12 May 2009

Church Language

I have a confession to make: one of the main reasons i started this blog was for the Church.

As a follower of God, and a member of this group called The Church that seeks to join together in seeking his Kingdom on earth, i find it disconcerting how much dead language thrives within the Church.

It is my belief that the Church should not be sequestered away from the rest of the world, sending emissaries to do the work of God, but not being active itself. The church should be getting its hands dirty, up to the elbows, working out the Kingdom in the world around.

More and more, the Church is doing so, except in the area of language.

The longer i'm involved in the Church, the more i run across language that has lost most, if not all, of its meaning, yet is still in regular use by the Church. The Church still uses language that has lost its heft, that no longer has weight. We tell people we believe in the one Truth, the true Love, and the great Redemption, then we give them empty language to talk about these things.

It's like the man who told his friend how special and important his computer was. He tells him how much work he can do on it, how necessary it is to his life, how much it has become part of his day-to-day activities. Then when he passes it over to his friend to see for himself, his friend discovers the computer that can seemingly do so much can no longer perform the basic tasks it once could. The hard drive is full. The processor has slowed down. The internet is dial-up. Even the fan is broken. The computer is simply overused.

That's not a condemnation against the computer for failing to live up to what it should be able to perform. It once could. But through simple use, the law of entropy is pushed into motion. Things fall apart. What once could speed you through a game of checkers in less than a minute takes longer than that to open a single web browser. Things fall apart as time moves on and they are used. That applies just as well to language in a kind of linguistic entropy.

If God is the center of life and regeneration and rejuvenation, then the Church should also be part of that. As such, our language should reflect our beliefs. Our language, the language we use to describe Life, should also be alive and full.

One of the great things about the Bible is how old the text is, even while retaining its relevance. The way it tears into the soul to reveal what it underneath transcends any era. The images used by the prophets and poets still hold their weight.

But there are sections that we have drained the use out of, in terms of imagery. Looking at age, not chronology, Job is the oldest book of the Bible. It was written before any others. Therefore, when the writer tells us Satan said that God had put 'a hedge around [Job] and his household,' it is one of the oldest phrases in Christianity (as well as Judaism).

So why does it persist today? It is not unusual to be praying over a friend who is about to take a journey, or a family going through hard times, and hear someone asking God to 'put a hedge of protection' around them. I understand the sentiment, but i think we, as the church, should retire this phrase. Or at least update it. We have things better than hedges now: they are called fences, or walls, even.

The idea that 'hedge of protection' represents--that of God's protection and safety during difficult or trying times--is a great one, but there are many other ways to say it. We shouldn't use the phrase, any phrase, just because it is a part of Scripture. Rather, we should use a phrase, any phrase, no matter it's origin, based on how it conveys the idea we want to express and how well it expresses it. A phrase older than Moses himself has lost much through linguistic entropy.

From here on, i will mostly be talking to the Church. There will be times when i switch back to something more universal, or even when what i talk about concerning the church is applicable elsewhere. But, for the most part, i want to see a change happen within the Church and how we use language. May it better reflect the life we have come to know by also being filled with life.

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