Monday, August 13, 2012

WORDS . . . . .

Grocery-store-aisle conversations are frequently informative!  Such was the situation recently when I met a fellow member of my congregation. A professional man, he had been very active in the days I served as an Interim Pastor. He began our conversation – “I know you haven’t seen me very often recently…” Since my attendance has also been very infrequent, we quickly moved to grant our mutual words of assurance that we – personally – were still o.k. We are probably members of what Bishop John Shelby Spong calls the Church Alumni Association [Into The Whirlwind, p22, 1983; St. Johann Press].

My friend mentioned that a daughter had just graduated from a prestigious mid-western University with a major in linguistics. He further related that she now considered herself an atheist! Altho both of us felt some sadness, we also affirmed our understanding of her current stance. Within our family of 7 children [6 married] and 17 grand-children, the situation would not be greatly different. [While they might not claim to be atheist, many would be members of that Church Alumni Association!]

My sadness at the loss of my friend’s daughter to the church was also amplified as I reflected on her field of study – linguistics.  A noun, linguistics is “The study of the nature, structure, and variation of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.” How critical such a person might be to an organization founded upon the “word become flesh”. We are an organization whose history is richly characterized by those who sought life’s meanings and answers through such studies. And, we are an organization critically in need of such persons willing to provide leadership in 2012 as we seek to relate that “Word” to modernity.

Think of the words used weekly in worship – words whose meanings in 2012 carry vastly different pictures than when they were first written:
·         I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
       o   Is an anthropomorphic God, especially singularly identified as masculine, appropriate for the 21st century?
    o   Is it helpful to continue describing our God as “Almighty”, when we more often see God as unable to change powers of destruction?
    o   Is it wise to continue to speak of a “heaven” and an “earth” [and, later, a “hell”] as if we believed in a tri-level universe? Now that we know there are multiple galaxies beyond ours, such language [at the least] is a major stumbling block for our youth.

There are similar challenges in the 2nd and 3rd articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the stories of miracles, the theological dicta predicated upon thoughts/beliefs/ideas we know are no longer valid, and much of our hymnody!

This is not to denigrate the value[s] of such. Think of how our ancestors – male and female – argued fervently to advance “words” that conveyed the Good News.

They knew that words were important!

Jesus also knew that how such words were understood was equally important – and open to change!
   Matthew 5:22-24: “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

It is not an easy challenge to engage in such study, debate, and dialogue. Indeed, it is scary because to do so asks one be willing to move forward trusting beyond what s/he can capture in their own minds, their own intellects, their own rationalities. It takes what Tillich referred to as a “leap of faith” – from a place we feel is secure [even though our minds inform us it is not] to an unknown place [one that our minds may not fathom, but which our belief can affirm is still with God!]

May we all be linguists – and let’s convene the Church Alumni Association!