If you are a regular reader of my journal, you already know that I’m not completely accurate in typing and that I sometimes employ run-on sentences. You know that my journal entries are far from mistake-free. It is an excellent example of me when the document I’m writing has not been edited. None of my journal entries are read by another or edited before I post them. You’re getting the raw, unfiltered Ted. And it is sometimes awkward and sometimes a bit challenging to read.

It would be better if it was edited before it is published.

Unedited documents, however, are becoming the rule and not the exception. Increasingly we read documents that have not been read and proofed by a human editor. I use a spell checker when I am writing and it does catch some mistakes. It also makes a few. For example, when I want to use the word “too” it will auto correct to “to.” Then it will highlight the auto corrected “to” because it should be “too.” If auto correct worked a bit more slowly, the problem wouldn’t happen as often. I really know when to use “too” and when to use “to.”

So far I have resisted using a grammar corrector. The software called “Grammarly” is probably the most popular among the circle of writers with whom I have the most contact. The problem is that I spent a lot of time and energy learning grammar and teaching myself to write cogent sentences and I pride myself on my ability to write and speak clearly. I also have worked most of my career developing a particular storytelling style for both writing and speaking. i am well aware that written language and spoken language are different. I have invested many hours honing my skills and I think my human evaluations are superior to what even the best of algorithms can produce.

Having said that, I am not the world’s strongest proofreader. Proofreading requires a disciplined skill of reading exactly what is written without allowing your brain to correct for meaning. My wife is a very skilled proofreader. She is the one in our office who is continually being asked to proof documents before we send them out. She is good at catching errors and correcting mistakes.

But she has been out of the office for nearly a month now. I’m sure that more mistakes have crept into our printed documents because of her absence, but I’m trying very hard to get better at proofing documents. This morning I will have to proofread the weekly worship bulletin before it is posted to the web and printed for worship.

I have tried several different approaches. I’ve tried reading out loud and slowly, thinking that the discipline forces me to read more accurately and to focus on each word. I’ve tried reading the entire document backwards, which is good for catching spelling errors, but worthless when proofing for grammar or meaning. I’ve tried reading page by page, then going back through the document page by page in backwards page order. That seems to be the most successful technique for me, but it is very time consuming.

When I began my service in this congregation, I inherited a secretary who was very accurate in her work. She was good at catching mistakes in grammar and spelling, but we would occasionally have a discussion about meaning. Sometimes I bend grammar rules to convey a particular meaning or mood. She wanted to correct such. We learned to work together very well. I also inherited a former English teacher who sat in the back row of the sanctuary and checked every week’s bulletin for mistakes. She even brought a red pen to mark the bulletin and gave it to me as she left the sanctuary if there were any mistakes. Most weeks she could find at least one. It got to be a kind of silent competition between us. I’d try to produce a perfect document and she’d try to find mistakes. Once I made it for an entire month without a single correction from her. Then I learned that she had been sick and not on top of her game. I always wondered if there were mistakes that got by her because she wasn’t feeling her best.

Of course the church isn’t about perfection. We know that we are not capable of perfection. We’re in the business of forgiveness. Being humble enough to admit mistakes is a skill that every pastor needs to develop very carefully. It can be critical to being able to move forward. The days of the old “Herr Pastor” who was always in charge and definitely above the congregation served are past. Our people want and expect human leadership. When we use our mistakes to point towards God and the differences between God and ourselves we can lead people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our faith. But it can be hard to admit mistakes, especially when we are passionate about our subject, which is often the case for a pastor.

From time to time I will get out notes form a sermon that I delivered a while ago. Because our readings go in a three-year cycle, I’m often reading sermons from 3, 6, or 9 years ago. Once in a while I’ll even bring up one that is older than that. The process is very humbling. I discover all kinds of things that I said back then that i wouldn’t say now. I sometimes even wonder how the congregation put up with my immature rantings. Then again, it isn’t just the pastor who is in the business of forgiveness. The church is pretty skilled at that task, too.

One task that I may undertake in retirement is choosing a few of the essays from my journal and drawing them together into an edited volume. I’m pretty sure that the task will be another lesson in humility. Things that I thought were pretty good at the time, probably seem less so after a few years.

Then again, I might never get around to doing it. After all, I’ve got a bulletin to proofread this morning and more documents to edit soon.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!