a bittersweet way.

My current favorite is Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis. It chronicles the daily lives of an “ensemble cast of suburban anthropomorphic animals”: Pig, Rat, Zebra, Goat, and a fraternity of crocodiles, as well as a number of supporting characters.

Before becoming a cartoonist, Stephan Pastis was a lawyer. On his blog FAQs he explains the name of his strip this way

Q) Where does the title of the strip come from?
A) Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” (KJV) In the case of the strip, Rat thinks every thing he says is wise, and that it is wasted upon dumb Pig.

Pig tries his best to navigate a world that is often unfair, unfriendly, confusing and conflicting, and his friends do their best to help him muddle through. But as Stephan wrote, their efforts often fail, at least in their eyes.

“Pearls before swine”

Did you know that phrase is in the Bible? Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount preaching to a large group on a mountain, according to Matthew, but Luke recorded it as several shorter talks. It contains some of the most well known, often quoted, frequently preached words in the Bible and to me summarizes Jesus’ message to this world . Like cartoons, these three Bible chapters convey much information and inspiration in short, colorful phrases whose meaning is not always readily apparent.

Here is the verse in context, in modern language , the New International Version.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:1-6, NIV

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

(In many Bibles, words attributed to Jesus are printed in red letters.)

specks and planks

I understand the part about the eye. As a family physician I see patients complaining of a foreign body in their eye. If you’ve ever had something in your eye, you know how distressing it can be. When I examine the eye, I usually find a tiny speck, sometimes so small I need magnification to see it. It may be a speck of dust, wood shaving, or even metal. After applying a topical anesthetic (deadening eyedrop) I can easily remove the speck. The patient usually is shocked at how small it is, because to them it felt like a “plank”.

a drawing of a human eyeball
A foreign body, speck, may get stuck on the CORNEA and feel like a plank in the eye.
pearls

A pearl is a “concretion formed around a grain of sand or other foreign body within the shell of certain mollusks.” Doesn’t sound appealing but when we display them around our necks, ears, wrists, or fingers, they are treated as fine jewelry. Thus, the word “pearl” has become synonomous with something valuable, costly, precious, desirable.

a white pearl ring with diamond highlights
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

There are also several medical terms using pearl.

  • an epithelial pearl-a rounded mass of keratin found in found in some skin cancers
  • a drug pearl- a medication dispensed as a pearl-like capsule
  • pearl disease-tuberculosis (TB) in the chest or abdomen consisting of small rounded lesions

But the medical definition that most fits the meaning of this verse is one that all doctors learn early in their training- a clinical pearl.

Clinical pearls are small bits of free standing clinically relevant information based on experience or observation

Medical Teacher

Usually clinical pearls are shared verbally, then preserved and shared as informal written notes (when I was in medical school) although now disseminated electronically. Often our professors would impart these to us during hospital rounds as we examined and discussed patients; we understood these pearls to be valuable knowledge we would not get from textbooks alone, wisdom they gained from years of study and experience.

Physicians based much of the early treatment of COVID-19 in the 2020 pandemic on clinical pearls, since as a novel disease, there were no textbooks or journal articles to use as reference. Internationally, through social media and email, doctors began sharing their experiences treating COVID patients until the information found its way into mainstream medical journals.

planks, specks, pearls, and pigs

Rather than telling you what I think these verses mean, or telling you what I think you should think they mean, I offer some questions to help you decide that they mean to you.

  1. What measure (or standard as used in the NLT version) do I use to judge (evaluate or examine) other people? Do I apply the same standard to myself, or do I want others to?
  2. What planks (logs in the NLT) are in my eye that I need to remove to see others more clearly?
  3. What specks bother me about others? Should I offer to remove them, and if so, how should I?
  4. What pearls do I “wear” that others might want or need? How do I decide to whom and when to offer pearls? How do I react when my pearls are trampled?
exploring the HEART of faith, hope, and love

I’m hope you enjoyed exploring these Bible verses with me today, and before you leave I hope you will read some of the other posts about the Sermon.

Please look for these cartoons in your newspaper, online, or in one of their books using the affiliate links above. Affiliate commissions help me continue sharing the HEART of health here and with organizations that do so around the world to those who need it the most yet lack access the most .

I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

Choosing the road to life and wellness

Despite Frost’s assertion that his poem was a joke, multiple commentaries dissect it extensively and assign all kinds of meaning to it, suggesting that we do believe that our choices matter in life, whether relationships, finances, education, or health.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, ESV
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

The Road Not Taken

This scripture from the Bible book Matthew reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost. The late poet Robert Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry; his work is among the most widely read and often quoted poetry to this day. Listen to it here if you don’t remember it.

“The Road Not Taken” was originally published in The Atlantic in 1915 along with two other poems from Frost. It is now widely considered to be one of the most popular works of American literature.

“Its signature phrases have become so ubiquitous, so much a part of everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets to graduation speeches, that it’s almost possible to forget the poem is actually a poem. “The Road Not Taken” has been used in advertisements for Mentos, Nicorette, the multibillion-dollar insurance company AIG, and the job-search Web site Monster.com, which deployed the poem during Super Bowl XXXIV to great success.”

What does the poem mean?

The poem’s meaning has been extensively dissected, discussed, and debated; most assign a deep meaning about life, choices, regrets, what-ifs, etc.

(This and several others in this post are affiliate links, meaning I earn a commission to fund this blog if you make a purchase through it.)

So I was surprised to read that Frost himself didn’t take the poem nearly as seriously as everyone else has. He claimed that he wrote it as a joke for a friend.

At poetryfoundation.org , Katherine Robinson wrote,

“Soon after writing the poem in 1915, Frost griped to Edward Thomas that he had read the poem to an audience of college students and that it had been “taken pretty seriously … despite doing my best to make it obvious by my manner that I was fooling. … Mea culpa.” However, Frost liked to quip, “I’m never more serious than when joking.”

As his joke unfolds, Frost creates a multiplicity of meanings, never quite allowing one to supplant the other. When Frost sent the poem to Thomas, Thomas initially failed to realize that the poem was (mockingly) about him. Instead, he believed it was a serious reflection on the need for decisive action. (He would not be alone in that assessment.) “

What did Jesus mean in Matthew 7?

This scripture is part of the Sermon on the Mount attributed to Jesus (I’ve written other posts about these verses from Matthew chapters 5-7.) It also is widely known and quoted, as well as other verses like the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes.

The overall message of the Sermon is anything but a joke; Jesus makes bold and daring statements in this passage, which explains why it is so widely quoted and taught on. One famous preacher, Oswald Chambers used it often enough that his wife included several selections when she published a collection of his sermons as a daily devotional know as My Utmost for His Highest.

In a devotional titled “All Noble Things are Difficult” for July 7th, he wrote

“The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.

God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops.”

It is always necessary to make an effort to be noble.”

Oswald Chambers

Milksops. That’s not a word we hear often; I looked it up and it means exactly what it sounds like. What happens when you dip bread into milk? It gets soggy and falls apart. So a milksop is “a person who is indecisive and lacks courage.”

Choices, choices, choices

Despite Frost’s assertion that his poem was a joke, multiple commentaries dissect it extensively and assign all kinds of meaning to it, suggesting that we do believe that our choices matter in life, whether relationships, finances, education, or health.

Doctors and other health professionals now believe that lifestyle is one of the chief determinants of health and emphasize preventing and even treating illness with nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, healthy habits, and stress management.

Learn more about Lifestyle Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine

“Lifestyle medicine (LM) involves the use of evidence-based therapeutic approaches, such as a predominantly whole food, plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and avoidance of risky substance use, to prevent, treat, and, oftentimes, reverse the chronic disease that’s all too prevalent,”

Consider the Foundation

Whether you’re building a house, a career, a family, or your health, what you build on matters too. Jesus concluded his sermon with a building lesson.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 

 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 

 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27, ESV

Reading these verses reminds me of the rain storms we endured in Oklahoma this past spring leading to extensive flooding causing loss of homes and businesses; other parts of the country suffered the same, and now we’re watching coastal areas deal with devastating hurricanes. We’re pretty helpless to defend our property against the ravages of nature. That doesn’t have to be the case with our health if we build well. To paraphrase Oswald Chambers, “It is necessary to make an effort to be healthy.”

The Legacy of Oswald and Biddy Chambers

Here’s the story of Oswald Chambers and his wife Biddy. After his death, she collected writings from his lectures and talks into books and the well known devotional mentioned above. In the introduction she wrote,

it is sent out with the prayer that day by day the messages may continue to bring the life and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

 

Biddy Chambers

exploring faith, hope, and love

Thanks for joining me to explore poetry and scripture; my hope is that this prompts you to further explore on your own. Here are some other posts from this series

How to satisfy hunger and thirst

Opportunities to do good Living and giving lavishly

Why pray The Lord’s Prayer

5 lessons I learned when the lights went out

 

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I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

Faith, Love, Hope