Plainspoken

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Jeremiah 37:3-21, 1 Corinthians 14:13-25, Matthew 10:24-33


Slang. Jargon. Idiom. Argot. Dialect. Lingo. These words all have slightly different definitions and connotations, but have something in common: they often determine whether you are in a group or out of it. Slang is largely generational; when you’re no longer up on the latest – or worse, desperately fumbling with it – you’re old. Jargon and argot have a more professional context; try to fake your way around a profession you don’t know, and your vocabulary will betray you soon enough. Idiom and dialect are perhaps the most tribal of the group, as they are defined primarily by geographic location; nobody in Georgia is fooled when someone from Connecticut drops a “y’all.”

There’s something comforting about sharing a special, almost secret language. It immediately establishes common ground, even with strangers, in a positive way. Yet even as language draws a circle of inclusion, it excludes everyone who stands outside the circle. This exclusion isn’t necessarily intentional, but it’s an unavoidable byproduct.

Which brings us to “Christianese.”

Paul was concerned about the Corinthian church’s tendency toward an inward focus. They seemed to have a real fondness what may be the ultimate insider language, speaking in tongues (which, let’s be honest, is pretty easy to fake if you can’t hone in on your spiritual gifts). Paul tried to make them aware of how an unbeliever might feel walking in on a service where everyone seemed to speak independent gibberish:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind? […] in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

We may not be speaking in tongues, but when churchgoers casually throw around words like “narthex” (what’s wrong with “lobby”?), acronyms like “VBS,” or phrases like “slain in the spirit” without explanation we erect a language barrier between us and newcomers or strangers. It’s not bad to let people know our culture is different – if it wasn’t, why bother? – but the differences we want to emphasize are compassion, inclusion, and forgiveness. Even “grace” can be a mystery word to the uninitiated, but “love” is universal. Let’s show it by saying it clearly.

Comfort: There can be great comfort in being part of a community with common culture.

Challenge: Don’t make assumptions that people know what you know, or understand everything you say.

Prayer:  Teach me, O Lord, to speak with love and thoughtfulness. Amen.

Discussion: When you don’t understand what people are talking about, are you comfortable asking for clarification?

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