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Language Less|ens 1: Toward a more robust Christian Language July 17, 2006

Posted by fajita in Bible/Meditations, Christianity, emerging church/emergent, Philosophy/Religion, Post-restoration/Restoration Movement.
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Although we don’t want it to be true, we are more contained and limited by language than we realize. Linguists would tell us that language is a way to convey meaning, but has no meaning in and of itself. The meaning is there waiting for a way of transport from one person to another. Communication theorists might tell us that language is only one of the carriers of meaning, while behavior carriers meaning as well, and probably a whole lot more of it. However, when we can say something, there is power. Verbalization is sometimes liberation, but the converse is true as well. When there is meaning, but no expression for it: frustration.

In fact, there is even a model of psychotherapy that is called Collaborative Language Systems, which rests upon the theory that language is power. Language is the means by which the power of self-agency arrives. When there are no words for the meaning loaded within a person, there is psycholpathology, or perhaps an unusual behavior meant to communicate the uncommunicatable. Giving voice to that meaning, it is theorized, gives power to the person and relieves the need for the unusual behavior.

And it’s not just about having a big vocabulary. In fact, it’s not about vocabulary at all. Rather, it is about the courage to speak. It is about accurately conveyiong the intended message. It is about a robust and deep pool from which to draw on in order to get the meaning from inside a person to outside a person – or even into another person.

Problems occur not only when a person does not have an adequate expression for the meaning, but also when a person has an expression that he or she thinks is adequate, but falls flat with or is misunderstood by the hearer. When you think you’ve communicated well, but the rest of the world responds like you’re an idiot, then guess what? Pretty soon you’ll think you’re an idiot. Or, you’ll think that the world is full of idiots.

Now, let’s apply this silly language lesson (lessEn) to Christianty. When the Christian world uses words like truth, church, authority, Bible, God’s Word, Kingdom, crusade, and a whole lot more, what really transfers to the world? If we took these words away, would God’s meaning or intentions be erased as well? Well, I should hope not. God is not bound in language, but we are to a great extent.

What we Christians would have to do is to find words that do convey the meaning of God’s work in this world. We would have to develop a more robust language in order to communicate the meaning of God. Without a common language, or even a comprehensible language, or even an uncontaminated language, communicating the meaning of God is going to be very difficult.

Many Christians don’t think twice about using very, very, Christian jargon with the deep assumption that everyone around them shares the same meaning. What has happaned is either Christians slowly reduce their religious talk to a very few people who also understand their talk and thereby ghettoize their religion or they keep up the jargonized talk with non-Christians and blame them (overtly or silently to themselves) for being sinners, away from God, or other things none too pleasant. Then there are some Christians who believe everyone understands them while they are making a fool of themselves.

I believe much of the Chrsitian language has been contaminated – not necessarily by, “the world,” but rather by Chrsitians themselves. Why in the world are Christians still having “crusades?” The Middle East is erputing into violence, and we’re having “crusades.” At least Franklin Graham is having “festivals” where his father had crusades. There’s a better use of language.

“Crusade” is an easy one. How about the word, “truth?” Is there nothing of God if we find a more descriptive or maybe even more provocative (but less contaminated) word than “truth?” I like how some are using the word, “story” instead of truth. Some people might say, “ancient Chrisitan and Jewish writings” instead of “The Bible.” It’s not that there needs to be a sugar-coating or avoidance of truth, but rahter there needs to be a language whereby the meaning can even be made meaningful. Preloaded language (language whereby the hearer assumes a meaning) that no longer conveys a meaning it once did should be don e away with or placed in Al Gore lock box for a while. Later, it can be brought out fresh and new.

My title says language lessEns, but language can also enhance, although enhancement takes efforts. Since we are all bound by laguage to a large extent, making the Christian language more robust and more accuarate to the meaning intended is a worthy effort and expenditure of time and energy. Clearer and fresher language will help move the conversation along rather than getting stuck at certain points and just fighting over, say…truth. Now is the time for an emergence of creative expressions to move the story along, even if we never use the word truth.

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Comments»

1. Justin - July 17, 2006

Great post Chris. Seriously. You should write a book. I will buy ten copies.

You speak “truth” btw. I was just told something the other day that struck me as interesting. The reason infants cry is because they are frustrated that they cannot communicate what they desire. They know that they are hungry… but they don’t know the word hungry. So they yell until someone figures out they need food. They want to go to sleep. They obviously can’t tell anyone that, so they cry. Their communication is strictly nonverbal… but they still have communication skills.

Sometimes we get so caught up in language that we realize its not a perfect system. We Christians sing “but words are not enough to tell you of our love, so listen to our hearts” but we, I guess, have never figured that words can only carry meaning so far. We’re striving to explain absolute truth through words that themselves cannot completely truthfully describe our own emotions and feelings.

I dont’ know that that added anything to the conversation, but I’m at work waiting to get an email from someone so I can start working.

2. fajita - July 18, 2006

Justin, thanks for the props. No book because although i am a rabid blogger, Iam a lazy butt and can’t get my act together to stick to one project long enough to amke anything happen. Maybe phd work will discipline me.


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