This is where I admit to you that most of my friends have nerdy tendencies. (Not me of course. Oh, no. Not at all). One friend in particular recounted this uber-nerd story with great glee:
He was loitering by entrance to a pan-European Star Trek convention, waiting for the doors to open. Excited ticket holders from disparate European countries made attempts to communicate with him. They tried one language after another, and nothing seemed to bridge the gap in understanding. Eventually one of them – half jokingly – tried Klingon. To their delight, they realised they were able to converse.
Sadly, in the end chaos was inevitable, mainly because there is no Klingon word for ‘queue’.
Why am I telling you this? Because language is a particular problem for us Christians. I’m not talking about tongues, here. Or profanity. I’m talking about a peculiar dialect that I’ve started to call Toxic Christianese.
I’ve begun to compile a dictionary to help interpret this code we use. Here are a few entries:
Somebody I’m angry with for attending fewer church services than I do
“This doesn’t sit well with my spirit”
I am concerned that this will make me look bad
“Be in the world but not of it”
Ensure your non-Christian friends are aware of your superior holiness
I agree/don’t agree
“Have you prayed about it?”
I’m sorry, I have run out of suggestions/platitudes
“I want to be a good witness”
I want other Christians to approve of me
“I’m concerned you may be grieving the Holy Spirit”
I would prefer you to conform to our particular organisational culture
“Are you born again?”
Can I consider you a safe person?
When people use these phrases it makes my insides squirm. Aren’t they just a way of dressing up selfish attitudes as piety?
There’s something Jesus said that I’ve always been puzzled about, until recently:
“I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it…When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.” (Matthew 5: 34-37 CEV).
When I thought about this passage in the context of Christianese, something clicked.
I think Jesus is pointing out that I get myself in trouble when I put spiritual window dressing on my language. If I keep my speech simple and direct, it becomes apparent quite quickly what my real motivation is. Which is probably why I prefer the super-spiritual version. It makes me look better.
If Klingon is the language of aggression, Christianese is the language of religion and judgement. And it’s even harder for anybody to understand, actually, least of all Christians.
So this is a plea for us to talk like normal human beings. Let’s speak with our own individual voices, not the voices of the NIV translators. Cut the jargon. Let’s invent new phrases that are unexpected and descriptive and rich with meaning.
Which Christian clichés make your skin crawl, and what do they really mean? Let me know in the comments.