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oxymoron - rhetorical figure in which an epigrammatic effect is created by the conjunction of incongruous or contradictory terms.

Jumbo shrimp. Working vacation. Healthy tan. Simply put, oxymorons pair words that don't make much sense together. If we stop to think about them, they make us do a double take. The other day I recalled a personal experience involving that same sort of mental whiplash, though it had nothing to do with linguistics.

It was the late '80s. I was a writer still living in New Jersey, and I'd only been out of college a year or so when my employer decided that a young artist and I should attend a professional workshop in Pittsburgh. On the morning of our flight, Jim and I drove to Newark Airport. He hurried several steps ahead of me as we walked through the terminal, and for the first time I got a really good look at how he was decked out. My creative colleague wore a striped dress shirt (not tucked in) and what looked like red pajama bottoms sporting dozens of tiny images of George Jetson and his cartoon dog, Astro. Jim's socks didn't match. His sneakers didn't match. His blond hair was coifed in a mane similar to pop star Daryl Hall's. Earrings hung from both lobes at a time when few men wore them at all.

And there I was, conservatively clothed in a white shirt, dark tie, navy slacks and shiny black dress shoes. "Jim," I laughed, "nobody is going to believe we're together."

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, we knew which hotel we were heading to, but not how to get there. The information desk near ground transportation stood vacant, so we went out to the curb to find a knowledgeable cab or bus driver. Jim and I were about 10 yards apart when out of the corner of my eye I saw two men approach him. They were undercover narcotics officers.

My co-worker's jaw dropped open like a cheap suitcase. I closed the gap between us and was greeted by a barrage of questions about ID, destination, the purpose of our trip, and so forth. Jim remained frozen. I produced brochures, conference literature and hotel reservations that seemed to satisfy the agents' curiosity. One of them softened a bit and said, "Sorry for the inconvenience, gentlemen. You just seemed an odd pair to be traveling together."

We were a walking oxymoron.

I thought of that episode after reading a report stating that the media habits of Christian young people don't differ much from those of their unsaved peers. I couldn't help but wonder if God ever observes young believers on their spiritual walk, sees the entertainment they're choosing and thinks, "You seem an odd pair to be traveling together." A child of heaven. Worldly amusements that thumb a nose at purity and truth. To a holy God, that mismatch must seem as strikingly unorthodox as Jim and I looked to those drug enforcement officials.

In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will." Tall order. We're called to avoid worldliness and have our minds transformed. But how? Into what? What is our destination? I believe it involves having the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) and processing things as He would.

By its nature, entertainment is something we choose for pleasure and recreation. We use it to unwind, have fun with friends, or manage our moods and put a smile on our faces. The question is, Where are we turning for that fix? Our choices should be the kinds of things that would also bring a smile to Jesus' face. That's what it means to have the mind of Christ and walk as He did. It means seeing things—all things—through His eyes. The flip side is that exposure to content likely to grieve the Lord ought to have a similar effect on us.

Teens need to realize that, if they have chosen to follow Jesus, their divine destination should dictate their companions for the journey. And on that quest for Christ-likeness, a great deal of modern media is nothing more than excess baggage.

Published July 2010