A Gangnam Style New Year

It’s December 31, 2012, time to clear up some lingering linguistic confusion about the year that has left me bewildered, bamboozled, and befuddled.

“Mom, come watch this video,” she said a few months ago.

After 30 seconds, I pause the video and ask incredulously, “What in the world is this?  I don’t get it.”

“It’s “Gangnam Style.”

“It’s what?”

“It’s a music video by South Korean rapper PSY (Park Jae-sang), and it’s really popular right now.  It’s gone viral.”

After it’s over, I comment, “It’s totally ridiculous.”

“It may be, Mom, but you’re a preacher, and you should know what’s going on in the world.”

“Are you implying that we should be doing gangnam style music in the church?”

“Not necessarily, but just remember, ‘Gangnam Style’ is the most watched music video in history, with over 1 billion views.  You do want your churches to grow, don’t you?”

I watched “Gangnam Style” again last night.  I was the 1,084,852,424th viewer.  I’m starting to get it, I think. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0)


     I thought it rather interesting this past fall that some newscasters were calling Hurricane Sandy a Frankenstorm.  Silly me.  I thought Frankenstorm was a take-off on the fact that the storm hit near Halloween.  Now I find out that Frankenstorm was used for Sandy because of Mary Shelley’s 1918 novel, Frankenstein, where a monster was created from an unorthodox experiment.  The perfect convergence of unusual weather and global warming contributed to the massive scope of this devastating storm.  If only I’d had some Frankensense I might have figured it out earlier.


     On December 26 Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids released the most popular boy and girl names of babies born in 2012.  The Family Birth Place at Butterworth Hospital had more births in 2012 than any other hospital in Michigan: 7,161.  Liam leapfrogged to the top of the list this year after placing 19th in 2011 and having never been in the top 10 before.  43 babies were named Liam, almost one a week.  The Irish word Liam means “unwavering protector,” an apt word for a sometimes scary world, especially for a baby!

The most popular girl’s name was Emma, which has been in the top 10 for the past 5 years.  Emma also garnered the top spot in 2009 and 2010 before giving way to Olivia last year.

Emma is a word of German origin meaning “universal.”  Whatever happened to Sarah and Jason?  They’re in their 30’s.


     You know, one reason I don’t watch TV is because I get depressed by how often people who are being interviewed say “you know.”  You know what I mean?  You know, a month ago I watched a post-game interview of an NBA basketball coach.  You know, he could not even complete one sentence without prefacing it with the words, “you know.”  You know, it got to be so irritating that after about 5 minutes I had to turn off the TV because it was too stressful to watch.

But, you know, the same thing happens with preachers.  For six years I listened to different preachers every Sunday, and a few of them, you know, used the phrase “you know” dozens of times in their sermon.  You know, it was usually with pastors who didn’t use a manuscript and were perhaps not as well prepared as they could have been.

“You know” is a nervous habit that gives people a chance to think about what to say next.  Most of us, you know, have no idea how many times we say “you know,” including me.  You know, I confess that at times I would make an “X” in the church bulletin every time I heard the preacher say “you know.”  I was so preoccupied with “you knows” that I couldn’t really focus on anything else.  You know what I mean?


     I am getting tired of hearing about the “fiscal cliff” and hope that the phrase disappears from our vocabulary in 2013.  Why can’t we mandate that Republican and Democratic legislators sit at the same table together and hash out an agreement?  Of course, no one is going to get all they want.  Isn’t compromise and negotiating their job?  Is “slippery slope” a more apt term?


     I really do want to keep up with linguistic trends and the plethora of new words that are added to our language every year.  In an effort to broaden my vocabulary beyond “Gangnam,” “Frankenstorm,” “Liam,” “Emma,” “you know,” and “fiscal cliff,” I have now subscribed to dictionary.com.  Every morning an interesting, intriguing, and inviting word comes to my inbox, and I try to use it during the course of the day.

“Unfortunately, Jane’s passion for paying 100% of ministry shares was evidenced by a stridulous voice, which did not help her argument.”

“Tom’s avidity for environmental issues convinced the church council to ban paper products in the kitchen.”

“Susan and Andy love to whinge about the uncleanliness of the church bathrooms but have no desire to work toward a solution.”

I have also pondered dictionary.com’s 2012 Word of the Year, which is bluster.  Unlike the unknown 2011 Word of the Year, tergiversate, which means to repeatedly change one’s opinion about a cause, bluster is an all-purpose word that could describe many aspects of 2012:

  • the bluster of numerous extreme weather events
  • the bluster of the presidential campaign
  • the bluster of the European Union woes
  • the bluster of rhetoric between Palestinians and Israelis
  • the bluster in Congress
  • the bluster at our United Methodist General Conference, which, if nothing else, resulted in a much slimmer United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012

     I’ve decided that my personal word of the year 2012 is Gangnam.  Actually, Gangnam Style may be closer to Christian ideals than many people think.  The Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, is the wealthiest area of the country where the lifestyle is lavish, the women are gorgeous, the men are handsome, and everything is cool.

Even though some parts of the music video could be considered mildly offensive, the genius of Gangnam Style is the reality that PSY claims to be “Gangnam style” when everything in the song and dance indicates otherwise.  In an ironic twist of humor PSY produced a parody that mocks the Gangnam style of excessive pursuit of success and image and pokes fun at people who are Gangnam wannabes by trying to be something that they are not.  Even more subtle, the absurd nature of the Gangnam Style has spawned numerous copycats, including several university marching bands, which not only promotes group camaraderie but echoes the foolishness of the cross.

     I wish for each one of you a Gangnam style new year.  I pray that the old standby words of the Christian faith accompany your journey: grace, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, trust, and humility.  But I also hope that you will have the wisdom to package theological truths in words understandable to today’s world and in a lifestyle that that display authenticity, integrity, and compassion.

We need to be familiar with the culture in which we live and should applaud the ways in which societies advocate for tolerance, mutual understanding, and acceptance of differences.  At the same time we are called to transform culture when it devalues, dehumanizes, and promotes injustice.

As followers of the One who said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” we are compelled to reach the Liams and Emmas as well as the one billion people who are watching Gangnam Style.  By cutting through the bluster with careful/care-filled words and Christ-like (foolish) actions, we speak the language of those we hope to reach with the gospel and pray without ceasing for a world of shalom.

You know, we may not reach a billion people like Gangnam Style has, but in the end our world changes one Liam, one Emma, and one PSY at a time.