Boys listening with a can
My husband was a teenager driving a car full of his friends with the radio blasting.  Everyone was singing along to Cheap Trick’s song, Surrender, when all of a sudden my husband belts out, “Lorenzo, Lorenzo, don’t give yourself away!” If you know the song, you know that the lyrics are, “Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away!”

John’s friends all cracked up when they heard his interpretation of the lyrics and from that day on his nickname was Lorenzo.

I remember being a little girl in the Catholic Church reciting the same prayers every week. I had no understanding of what I was saying, so it never occurred to me that I was way off when I was saying, “Hail, Mary, full of grapes.  The Lord is a tree.”  The real words, for any non-Catholics out there, are, ”Hail, Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with thee.”

Oddly enough, there is an actual Wikipedia term for when we mis-hear lyrics in a song or a line in a poem.  It’s called a Mondogreen.  And here’s the story behind that moniker.

In 1954, a woman wrote an essay for Harper’s Bazaar recounting how when she was a young girl hearing the song, “The Bonny Earl O’Moray”, that she mis-heard and misunderstood the lyrics that described a young man’s death in battle. The lyrics were, “They slew the Earl of Moray and laid him on the green”.  What she heard was “They slew the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondogreen”.  And thus the term ‘Lady Mondogreen’, or simply “Mondogreen’, was coined as the description of what our brains do when we can’t understand what the singer is saying so we jump to a conclusion that often makes no sense at all.

I can’t tell you how much I love the fact that there’s an actual term for what I did all throughout the 70’s and 80’s as I tried to sing along to my records (yes, I said, records), and had to shamelessly make up words that I knew were wrong!  This was eons before Google ruined all of our fun in guessing what that screaming long-haired singer was really saying.

But now we have the internet to find all of the lyrics for songs. I bet today’s teenagers have far fewer Mondogreen experiences than their parents did!

But I think that many of us as Christians have had quite a few Mondogreen experiences.  I know that I am not alone in this: We hear a portion of Scripture and because our Bible knowledge is either not deep in that area or a preacher unwittingly taught the Scripture out of context, we hear something in that text that God never said.  I can’t tell you how many verses from the Bible I took completely out of context because I liked the way it sounded as a promise to me.  However, when I exegeted the Scripture and really studied who the Lord was speaking to and what the context was for the words, I realized that what I thought He was saying wasn’t at all what He said.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for finding promises in the Word that God spoke to His people long ago and standing on them for my current situations.  But the flirtatious error in doing that is when I take a promise away from its condition and claim it for my life.

Check out this example:

Here’s a very popular coffee cup Scripture: Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

We all love that promise and love to use it as a motivational message before a basketball game or embarking on anything challenging.  But what was Paul talking about when he said he could do “all things”?  What were those things?

Here is the context of the verse:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul is distinctly talking about being able to handle both poverty and wealth, about having the easy life and being brought low .  He said that he can handle losing everything through the strength that Christ provides.  That’s actually a really terrific exhortation that we should all be standing on – the encouragement that no matter what life throws at us we don’t have to waver in our faith or doubt God’s goodness. We can declare that we will be found praising God as much when life throws some prison time our way, as when we are living the high life with blessings falling on us like leaves in an autumn windstorm.

BUT that’s not how most of us have heard that Scripture interpreted.  The coffee cup version is just vague enough to let us forget the ‘being in need, brought low and hunger” part of that exhortation.  Taking it as a stand-alone verse makes it easier to think that it’s saying we should always experience sunny skies and fist pumps. But how many times do we thank God that He promises us the ability to suffer well?

That’s just one minor example. There are many more where God was giving a promise AFTER a condition and the condition part of the verse is almost always left off of the coffee cup or tee-shirt.  And that makes some of the promises that we blithely confess turn into Mondogreens.  If we don’t read the Bible for ourselves and really study what the Word is saying we run the risk of mis-hearing what God is communicating.

My favorite example of a Mondogreen story in the Bible is when Jesus went to speak with the Samaritan woman at the well.  During the entire first part of the conversation, she hears one thing when Jesus is saying something totally different.  He is talking about giving her living water because He is the Source that brings refreshing and newness of life.  Yet she thinks he is talking about running water and wants to know how he is going to draw that water out of the well without a bucket. Finally, he lovingly yet plainly tells her all about her current living situation with a man who wasn’t her husband.  Now that piece of information was LOUD and CLEAR!  There was no mis-hearing those words! She immediately knows that Jesus is the Son of God and runs to town to tell everyone.  But up to that point, she wasn’t understanding or hearing that He was God in the flesh, the fulfillment of what she was looking for, even though that’s exactly what He was telling her the entire time.

So what do we do with this understanding of how Mondogreens can happen in our walk with the Lord? I think the best thing we can do is to 1) become a student of the Word.  Read all of the chapters along with the notes and the commentary 2) ask the Lord to unveil our eyes and unblock our ears so that we can see and hear the truth of what He is saying to us in the Word and in our hearts.

Regarding becoming a student of the Word, Paul gives Timothy, a young pastor and his spiritual son,  this lesson:

2 Tim. 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (Underline mine)

2 Tim 4:1-4: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teachingFor the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (Underline mine)

Let’s strive to be like Timothy and Paul and nothing like the ones Paul speaks of who wander into myths!

Now you:

  • Can you recall any Mondogreen moments in your own life?  Can you recall any lyrics that you absolutely botched only to find out with embarrassment how wrong you were?
    • Feel free to share about those moments in the Comments section.  I’d love to hear your stories!
  • Can you think of a time that you became aware that you had mis-heard something that God said either in the Bible, in church or to you personally?
    • How did you become aware of the truth?