Here’s a good word to work into conversation

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

I am of the strong opinion that, as a general rule, people should avoid omphaloskepsis. It’s a nasty practice that almost always leaves those who practice it much less happy than before.  

So there. I’m on the record. If I ever aspire to high public office, the paper trail will attest to my firm stance as a non-omphaloskepsarian.

What? You’ve lost your mind, you say. What in the ever-lovin’ wide world is omphaloskepsis?

So glad you asked. You need to know. This is the kind of word that with just a little finesse you can work into casual conversation, say, down at the coffee shop or teachers’ lounge. Your friends will really be impressed. Negatively, yes, but they’ll be impressed.

“Omphaloskepsis” is a noun made up of two root words. “Skepsis” comes from an Indo-European word that means “to observe.” “Spectacle” comes from the same root. And — you’re holding your breath now, I know — “omphalos” is a Greek word for . . . “navel.”

Yep. Omphaloskepsis is the practice of observing your navel. Navel-gazing.

Navel-gazing rarely blesses anyone. By the way, I’m so glad to hear that styles are supposedly changing. I’ve had more than enough of the “belly buttons and behinds” styles of the last few years.

I suppose tight is still “in.” I did not raise a teenage girl (a blessing to all concerned), but I’m not sure I’d want mine wearing jeans through which a credit card number could be stolen without ever taking it out of the back pocket. Honestly, I can’t figure out how anyone can physically get such clothes on or off. Saran wrap would be looser and, I’d think, about as comfortable.

And — this actually makes me mad; it’s another of the scads of ways our cruel society conspires to make “normal” girls feel bad about themselves — nobody but a 3/4-starved concentration camp survivor can wear that stuff and not look at least a little paunchy.

Navels. That’s what got me off on this.

I think I can make a case that about 10 minutes of omphaloskepsis about once every decade or two might be almost healthy. But no more.

Here’s the question to get you started: Am I happy?

The most miserable people in the world are folks who ask it with deep feeling and poignancy about once every 10 minutes.

A related question is this: Do I really want to be happy? Some people don’t. They’re miserable and they’re good at encouraging others to be.

Happiness was never meant to be a goal. Real joy comes as the wonderfully surprising by-product of so loving the Lord of life and joy that focusing on our own navels just seems like what it is — a sad waste of precious time.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at