Pastor Jeff Whittaker: A rose by any other name

Published 9:41 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” I believe that is the way William Shakespeare put it in his tragic romance, “Romeo and Juliet.”

Today my thoughts turn to this oft-quoted prose as I wrestle with the annual dilemma which faces our culture’s use of names and labels. Each January our nation commemorates the birth and life of Martin Luther King Jr., or “Mike” (his legal birth name) as he was known by his friends.

This year of course was no different as members of the Niles Community met for a delicious breakfast, which fed both the body and the soul. But as I was savoring the sweet smells and tastes of the food before me, my ears ingested a remark referencing “colored people.”

Since I was at a breakfast sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, I assumed they knew what they were talking about and didn’t butt in; though I’ve been repeatedly told that I’m not supposed to use that term anymore since it is found offensive by many.

This reminded me of another occasion when I came upon two Niles teenagers who were arguing. At a heated moment in their “dialogue” I heard one of them call the other the “N-word.” Shocked, I went to them and reminded them that we don’t use that word anymore, and that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a funeral for the “N word” a few years back, complete with a ceremonial casket to graphically drive home the point. Unfortunately, I was unaware that the “N-word” has been resurrected, and is now considered not only acceptable, but even complimentary and affirming… but only if spoken by the right people in the right company, and with the right spelling.

With my mind still reeling, I turned to my car radio for some musical therapy when the voice of a famous actor came over the air pleading with me to invest in the future of America’s youth by donating to the U.N.C.F. As the commercial faded, it dawned upon me that the acronym the celebrity spokesman was referring to stood for the United Negro College Fund; yet another term no longer tolerated in enlightened circles.

After lingering long over this cultural bouquet of confusing fragrances, I believe I have arrived at a solution. From this day forward I am going to, according to the counsel of both Shakespeare and King, judge the rose by its smell instead of its name, using instead terms such as friend, neighbor, or even brother… edifying epithets which haven’t given way under the pressure of the ever-shifting winds of political correctness. Now that idea smells truly sweet indeed!


Jeff Whittaker is pastor at Michiana Christian Embassy in Niles.