I am a stickler for language. It’s part of my personality. Good grammar, proper choice of words, the use of inflection in speech patterns – these things matter to me. So, what happens if I begin choosing words that are outside of my friend’s hermenuetic? Can he absorb my tractate? In other words: What happens if I speak outside of my friend’s ability to interpret? Can they understand what I say?
Language matters. In a Church like ours, a Discipling Community for All Ages, language shapes. How we speak gives witness to the shape of community we wish to be. Words we choose changes us.
In our world it easy to buy into the notion that words are cheap, that they are meaningless. I disagree. One of America’s richest documents is a carefully worded declaration. Written by a master of words, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece of literature. The power of those words changed the world. Not only did they pull people together in North America, but the thoughts expressed in the words chosen inspired (and continue to inspire) people around the world.
If we are to be a Discipling Community for All Ages, we need to attend to our words. We must use words of discipleship. When we speak of being people of faith, certain words must permeate, words such as: Prayer, Worship, Scripture, Service, Relationship, Generosity. These are the words of Discipleship that point our way to living more deeply in Christ.
We also need to shape our words around the notion of Community. When talking about what we want for our community, we need to replace the words, “me, my and I” with “us, our, and we.” We need to lift up words like “hospitality, welcome, outreach and return.”
When we speak, we need to attend to the different ways words function across the generations. When I grew up, I knew that “Thy” meant “Your.” This is not the case today. If you walk into a confirmation class, where they’ve been studying the catechism, and talking about the prayers of the church, you’ll find that Old English is not understood. Poll our young people and they will tell you that the word, “thy” means “my.” What, then do we do to the faith of our young peole when they hear and join us in praying “My will be done.” Of course, we don’t pray that, but that’s what’s heard and understood by those who never hear Old English, except in the Lord’s Prayer.
To be a Discipling Community of All Ages, we need to attend to our language and always advocate for words that propel us toward the vision of being this sort of Church. If we use words that do not communicate, we speak a different language, unheard and misunderstood. If we are not understood, walls go up and people are not welcomed. To be a part of the community, then, outsiders have to learn the “code” of the church.
I invite you to listen to me and to challenge me on words that you think people may not understand. I am so steeped in the language of the church, that I need your help to make sure that I am choosing words that are not “church-ese” but words that communicate the love of God, known in and through Jesus Christ.
I also challenge you to advocate for words that are fresh and relevant in the community around us. This takes me to concerns people have voiced around the which version of the Lord’s Prayer we should use. When we use the 1970 version of the Lord’s Prayer (what we still call the new version) we need to remember that it is an attempt to use plainer language, words that are understood by people of all ages.
The other version, which we learned, which I treasure for my own prayer life, is a wonderful prayer, but it is the language of 1611. The “old version,” the version steeped in Old English, is not the original version… This prayer was originally written in Greek. The Greek version is a translation of the Aramaic originally spoken by Jesus.
If we are most concerned about praying that prayer in the way Jesus taught us to pray, we should consider praying it in Aramaic, the Greek version or the English translation that is closest to the words Jesus originally spoke. If we choose to do the English translation that is closest to the words spoken by Jesus, then we have to go to the 1970 version. It is the most accurate translation of the original. It’s an excellent version for use in the community.
Words matter. Let’s work together and advocate that what we say we are, A Discipling Community for All Ages, becomes a reality. How we speak and the language we choose will help us be more who God calls us to be.