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Christianese: Just Stop Talking

The barista steamed some milk from behind the counter as he and I shared a conversation and exchanged our words. From time-to-time, some words would roll across from his corner.

“Sin jadfjal jdfa dfasf asf blessed. Asd kfajdf dfjaldfj Eternity sdj kfj akdj salvation.”

I’d slip them under the table, discreetly trying to dispose of them without him noticing. I didn’t want to hear more words that didn’t make sense to me, but more came my way.

“Everything happens for a reason. Okdja kdjf la accept Jesus aljdf lajfj. Walk with God adkfjak adkf affa.”

My hands were so busy that my blank stare probably gave away my preoccupation. It’s hard to translate these words into a logical understanding. I was thinking so hard that I didn’t even notice how tight I was clenching my jaw.

One might say that my ears were so touched by his words that nothing else was coming in. I’d say I was in thought and stopped listening. Instead of trying to throw away the words, I just let them roll off the table. It’s easier that way. They throw themselves away, yet you still see their ambiguity.

Christianese is simply an English dialect of exclusion that has tainted our communication with others. As Christians, we’ve been programmed to speak a certain way, use certain words, and throw out certain phrases. We use them so often that they develop some presumed meaning that we actually don’t even know the meaning for, but we’ll say it just because it sounds nice.

The moment our language starts to reflect something that which is of Christian descent, the validity and worth of the statement can get tossed out the window. It doesn’t make sense to those outside the church.

“Christian” has developed a meaning and reputation outside the church. Christianese connects people to their idea of the church, but many of these ideas are negative, reconnecting people to the accept-Jesus-or-go-to-hell messages of their past. That method is direct without-a-doubt and may be valid in some eyes, but that game plan doesn’t make someone want to come to the church or be associated with a Christian.

There is no ideal conversion tactic, but we act like scaring people into the Christian lifestyle is the best way to get them on our side. Who wants to constantly hear that God loves them but they are going to hell unless they do such and such? First, what exactly is this such and such? Second, when is this such and such enough that we won’t go to hell?

We’ve started taking on a responsibility that is not ours. It’s not our obligation to make the connection for our friends.

It’s better to lead by action than by words.

It’s better to show people Jesus rather than spout off the laws he challenged.

It’s better to express the character of God than point out the sins she washed away.

Our fancy shmancy lingo is not enough to change lives of our comrades around us. They don’t want another speech about why they’re going to hell. We need to surprise them that all Christians aren’t the same and redefine their image of church.

Instead of reprimanding their poor decisions and pointing out their consequences, listen to their story and enjoy the relationship. It’s okay not to give some sort of advise, and it’s okay to leave “God” out of any advise that you do decide to give, leaving your words with the truth of reality without the Christian mumbo jumbo.

The life-changing part of the Christian lifestyle takes place on its own. You can’t force someone to believe something. They either do or they don’t. That change of mind comes on its own and cannot be constructed. Thrusting belief on someone is pointless if they don’t have a receptive mindset. Otherwise, they tune it out before you even get to the punchline.

Stop talking. They’ve heard the speech. Let them see the character of God for themselves.

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3 responses to this post

  1. Hey Sean. So I hope there is room for some dialogue in here. I totally understand what you're saying – and I have had the same exact frustrations. But here is something to consider. The Christian life is unique and God speaks to a part of people that other things in the world don't speak to. The rhetoric of Christianity is crucial to who we are in Christ. While you say it is exclusive, I would say it sets us apart. Redemption, salvation, sin, and eternity (just to name a few) are special words set aside to attempt to explain what is otherwise unexplainable. While Christians often assume the language is understood, and use it so nonchalantly that they don't recognize people don't understand it, I don't think that's reason enough to rid ourselves of the special language. Moreso, we should be more aware of the words we are using and accompany them with an explanation of what we mean when we say that. There will always be some exclusivity when it comes to rhetoric in certain groups, but I think what Christians need to be more aware of is how we can bring others to understand the fullness and beauty of the words rather than throw away something that is beautiful and distinguishes us. The fact that these words are found in Scripture show us that there is something to it, and the challenges that come with it don't justify ridding our faith of it completely. I hope what I said makes sense – I just wanted to give you my thoughts on it. Feel free to tell me what you think. Also – check out Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian by Stanley Hauerwas. I think it would be a perfect read for you (: Love reading your stuff – keep writing.

  2. Danae! You are wonderful! And this is definitely a place where dialogue it encouraged. That's what I've hoped for it to be, but sadly much of the dialogue has been done behind closed doors (or mostly busy coffee shops). I'm not meaning to completely ditch the language. I think it's powerful and definitely has a space and context where it can be used. Personally, I try to steer clear of the language as to find alternatives to expressing an idea and creating a larger understanding on a subject. My goal is just to bring recognition to the exclusivity of the language and say that sometimes its better to use action rather than words.

  3. I see. It's all about context and balance…it's a struggle, that's for sure. And in that case, I do agree that we need to meet people at their level. My hope is that they find themselves in a place where they can connect with words like righteousness and redemption and find the beauty and see where that is in their lives. Awesome, awesome, awesome. (: Our actions speak their own language. So good.

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