By John Pierce


Our younger daughter has a new inflatable pool float. At least that’s what we think it is.

After pumping air into the new ‘whatever,’ she exclaimed: “Well, what is it?”

I inquired.

She pointed to an imprint on the float that read: “THIS IS NOT A TOY. THIS IS NOT A LIFESAVING DEVICE.”

Then our astute 13-year old wondered aloud: “Well, what is it?”

We jokingly discussed if it was OK to enjoy spinning around on the new float even though it is not a toy — and if it was permissible to hold onto it to avoid drowning. Then I told her about how company lawyers add warning labels to all products because we live in a highly litigious culture.

But the non-toy, non-lifesaving device points to the common reality of defining something by what it’s not. Cars started out that way — as horseless carriages.

There is some clarity in definition by contrast. Some of us Baptists have to do that a lot, often explaining: “No, I’m not that kind of Baptist.”

But perhaps the greatest clarity comes when we talk about what we are as well as what we are not.

Now if I can just get to that float this afternoon while my daughter is at tennis drills, I’ll contemplate this a little more.

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