Sunday, 12 August 2007

mind your language

When I was a wee boy, we used to wear our "Sunday best" to go to church. These were clothes that would only be worn to go to church, or the occasional family wedding. Things are a lot more relaxed now in terms of sartorial elegance for church attendance. This is a good thing, as clothes are no longer a barrier to attending and people don't have to feel uncomfortable if they're not wearing a three-piece suit or a hat.

Why then do we seem to have a "Sunday best" language that is reserved for church? During the rest of the week do you ever say that someone is 'worthy' or talk about 'going through the waters of baptism'?

At work we used to play a game that we called 'bullshit bingo' (apologies to those of a sensitive nature) - you know, spotting the jargon and buzzwords in meetings. I'm tempted to patent a new game along similar lines for church.

I know that many people sincerely believe that they are treating God with due reverence, and I'm not simply knocking them. But do we really need to speak in Shakespearean English to show appropriate respect?

If we want to be inclusive, welcoming churches, let's use a vocabulary that people will understand - and when we have to use jargon make sure that we explain it clearly and coherently. Jesus spoke in Armaic.

Writing about Pentecost, Steve Chalke says:
"... God chooses to speak to us in our own language... He begins where we are."

Let's stop babbling (or should that be Babel-ing?) and start communicating


nonprofitprophet said...

yes. we have a saying in Texas amongst my friends "calling bullshit". We call BS on something when you know it is either lip-service to pacify, or just plain fictitious.
I too am glad that clothing is no longer a barrier to worship in most progressive churches that I am acquaited with. As I was brought up much as you to wear my "sunday best" out of respect for the Lord, I now understand that the Lord really didn't care as long as I was there worshipping and being in relationship with Him.
You might find it amusing that some denominational churches here in the States refuse to use anything other than the King James Bible, as they are apparently aware that Jesus only spoke the King's English and they came out of his mouth in the precious Red Letters....;)

KJ said...

Thanks for your recent comment on my blog. I can appreciate this blog. "Bullshit Bingo" for churches sounds like a fun game! I've evolved since I was a young girl in the Baptist Church. I don't really dress up much anymore, or at least dress "special" for church. And I avoid at all costs "church language." It feels like it separates people. BTW, I saw on another blog that you wrote a Bible Study for teenagers. I teach teenagers on Sunday morning. That's a group of people that will keep you real!

That Hideous Man said...

I think it is important to realise that all disciplines naturally develop a specialist language, and that they do so for avery good reason, concepts shared by all and developed over a long period cannot be explained every time they are used, but inevitably get labelled.

There is also a sense in which the unique exprience of Christian conversion actually demands a unique language to describe it.

The issue it seems to me is how that language is handled. I have known doctors (for instance) who have used medical language in a way which has informed me about the condition/proceedure I was experiencing - but others who have used specialist language as a power-play, to ring-fence their expertiese, exclude the patient from participation and seek to belittle and control the consultation.

We can never finally get away from specialist language - our unique experience and our saturation in the biblical text ensures that. It's how we handle that language that counts; taking every practical opportunity we can to explain and define, and never using language as an instrument of power, ego, control or exclusion.