Language

Can we talk about language – about God language? I don’t want to talk about profanity because I couldn’t care less about profanity. Profanity is dialect, nothing more and nothing less. I want to talk about all of the formulaic, trite, tired, nonsensical language we use when we want to be clear we are “people of God.” I have developed a list of pet peeves with explanations, so here we go:

1: “Father, I just wanna…” Really? Well if you would like to do something or say something and it is important to you, do you think you could take just a moment to come up with an original way to do it, say it, or ask it? If not, it can’t be all that important and I’d rather not hear it.

2. “The Word” (referring to the Bible). WRONG. Jesus is “The Word” and Scripture, if referred to in the New Testament, is the Hebrew Scriptures. The Bible, as we have it, is never referred to in the Bible.

3. “May God be highly pleased and blessed by…(something someone did). Try to get your ego under control for just a moment here. Somewhere between six and seven billion people on the planet and you honestly believe that one human being has the power to spoil or make God’s day? Moreover, your God is so anthropomorphic that It has good and bad days, gets pleased and blessed or whatever the opposite of that is? We can give God glory, absolutely, through what we do (unless we run around all the time saying “to God be the glory,” which I am sure God finds almost as irritating as I do). An ass-kisser is an ass-kisser, even if they kiss the Divine ass (not that God has a body), and there is little more tiring than an ass-kisser.

4. “It’s not the preacher, it’s the Word.” First, please refer to number two above. Then let me say that it’s both. For me, there are certain preachers that could speak endless truth and I wouldn’t be able to hear it because of their hypocritical, criminal, or just crazy behavior. I’m thinking of Eddie Long, Paula White, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard; pedophile priests and the bishops, cardinals, and the current Pope who covered up their crimes; preachers of the prosperity pseudo-gospel; preachers who preach hate or exclusion – the list is endless. Whether we like it or not, the character of the preacher influences the message they deliver. There is no magical force that cleans up the preaching of a hate monger or a con artist. It is true that a sacrament is a sacrament even if a scoundrel consecrates it – but that’s a different question altogether.

5. “I declare XYZ to be so in your life.” Well, good for you. However, as I mentioned above, there are six or seven billion other people having thoughts and making declarations so somehow I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I do appreciate you thinking about me, however.

6. “Be blessed!” and it’s corollary “Have a blessed day!” in public, usually at the grocery store. Gee, I am so glad you said that because I was going to have a lousy day until you told me to have a blessed day. What you’re really trying to convince me that you are very pious. Maybe wear a sign next time.

7. Outgoing messages on voice mail boxes that start with some version of “Praise God!” Really? Whatever happened to “Hello?” Can I just stipulate that you are religiously obsessed and then can we dispose of this nonsense?

There are so very many more, but these are some at or near the top of my list. I don’t like them because all of this religiospeak doesn’t really say anything – or when it does, it paints a picture of God that has about as much depth as your average toilet bowl. I don’t know about your toilet bowl, but on mine I find the words “shallow water: no diving” stenciled for my safety. People whip out these trite expressions that not only don’t contribute to anyone’s understanding of anything, and even worse the uninitiated hear them and assume all Christians are mindless buffoons. Who can blame them?

At the heart of all of these ejaculations (a type of prayer, consult your catechism) is a desire to control reality. Well intended people want to be sure you’re blessed, they’re blessed, the guy down the street is blessed, everyone has a blessed day, that they can control outcomes and tragedies by declaring things to be so that aren’t so – but the truth is that we cannot control reality. We can only control our response to reality.

Let’s make a deal. Let’s have designated times to have serious discussions and exchanges around our beliefs and understandings of God and the nature of reality. Let’s let our actions be the measure by which we are known as spiritual people. Then let’s decide when we meet someone on the street we are going to ask questions that a real person of faith might ask, like “how are you and how is your family.” We can leave all of the instructions about blessed this and that for Church, where they belong…maybe. I’m not really convinced they belong there, either, but we have to start somewhere.

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