Thursday, July 21, 2011

A plea for plain speaking

We Christians (including me!) are some of the worst offenders when it comes to using worn-out cliches and expressions the average person doesn't understand. I've always felt this way, but an article tweeted by my friend Randy Greenwald nudged me to go on the record and say, Let's speak plainly!Link

In the Christian community we've developed a vocabulary all our own. We know what we're talking about...I think. But people outside or new to the church must scratch their heads and wonder why we talk like we do.

For example, we pray "God, bless so-and-so," instead of simply asking God to give so-and-so some money or whatever it is. We say to our worship leader, "That was an awesome worship song," instead of "Thanks, I enjoyed that." We tell a friend, "I'd covet your prayers," instead of just saying "I need help." We baptize with near-canonical authority catchy phrases said by our favorite preachers, like "Let's drill down into this passage" or "God really showed up last Sunday." In a former church I often called the congregation "beloved" - three syllables, of course. Where did I get that?

And for some reason a lot of Christians say "God" again and again throughout their prayers. I don't know about you, but when I'm having a conversation with, say, my friend John, I don't start off every sentence with "John." Repetition of God's name in any context comes pretty close to being the babbling and "vain repetition" Jesus warns us about in Matthew 6:7-8. We would all do well to regularly review the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), a model of brevity and simplicity.

And why did Christians suddenly become "Christ-followers"? There's nothing wrong with the expression, of course, and I understand that "Christian" is a bad word in some places. But I get the feeling that the regular use of "Christ-follower" now entitles the speaker to a place at the table with all the hip, emerging church leaders of the day. A few years from now, what will we call Christians?

Recently I listened to a panel of Christian leaders speaking on the subject of the emerging church. (By the way, there's another one: is there anything more obscure than the word "emerging"?!) I wish I had a dollar for every time one of those guys used the word "conversation." That's such a nice, touchy-feely word, probably intended to soften the very real disagreements that the various speakers had with each other. My recommendation: Stop talking about having a conversation and tell it like it is! Let it be a real debate, not a "conversation."

In the article referred to above, author Karen Prior lists other "Christianese" words that need to be tossed. Here are a few examples, followed by my comments:

  • "love on" - Why can't we just say "love"?
  • "love well" - I hear this all the time. But again, why can't we just say "love"? You either love someone or you don't. How does one "love [someone] well"? Is it even possible to love someone "un-well"?!
  • "community" - Now here I'm at a loss to know how not to say "community." I agree that it's overused. But it's an important, Biblical word and I don't know what to put in its place. I certainly don't want to go back to the old word "fellowship"!
  • "just" - Many Christians use this word all the time in prayer. "Lord, I just want to thank you... I just love you, Lord... We just praise you for your grace... Just give us a heart to know you." Why do we say "just" so often? What does it add to the request? Prior is right when she surmises that it's used to express humility. OK. But again, do you talk to your spouse that way? "Hey honey, would you just make me a sandwich? Let's just go to a movie. I just love you." Nope.
  • "anointed" - Here's a word the average non-Christian has no category for. We say, "That was an anointed sermon." Why not simply tell the preacher you liked it, and give a reason or two?

William Penn said, "Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood." What suggestions can you offer to help us be people who speak plainly and are therefore understood?

2 comments:

kristinwithani said...

"just" over and over in prayer and "God showed up" are two of my biggest pet peeves. You were far nicer than I.

Philip said...

Alright, I loved this one Mike, even if it was a good-natured rant. We need to here more of this sort of reprimand. I hate it when I catch myself saying "Dear Jesus" over and over, it's a way of keeping Jesus up-there and not in-here (my heart). It's also a way of appeasing the gods. Funny eh? It exposes my lack of understanding.

One of my least favorite expressions is "hedge of protection". I know it's biblical as I came across it the other day, but I don't think it was in the context we always use it in.

A good rule I've used, in talking with non-Christians, is not to use any words I can't thoroughly explain in plain-speak.

Oh and don't even get me started on long fancy prayers! Sometimes I just want to stand up in church and either say "What!?" or "For the love of God (literally) would you please say Amen already!" Ha!