WebDef: Oxymoron

Ox·y·mor·on /äksəˈmôrˌän/ — Noun: Apparently incongruous or irreconcilable terms, appearing together in a phrase.

Authors and advocates use oxymorons and non sequiturs as literary devices, to point out the patently absurd. Examples of oxymorons include "working holiday," "extinct life," and "living dead." Some advocates for child mental health would point to the juvenile justice system as a non sequitur, because of the foreseeable consequences of woefully inadequate treatment1, education and rehabilitation. They prefer to refer to the incarceration of our youth in the "criminal legal system." Even so, dedicated individuals exist within this system, working for the betterment of our youth every day.

Why This Webdef?

We included this definition as a chance to write about the Center, and its name. Here's why: in 2011, about two years after the Center was launched, while dining with a new (non-Christian) acquaintance, the subject turned to The Center's name, Center for Nonharming Ministries. One of the people at the table asked, "Isn't that an oxymoron?" Oxymoron. As in diametrically opposed. Never one for a snappy comeback, I managed to answer her, lamely, with a simple "I hope not."

"Seriously?" I asked myself, "Is that how negatively Christian ministry is viewed, in parts of the Bay Area?" Apparently, though, I'd met someone who considered nonharming and ministry so different as to negate each other, and stand in opposition, as in an oxymoron. My lunch companion was telling me, in a word, that, in her experience, Christian ministry as a whole was generally harmful. Yet the ministers I know, for the most part, are committed to healing the world, and to spreading a message of God's peace, hope and love. If anything, in the best of all worlds, our Center's name should be a redundancy. Ministry should be, in general, so benign as to render the Center's middle name redundant.

What a long way nonharming ministers have to go, if ministry could be held in such low esteem in pockets of the United States. The topic of conversation had moved on, or I would have loved to know more about the source of the attitude. Perhaps a previous minister has been a disappointment, had let someone down, or even caused harm. Perhaps doctrine has been taught unskillfully, and hurtfully. Or, some other misunderstanding may exist that I might have had the opportunity to rectify. I hope that by being an open and active listener, and a peaceful and nonviolent presence, I took a small step towards healing this perception. You can be involved in such healing work, also, wherever you find such attitudes. Be open, and listen. Keep actively engaging with the world in a peaceful and non-violent, non harming way, spreading God's peace, hope and love. And let us know what you learn. By standing up tall as a nonharming minister, you can help turn such attitudes around, until the Center name is perceived as a redundancy and never an oxymoron.

1See American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Reform, October 2001. Available online at http://www.uiowa.edu/~nrcfcp/dmcrc/pdf/everything6.pdf and accessed November 19, 2011.

What are WebDefs?

WebDefs – simple definitions of key terms relating to ministry and healing arts – are a regular feature of NHM Ministrants. Offered (where applicable) in conjunction with select key scriptural passages and analysis, WebDefs can be a useful starting place for exploring a topic of interest.

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