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PLAYL: Oxymorons in a clearly confused world

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“Clearly confused” would be considered an oxymoron. You know what an oxymoron is, don’t you? It’s a phrase that combines two words with opposite meanings; a figure of speech in which two apparently contrasting terms appear together.

“Open secret” is an oxymoron. So is “amazingly awful,” “old news,” “definitely maybe,” “jumbo shrimp,” “minor crisis,” “civil war,” “awful good” … we could go on and on here — forever or a few minutes.

The word oxymoron is actually — uh — an oxymoron. It comes from two Greek words meaning “sharp” and “dull.” Its literal translation into English can be “pointedly foolish.”

For an oxymoronic sentence that illustrates some of the successful frustration of our clearly confused world may I quote the prince of paradox, Yogi Berra? He said, “No one goes to that restaurant anymore. It is always too crowded.”

In the weirdly normal world we are living in, restaurants in different states and municipalities seem to have moderately extreme differences in how they define “too crowded.”

A couple more oxymorons that seem seriously humorous in our current pandemic are “alone together” and “social distancing.” Seriously! Social distancing? That’s almost TOO pointedly foolish. “Social” needs to modify words like “gathering” or “companionship” or “beings” … NOT “distance,” not even as a paradox. That’s just too humorously serious!

Most of us are created with a need to be social. Some of us have tried to be nicer and friendlier for the past three months. We’ve tried to compensate for the … very necessary … masks and physical distancing by waving, possibly even elbow bumps. However, some folks have quit making eye contact with others; even stopped throwing up a hand to greet a neighbor. So sad!

As restaurants, businesses and, especially, churches begin to open, let’s welcome opportunities to greet each. Of course we must use the common sense God has blessed us with by hand-washing, covering our faces as needed and following wise sanitary practices. But can’t we offer more than a grumpy greeting to our fellow humans?

Paul and Peter both suggest a holy kiss or kiss of love as an appropriate greeting for Christians, but that greeting, which I believe is any kind of expression of endearment to others, should be a non-physical greeting, for now ... in this abnormal normality. As much as we miss hugs and handshakes, let’s continue to show others we care about them. Smile! Even behind your mask. Others may see it in your eyes. Speak to one another; words of kindness and cheer. Wave or nod! Make eye contact.

Sammie and I were watching a church service on the internet from Ohio. It was their first Sunday back, in person. Pastor Larry’s tee shirt carried this message: WELCOME BACK followed by the logo of Grace Church and the words “Consider Yourself Hugged.”

Just hours before His horrible but glorious death on the Cross, Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I give you peace in a way the world cannot give you peace. Do not let your hearts be troubled and don’t be afraid.”

Until things get back to normal — or even if they ever never do — I say to each of you, “Consider yourself hugged.”

Steve Playl — chaplain, columnist, college instructor and former pastor — can be emailed at

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