Last week’s blog was a bit of a rant about Church-Martian: those words and phrases which we cling onto at very real risk of cutting ourselves off, (even more), from the world outside.
Lots of people got in touch, privately and publicly, to vent their own frustration at our churches’ continued use of words that mean less than nothing to “new” people coming in to church – or, indeed to our own children and grandchildren. I say less than nothing because a meaningless word isn’t a neutral word; it’s worse than that. Many church words, (even ones which aren’t madly ancient) are really unhelpful – alienating even.
It’s not so much the thees-and-thous with which some liturgies are still littered. Thees-and- thous are cozy and cheesy; some incomers quite like their museum-y quality. But regular un-thinking use of them renders us Disney-church. Not remotely the fabric of what J.C. is about.
There are two kinds of words I’m talking about here. The first kind are the words which are almost entirely obsolete except in church and with church-people; words like “beseech” and “righteous”. They sound great, don’t they, these moth-balled words: glorious, resonating things which carry the weight of ages? But they’re not functioning as communication, except with people who already know them. Could “beseech” not be replaced by “beg”? Could righteous not be replaced by “decent” or “fair”? Or both. Shouldn’t we, (shall we?), ditch words which have no currency except among ourselves?
The second kind are the words which mean something highly significant and relevant, but hold little meaning to people new to church. Words, (and I’m only mentioning a very few here), like Missional, Covenant, Calling, Discipleship, Passion. Such words, which are legitimately current in church thinking, need unpacking every time we use them, for the benefit of those who can’t yet know what we’re on about. Our obscurity creates a disconnect; and why wouldn’t it? Foreign language creates un-belonging in the hearer.
(Then, all on its own, is the word “Sin”. There is crazy laziness in our use of the word Sin unless we explain, week after week after week, what we mean by it. But Sin is a can of worms for another day. I’ll follow that up another time. I’ve preached on it enough, God knows).
So, leaving Sin aside (!), how intentional is all this lazy churchy wordiness? Are we doing it, as my mother used to say, “Accidentally on purpose”?
There are plenty of words, used with effect out in the World, which Church barely uses.
The whole thing reminds me a bit of Peter’s reaction to the distasteful non-kosher animals of his dream*. A feast of deeply fishy, scaly, hitherto avoided, many-toed words is presented to us and we begin to feel queasy… Surely, surely, God doesn’t want us to talk to Him in World-speak? Surely, surely, He can’t want us to use non-kosher words like, (and here, feel free to add your own): Conservative, Liberal, Socialist, Sorry, Problem, Temper, Accountability, Promise, Balance, Stranger, Wrong, Agenda, Homosexuality, Risk, Challenge, Depression, Abuse, Emotion.
Or does he?