Monday, July 30, 2012

Why say it that way?

As a pastor, I'm always interested to find out how different churches communicate their beliefs and speak about themselves to the world. Many times I wish I could say to these church leaders, "Why say it that way? Can't you think of a better way to express yourselves to people who are not Christians? Must you use language that makes absolutely no sense to the culture you're trying to reach?!"

For example, a man I met at Panera the other day handed me a business card he'd gotten from a church in Missouri. On the card was a link to the church website, so I thought I'd check it out. Here's what that church displays on its home page:
The Christians who meet together at [name of church] believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, that Jesus Christ is its grand theme, and that salvation is wrought through the atoning blood of Christ alone by the convicting and regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. It is their desire to know the Lord Jesus deeper day by day and become more conformed to His perfect life so that lost souls may be saved and He may get the glory.
Notice all the Christianese in that paragraph. Take the first sentence. For one thing, it's way too long. But besides that, most people today think "inspired" refers to a Thomas Kinkade painting or a really fine concert. Could the writer have simply said, "We believe the Bible is true"?

Then there's this sentence: "...salvation (??) is wrought (??) through the atoning (??) blood of Christ alone by the convicting (??) and regenerating (??) power of the Holy Spirit." Now I love the vocabulary of Christianity, and I hate that there's such theological illiteracy in our day (even in the church). But honestly, most people reading that statement have no idea what it means. Maybe the author could have simply said, "We believe God gives hope to the hopeless and love to the undeserving." After all, the homepage of a church website doesn't have to be a page out of a systematic theology text. Its purpose is to get people through the door of the church on Sunday morning.

At the end of the statement above you have more tribal language. "Become more conformed to His perfect life" could be rephrased as "become more like Jesus." "Lost souls" could become simply "non-Christians." And what does "get the glory" mean? I'm not sure even I fully understand that term, though we use it all the time.

I don't mean to run this church down. I'm using it as an example of what most of us Christians are all too guilty of. In an earlier post I gave a plea for plain speaking within the church. I think we need to stop using cliched, unintelligible, "cute," or code language. It's turning people off and tuning people out.

And I've said nothing about silly Christian bumper stickers and church signs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Paper towel dispensers

Wow, it's been way too long since I posted something on my blog. So I'm making a renewed effort to do so more regularly, because (as I read someplace that I'm supposed to say to myself every day), "I AM A WRITER!!"

Let's see, how 'bout I start with one of my pet peeves... "automatic" bathroom paper towel dispensers. I've mentioned them before. I haven't met one I've liked. Well, maybe one. But all the others either don't work at all, and I therefore look like a fool waving my hand above, below, to the side, and in front of the darn things trying to get them to acknowledge my presence...or they (reluctantly and for spite) roll out about an inch and a half of paper for me to dry my hands on. If there are other men waiting in line for a paper towel, I feel especially stupid. I know they are staring at the back of my head, thinking "What's wrong with this guy? Why can't he get a simple paper towel dispenser to work?" I've said before in sermons that a man's greatest fear is to be deemed a failure. Well, this is the place where that happens more than anywhere else - more than at home, more than in the board room, more than on the basketball court. It's in bathrooms. The great enemy of a guy's self-esteem is the "automatic" bathroom paper towel dispenser. 

I know why we don't like them and they don't like us. It has nothing to do with that little infrared thing on the front of the dispenser. It's about control. We can't control them. Unlike the old-style paper towel dispensers with the silver crank on the side (eww, germs!!), and unlike the less-old-style kind that you still see in some bathrooms, the kind with the lever you can push (eww, germs!!) that ACTUALLY WORKS, the "automatic" dispensers have a mind of their own. (That's why I put "automatic" in quotes.) No matter what you do, the dispenser has the power in the relationship. And we humankind don't like that. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we've fancied that we could be like God (Genesis 3:5). And when you're in the bathroom with one of these new, no-touch paper towel dispensers, you just can't be like God. The paper towel dispenser is, for that brief, hand-wringing moment of time, God. You're not in control. It is.

So the "automatic" paper towel dispenser is a metaphor. It's a metaphor for the humiliating realization that there are really a very limited number of things that we can control (like, zero). It's a God-centered universe after all and he always gets his way.