“Denominationally, we have chosen to be at war with one another. We use our words as weapons…words central to our faith.” – Charlie Kaufman
“I’m looking for couples who express the fullness of God’s gifting in their lives to walk along side me in a new work.”
I cocked my head to the side and looked hard at him for a second. It’s taken me years to learn to say these next words….
“Tell me, exactly, what you mean by that…what does that look like in real life?”
He began again in simple words, but strung together in way that sounded more like poetry than the mathematics I was looking for, and I had to stop him.
“I’m not sure you’re speaking a language that I understand.”
It was his turn to cock his head and look at me quizzically. We had been serving together in ministry for years, and, I think, misunderstanding each other for about that long. I watched as that realization broke like dawn over his face.
“I need some couples who are mature and secure enough in their faith to pray with me, to serve in church with me and, most of all, to tell me when I don’t make sense.”
This conversation got me thinking…as a person who began her religious education as a practitioner of Wicca, converted to Christianity and practiced as a Southern Baptist, and now finds herself as an ordained minister in a non-denominational church plant while working on staff at a Lutheran (liturgical) church- I have a fairly ecumenical vocabulary. But I have noticed that we, the people of the church, often use the same words to mean vastly different things…or perhaps at times incrementally different things…and either way we use those differences to draw a line in the sand and create a deep sense of disunity.
Some of my most frustrating conversations find their source in these misunderstood words. I generally have no problem asking about words I have never heard before. This is a good thing- my work in the Lutheran church has forced me to rub up against a whole new Christian vocabulary, but I do find myself wondering if the words my friends, pastors and other Christians are using mean what I think they mean.
Surely, I am not the only one…so I asked my Facebook community to share with me words they found were commonly misunderstood, particularly across denominations. I found the replies very interesting. I guess I was fairly certain we would misunderstand the larger theological concepts between denominations (and we do, largely)…but the words folks struggled with the most were words like:
Words formative to our identity as Christian. Words that are central to our religion as a whole….these are the words that, by and large, Christians are unsure of in a general ecumenical context. Or, worse yet, we think we are all speaking the same language, but in reality have very different understandings of the these words that we interact with every day as Christians.
Turns out…we are all speaking in tongues…and most of us don’t even realize it…
Perhaps what we need is more folks with the gift of interpreting….
Or religious dictionaries that strictly define these words…
Or better yet, lots of coffee and tea and open discussions about faith, belief and the foundations that form our traditions…
That’s scary business and requires a disciplined insight into your own language and the ability to step into the fire of the question, “what does this word mean to me?”
It’s time though…
to stop drawing lines in the sand and start pulling chairs up to the table…