There’s a brilliantly written scene in Blackadder Goes Forth, where to prove his insanity, and therefore ensure his safety, Blackadder puts his underwear on his head, pushes a pencil up each nostril and responds to every question with the word “Wibble”.
At the end of the episode, inevitably, he is sent to his death, like so many others during the war, in a futile attack that was insane in it’s conception and execution.
Because the leadership didn’t learn to listen and actually hear the reports coming back from their troops, or they just plain didn’t understand the messages.
A more serious movie, Gallipoli, had a young Mel Gibson in his pre-meltdown youth as a trench runner carrying a message to halt the attack back to his commanding officer – arriving seconds too late to save the lives of hundreds of young men from being needlessly slaughtered.
Again, miscommunication was the cause.
So what does this have to do with Christianity?
Consider the language we use in churches. Words like “Gospel, evangelise, advance, retreat, home-group, neighbour, idol” and a host of others flood the pews (there’s another) with images of starched collars and grim-faced patriarchs screaming “You’re all going to Hell, Directly to Hell. Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” (Thanks Tony Campolo at Greenbelt 1990 for that phrase!) Campolo said he had imagined God as a “transcendental Shylock demanding His pound of Flesh” from us (Tony Campolo “The Kingdom of God is a Party”, Greenbelt 1990). Let’s be honest, most of us see that image portrayed in the news. Battles described as being fought between “christians” and “muslims” in Africa are common in the news here in Cape Town, with unimaginable atrocities committed by both sides. Churches barricaded closed with the congregations inside and then burned down like a scene from “The Patriot” (I seem to be on a Mel Gibson theme today) or Muslims being machine-gunned down as they approach their mosque by “christians” are so common they barely raise an eyebrow here. It’s just something that happens.
The language used is “christianese” to justify these actions inspired by the Genghis Khan Evangelical Method. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend”, although I can’t give a reference to time and date, and I’m assuming he didn’t manage with John Wilkes Booth, but he was right. Once a man is a friend you can disagree, but he isn’t an enemy an more – simply a friend with a different viewpoint.
I struggle with my temper. I have a tendency towards violence if I’m honest, and recently it manifested in a very ugly way. I’m repentant, obviously. It’s ten years or more since I exploded like that, but it happened. And my wife caught the fallout. And the blast-wave.
But here’s my issue. As a Christian I know what “repent” means. But we have so many terms that leave non-Christians baffled. Even some of those who are Christians are confused by the terms. I don’t know if I’m a “conservative”, “liberal”, “post-modern” or a plethora of other terms used to describe “brands” of Christianity as we have them today. If I’m confused as a Christian writer who’s been a Christian for well over 20 years, how much more confused must someone new to the Faith be?
The language has become exclusive. And it has been for centuries.
In the dark and middle ages the church kept latin as the language of the scripture, resulting in people being guilty of heresy they didn’t even understand. Today we use terminology that excludes anyone outside the denomination. Some words have so many different meanings it’s simply frightening, and it drives people away from the Church.
That’s the point.
This exclusivity can only come from one place. It pushes people away from God. It drives a wedge between christians and the world that makes a chasm that seems uncrossable. The simple language of Love and Hope and Faith that Jesus taught has been corrupted and twisted into a legalistic minefield that the Pharisees would be proud of, and a language concocted that would baffle a skilled linguist to unravel.
It can only be the work of a power seeking to keep people from meeting Jesus and finding Salvation. (oops, there’s another confusing word).
What is Salvation?
It’s simple: a concept so straightforward that it had to be undermined, twisted and demonstrated to be irrelevant to life on this plain of existence in order to keep mankind from realising their innate fallibility, frailty and need for strength beyond themselves.
Salvation = Relationship
Every “Christian” word was originally used to simplify and make the Good News of Jesus – that we can be returned to a relationship with God that we all are seeking – easier to grasp. Jesus didn’t talk about nuclear physics and particle accelerators. The people were shepherds, widows, fishermen and prostitutes. He used terms they understood. We think of a shepherd as some guy sitting in a field with a border collie in a land-rover. If we look back, we think of a guy standing in a field with a long stick with a bent end – a “crook” – with the collie and everything else. But in Jesus’ day the shepherd was the guy out in the mountains, armed with a sling who fought lions, wolves and bears. Jesus didn’t have a land-rover.
We need to find a new way of expressing Christianity that retains the power of the message, and keeps it accessible.
I don’t pretend to know what that language is in full, but I find when I am in a situation where someone asks me about my faith – which thankfully happens quite frequently these days – I can rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the words to tell the person I’m talking to that my Faith is relevant to today, essential to my daily life, defines who I am and what I do, and most importantly is something that will allow me to reach beyond anything I could dream of doing in my own strength – and see it happen.
So this lent let’s find a way to make our language relevant and welcoming.
Just like Jesus.