October 22, 2020

To Be Well-Spoken


 Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

• Jeremiah 23:29, NRSV

• • •

One of my personal goals in life is to be well-spoken.

I am tired of “lingo.”

I reject group-imposed boundaries around how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m considering. I want to find a way to say it so that it grabs, sticks, bites, hurts, heals. First, in my own heart. Then, if anyone should listen, in theirs.

Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.

Bounded, insider language is a Christian problem.

Words create worlds. We live in those worlds and they define us. Someone using different words doesn’t fit in our world. We can’t listen to them. We find it hard to take in their foreign phrases, to translate them into something we can grasp. We summon the auto-immune response and reject them out of concern for safety. We watch, we listen to, we read those whose language fits the preconceived notion. We deem them “safe.” They will not disturb our world.

In this world, we get together day after day, week after week, year after year, and say the same damn things to each other! Imaginations atrophy as we sit there safe, sipping our iced tea.

These gated worlds!

I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!

A coworker recently gave me information about a new patient and his family. Baptists, of the independent, fundamental variety. King James Only. White shirt, dark tie. Nothing but the blood Baptists. Straight as an arrow. Locked in a narrow world.

“I can speak that language, ” I said.

I made the visit. I asked the standard introductory questions, using their terms. I inquired. I listened. I showed respect. They allowed me to enter their world because I could verify the passcode. I knew the secret handshake.

bleeding-heartBut once inside, the conversation shifted. I sat in silence where one might have expected a platitude. Then I spoke a single turn of phrase that caught them off guard. Tears welled up. For a brief moment, a slice of raw humanity appeared through a crack in the gate. Their pain bled out a little. I’d like to think a bit of healing took place.

In that moment, no shibboleth was spoken. No Christianese. No lingo. Just a human heart bleeding and a wordless moan.

Many of us are not ready for that. I wasn’t, not for years. Even today, there are times when the reality is too sharp, too uncomfortable, and I blurt out some cliché. And my mouth tastes like dust.

The authors and speakers and friends I love rarely if ever fall into this trap. I never know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to say it. They speak epiphanies. They build metaphorical worlds that carry me away and I am along for the ride: rising and falling on an open sea inhaling sharp salt air one moment, feet sinking into a spongy forest floor the next. It’s fairies and rabbit holes, wardrobes and windswept plains, ball yards and small town backyards, hobbits and desert saints and boarding school wizards, slums and palaces and log cabins and creaky old Victorian mansions.

But it’s not just the pictures they paint, the metaphorical worlds they create, it’s the medicine they give: words fitly spoken. Words that turn my head, that cause my jaw to drop. Words that make me stop and turn around. That make me shiver. That wrap me in a warm sherpa throw. That make my heart bleed ’til it’s whole again.

Not the same old lingo. Not tired trade language. If ever they use such words, they do so only as a foil for that which is clearly genuine.

Don’t let me settle for it, Lord. Put fire and hammers and balm and blankets in my mouth. Heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the brokenhearted. Make the story real and build a new world.

What a gift is language!

Oh, to be well-spoken!


  1. I think you are, Mike. I wish I was half as well-spoken as you.

    There are some good hammer words and balm words in this, the latest from Mark Anderson:


    I think you’ll see what I mean. He too, has a gift for it.

  2. I am reminded of how adept Michael Spencer was with words fitly spoken.

  3. If you, Chaplain Mike, are not well-spoken, there is no hope for the rest of us!

  4. And this is why we need fiction. Not the Karen Kingsbury/Janette Oke fiction that reinforces stereotypical coded language, but fictional fiction.

    In my younger days I devoured pulp science fiction until I found out that many writers were hacks churning out the same thing every novel just dressed in new clothes. But then there was Ray Bradbury who wrote lyric poetry in the form of prose. “The Sound of Summer Running” was buried in a sci-fi anthology but was about the feeling, perfectly captured, of a teen age boy putting on a new pair of tennis shoes. Glorious words because they transported you to a world of emotion that echoed the longings of the soul.

    As I am now slowly turning into an old man, I find the works of Neil Gaimann delicious and delightful. I may not savor every story he tells, but there are times when listening to him read his own work on CD (the BEST way to consume his work, in my opinion) that I have to hit the rewind button and listen to the glorious turn of phrase over again. And this happens often. His books are like slipping on a well-worn comfortable robe, sitting by the fire with hot mulled cider or herbal tea, and nestling snug while seeing human nature in some of its most gory manifestations.

    Odd how, other than Alistar Begg or Ravi Zacharias, I don’t find many on the radio that I wish I could rewind and hear them repeat what they just said. Maybe it’s the accent. More likely, it is, as you say, the lack of jargon, lingo, Christianese that seems to permeate what passes for religious communication everywhere else today.

    Thanks so much for saying this today and for saying it well, as Steve says, much in the legacy of Michael Spencer.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And this is why we need fiction. Not the Karen Kingsbury/Janette Oke fiction that reinforces stereotypical coded language, but fictional fiction.

      I assume Karen Kingsbury/Janette Oke are two Conventional Christianese authors?

      In my younger days I devoured pulp science fiction until I found out that many writers were hacks churning out the same thing every novel just dressed in new clothes.

      Lit SF since 1967, from pulp to classics. With me it was the now-forgotten Cordwainer Smith (acknowledged as a Christian SF writer by everyone except Christians — go fig) instead of Ray Bradbury, and Silverberg and Vance weren’t far behind. Ah, the days when I could browse Sixties and Seventies back issues of Analog or Galaxy in used bookstores…

      “Same thing every novel just dressed in new clothes” reminds me of when I got tired of 1000-page series components ending with “To Be Continued” and ended up reduced to Andre Norton juveniles as old as I am just to have something I could finish in one sitting. One thing about Norton: You don’t notice she has only one or two stories repeated over and over until you have to read a lot of them in quick succession.

  5. Sometimes NO words are better than WRONG words. The friends in Job were batting 1000 until they opened their mouths.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And that should tell you something.

      I wonder if Job was written to show how those who have never been there are the quickest to tell you (who are in the middle of it) exactly what you SHOULD be doing.

  6. That Other Jean says

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike! Words are wonderful, powerful things, able to create worlds and pierce hearts. To speak–or write– in jargon, lingo, and cliche is to tame them, denature them, and render them useless.

  7. It takes guts to speak hammer-blow words. Look what they did to the Prophets. They won’t physically kill you. But they will try with their words.

    But it must be done. By somebody.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > But it must be done. By somebody.

      There seems to be no shortage of people queued up volunteering for that job.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Hundreds of Brother Jedds, screaming into a hundred megaphones on a hundred street corners.

        With more wannabes lined up behind them.

        • “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

        • I have wondered at responding to you. I have seen even as I do I get brought into that which I don’t want. I am sure anything I might say might have no effect. Your farts aren’t rainbows but more like bait or a snare.
          I wonder what Brother Jedd has anything to do with you or the man in Dallas has anything to do with you. I wonder what good things you might have told me how the church calendar works for you. How do these cheap words about a man with a bullhorn help you or that matter me. Is it some kind of party you come to to see who will respond. A game. Even cheap words have costs. Not so much to the receiver as you think but to the deliverer. if I was to show yesterday’s comment to the young men I know who don’t know him you would just reinforce why they would never want to. Yet you complain about the man with a bull horn. To most of them his yelling about hell would cause them to think after they had stopped laughing.

          How is it we seem to know what God is up too in all our religiousness. The very thing you come against becomes the offense. Cheap words, no some words cut deep and are thrown out without careful thought of what they are really saying. The things of this world are fading away. Carefully examine what are the things of this world. I am sure of one thing though.

          • I wonder what Brother Jedd has anything to do with you or the man in Dallas has anything to do with you.

            I can’t speak for HUG, but I’ve personally had to listen to Brother Jed for several years on my college campus, had to respond to his comments to others, read one of his books and had to thoroughly debunk it…and probably more I’ve forgotten.

            Rest assured, he’s not doing the Lord’s work in the slightest.

          • A key thing to realize: not everyone who says “Lord Lord” is actually serving the Lord. We ARE called to judge and discern others. We do not walk through this Christian life with love filters on refusing to judge them for they “may be” serving the Lord. We are to be wise, practice discernment, and stay away from those who clearly aren’t doing the same.

            Here’s an example. I just sent an email for a local rental listing for a house. The response back I got read like an email chain letter, but this said it was from a Nigerian pastor who had to leave the country all of a sudden for missions work, and can’t give a tour or keys or anything until we’d received a $500 downpayment and a bunch of other information.

            Ok, so should I just accept that? I want to be a blessing for others right? Maybe I should send him a faith deposit.

            Or I do some research. Turns out, the house is not registered to him. The house is still a homestead, not a rental. Also, his ministry name/address is all bunk.

            But he’s a pastor wanting to bless others, he’s a missionary, says all the right things, right?


          • Faulty O-Ring says

            (Writes the poster whose normal mode of communication is bad poetry)

          • The one thing I was sure of Hug

      • I’m not so sure it takes guts to scream through a megaphone at people you do not know.

        But it does take guts to thoughtfully and compassionately tell people that you know and love that their lives are not progressing…but are being brought to an end by a just God. (and then speak of the great stumbling block, Jesus)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Might not take much guts for the Righteous to scream through a megaphone at the Unrighteous, but it sure is popular. I think the key property is Righteousness screaming and wagging its finger at Those Unrighteous from a position of safety. (You don’t see them doing this in North Korea or ISIS/ISIL’s Global Caliphate, even though those regimes have much Unrighteousness…)

          You get a secular version of this, too, except the wagging-finger lectures of The Righteous (which you are NOT) come with twelve-syllable words of psychobabble. (You even see secular version of John Piper and Pat Robertson foot-in-mouth lectures, except in that context it’s THE PLAAANET instead of GAWD who is offended by our SINS and doing the Punishing.)

        • Hi Steve, what are some “hammer-blow words? Why must they be spoken? I have a real temper, VFor me, if I were to say hammer blow words it would be in anger. I feel better when I don’t go that way. I am not advocating dishonesty, just reflection on WHY One would want to utter these words whatever they are. I don’t really know the personal lives of others, but prayer is the most Christ-like help I would think. If The Holy Spirit works in us to approach someone and “admonish or advise them of their sin, that is different. “Truth in Love,” that doesn’t sound like hammer words.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > I’m not so sure it takes guts to scream through a megaphone at people you do not know.

          No, but it does require the defect of character that you just do not care at all how those people feel about you. It takes no guts because in the 21st century west you have the civic police force obligated to defend you against the natural consequences of your actions.

          > But it does take guts to thoughtfully and compassionately tell people that you know and
          > love that their lives are not progressing…but are being brought to an end by a just God.
          > (and then speak of the great stumbling block, Jesus)

          Earlier in my life I would have heartily agreed with this statement. I no longer do. If that is your message I believe they will rightly reject it.

          • it does require the defect of character that you just do not care at all how those people feel about you

            I’m borrowing this. It’s apt.

            Earlier in my life I would have heartily agreed with this statement. I no longer do.

            Amen. It doesn’t take guts to tell someone they are going to hell. It takes a lack of compassion and love. But you gotta convince them of the law first before the gospel, right? Just walk them through it…ever steal? ever lust? ever think of murder? the bible says…and jesus says…and we can save you from that through this prayer and invitation to church.

            I don’t believe any of that bs anymore. Don’t know what that says about my theology or salvation or whatever. it’s toxic. there may be some truth there, but that whole…pattern…or method of evangelism…it’s toxic. i won’t have any part of it.

            how about love god and love others instead.

          • It’s better to go right to grace, never mind law. People carry enough law inside themselves to last several lifetimes. They consume themselves with law. Nobody needs, or can, be convinced of anything rooted in fear; fear is a hall of mirrors in which one image of frightful image begets yet another, ad infinitum. Go right to grace, and remember that grace does not do a lot of talking.

        • Blogs can be quite potent digital bullhorns.

          • As this stream of comments can attest.

          • Well, I wasn’t so much picking on ALL the comments in this particular as making an overall observation.

            I associate bullhorn guy with a simplistic message that’s designed to manipulate thru fear.
            What’s communicated is that the most fundamental aspect of reality is God’s anger and the goal of existence is to escape that anger. This is not the gospel. And this message can be just as effectively promoted over blogs.

          • Okay, Mike H. I understand.

            And yes…fear is the typical bullhorn message. Of course, that message has it’s place (John the Baptist was semi-bullhorn “fear”), but that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ primary message, nor the emotion He wants to instill in us. In fact, if anything, Jesus is “anti-fear.”

  8. Words to me are expensive. They cost a lot. Some are hurtful like the bullets from the gun you can’t call back. Only left with quick apology which never seems to come easily. Some are the ones I have to honor as I have given my word. The cost of working long hours and finishing things I wish I had never started. I think I Will list them in the I will department. I look at my Father’s I will’s and what that cost Him.

    Expensive in what has been purchased also. I think I might be worth a lot for someone like that to hang there for me. It is then I know love. I want to be like that. Someone that can mirror that way. It is hard for me given what is my backpack some of which was there and some of which I added all on my own. The thing I am finding is that those things which were of no use are being replaced by that which is forever as I fall deeper in love.

    Words move my soul and they act on me. Sometimes what I read surely says it all. If I give a testimony I want it to be true because it is His story with me. Inside that story there is every kind of feeling I could ever have and then more because he went beyond that with me. Do you know what I mean when I say I love Him so.

    You gave me the last verse today for what I started yesterday. It might be cliche but I have no other way to say it. God bless you.

    Where I seek to be and not
    Glorious sensibilities
    Expanding is what I got
    Increasing in ability

    The place of rest in the walk
    Paradoxically I am found
    How was it I was ever lost
    Freely given forever bound

    Life is to move the dust
    The breathe to my own soul
    This love with You a must
    Inside this makes me whole

    Given, so in thanks I am
    Grateful heart with fire burns
    I realize I am just a man
    Eyes behold within the turn

    The look now eye to eye
    How precious is what I know
    Love becomes the reason why
    Accompanied wherever I go

    Words wrapped in notions more
    Acts of love are both said and done
    Your voice like the ocean’s roar
    In silence finding love has won

    • w, in your third verse the second line reads “The breathe to my own soul”. Is that intended to be “breathe” or “breath”? I ask this not to nit pick but because it makes a difference how it would be read and understood. I hear your poems more as songs or even hymns. Would prefer them in church to many of the older hymns that served their purpose as teaching doctrine in an earlier time, but that’s just me. Those old Lutherans would probably be scratching their heads and looking at one another in complete puzzlement. Thanks for posting them here.

      • Yes, Sorry it’s breath but I would be interested in why you thought about breathe and how that would apply. You have to remember I only listen a lot and most of this poem was written line for line as I was typing it out as words were being given to me one at a time. I know that is a run on sentence but I never was one for rules. So the message being delivered was one I was recieving not so much delivering. The last four lines came out after reading the post. The first line came immediately. This is how most of my writing goes and that is why I don’t consider it mine. I hear in rhyme and I don’t know why but it is always this way.

        Yeah I know someone out there will say it isn’t that good. Heard that before. Oh it wasn’t me it was God. I really don’t care. The things of this world will roll up like a scroll someday and the life I have been given isn’t really mine but I do cherish it and the one who gave it to me which is the choice I have been given. Then we go back to theology which really isn’t such a big deal when you’re in love. How was it Paul described love. Ahhh there it is and that’s how it is showered over us which includes me.

        I do want to get with you Charles. I will email you. I have been looking and didn’t know you a wordsmith.
        I am nervous and don’t know what that is just yet…

        • “Breathe” would have been a stretch, which is why I asked. If so, it would probably have been used as would “breathing”, still a stretch, not an impossibility. I proof for someone else who receives words from God. I hesitate to say I copy edit, which is what it really is like, except you don’t mess with God’s words, while at the same time realizing that the thoughts get filtered thru particular human processes that may involve strange quirks and peculiarities and misthinking, nevermind fingers that can fumble along with spelling and grammar abilities that aren’t perfect. It gives a lot of insight into how some of the textual problems of Scripture might have come about. Calls for tightrope balance sometimes in figuring what needs changing and what needs to stand. The person writing gets the final say.

          Yes, email is good. There are many online here who would quibble or scoff at putting me and “wordsmith” into the same sentence. There are people here where I have moved who don’t know what the word means and in any case I have gotten more business sharpening knives than words, and not a lot of either. “Nervous” I would guess means something like don’t get ahead of yourself. I’m just working my way thru like you and most everyone else who hangs out here. Long way to go.

  9. senecagriggs yahoo says

    Or comments “fitly” written.
    On some other “christian” blogs I follow, EVERY church/organization commenters diagree with is a CULT.

    Now-a-days, the word CULT is so loosely thrown around in “christian” circles it has lost all meaning, at least to me.
    I do appreciate comments “fitley” written. Those I read carefully.

  10. Thanks CM, for ministering that way to the Baptists and saying this to me this morning.

  11. Well said!

  12. Chaplain Mike said:

    Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.

    I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!

    Franz Kafka said:

    If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.

    • I’m copying and posting that Kafka quotation, Ted! What an indictment of both readers and writers.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And those “words that shatter” can come from the most unexpected sources. The “ice-axe” of a book in my recent experience was actually a classic of My Little Pony fanfiction, “Past Sins” by Pen Stroke, a “Reluctant Antichrist” story written to bring Redemption to the ponies’ Antichrist figure. It connected with me on a deep emotional level, the first time in many years.

      I’d been primed for “Past Sins” by Pen Stroke’s previous fanfic “Creeping Darkness”, a crossover with the computer horror game “Alan Wake” which was rich with imagery — not only horror imagery, but two Christian echoes: A “Harrowing of Hell” where the heroine descends into The Dark Place (itself a crushing void archetype of Hell) to set a captive free, and the climax where a god-figure offers up her immortality, her godhood, even her life to resurrect a beloved mortal.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Let he who has eyes to see, see;
        Let he who has eyes to hear, hear.

      • > the ponies’ Antichrist figure

        Who is that? Nightmare Moon, Trixie, that Chinese dragon chimera with John DeLancie’s voice, someone else from a newer season…?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Nightmare Moon. The Mare in the Moon whose return will end the world in Night Eternal.

          (Background for non-Bronies: NMM was dealt with — restored to her former self as Princess Luna (goddess of the Moon in all but title) — in the series opener. “Past Sins” starts between one and three years later, with a NMM cult attempting to bring her back through a major magical working, creating a new body for the Night Mare. Interrupted in mid-casting, it results in a filly — equivalent of a six-year-old — without the Nightmare spirit within. This filly is found and effectively adopted by a certain unicorn, who raises her for around six months. And after four to six months of living the life of a regular filly, the cult finds her and finishes their working….)

    • I think I mentioned somewhere I’ve been having problems reading lately. Some of it is attention focus, some of it is just time and stress…I used to be a book a week person, but now…

      I can trace this back to one book that broke me last year. Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I tried reading this book for the first time for a month and a half, and couldn’t get into it (or his writing style). I decided to quit trying. And ever since then, fiction books have been a struggle.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > I used to be a book a week person, but now…

        I can commiserate with a bit of this.

        So often now I start reading a book…. and… I’ve read this before. I just don’t care about reading it again. I know where it is going to go [or at least I believe I do]. Sometimes I stick it out, occasionally I am surprised, but not often. So many texts have just started to smell either droll, or worse, like mere propaganda.

      • senecagriggs yahoo says

        StuartB, that’s a little troubling to say the least. I wish I knew more of the backdrop.

  13. Making changes in church environments — particularly crossing denominational or even institutional lines — has made me aware of the extent to which accepted language habits and vocabularies define the various church worlds, identifying where their orbits cross and where they diverge.
    About 10 years ago, I left the institutional church for a period of several years, taking part in very simple, mostly home-based gatherings where their were really no boundaries set on what could and could not be talked about or how it could be said.
    For the past two years, however, I have found myself back in an institutional church of the SB variety — mainly because my aged mother likes it and vision problems make it dangerous for her to drive. So I go with her to church on Sunday mornings and try to fit in and make the best of it. There are good people there, and they have some really good teachers and Bible classes. But I still can’t help but feel like I’m going around with a straight jacket on my tongue. And whenever I let some word or phrase or idea outside the pre-approved list slip past my teeth, an uncomfortable silence almost always follows — at which point some kind soul usually rescues me by either changing the subject or translating what I said into more comfortable terms.
    I’m beginning to suspect that these good Christian folk have made some kind of behind-the-scenes agreement to tolerate my strangeness.
    And maybe that’s one way these boundaries we place around words and ideas can be broken down or expanded — when groups of people with well-established boundaries start tolerating nonconformists like me out of love.

    • “I’m beginning to suspect that these good Christian folk have made some kind of behind-the-scenes agreement to tolerate my strangeness.” I love this line. It’s kind of what we’re supposed to do in the Body of Christ … tolerate each other’s strangenesses. And we are all very strange if you think about it. We try to make ourselves feel less so by congregating in groups where we share things in common. Personally, the older I get, the more I enjoy other people’s strangeness. It’s what makes them interesting. Sometimes, I wish I had the guts to be more strange because I think I am a boring person … to others, to myself and to God.

      To Mike, thank you for this discussion. It is always a challenge to find fresh expression, whether in writing, in art, in innovation, in loving, in worship or any endeavor. Reaching for such expression puts us at risk of being thought strange, but the reach is usually the only way we touch others deeply and the only way we can more fully reflect the image of our Maker in all his otherness.

  14. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

    As if to demonstrate your point I saw the above verse first and began to switch off. I have seen it used as an excuse to rain down judgement and pronouncements.

    As I read once and then twice your message exploded inside me. We DO live in gated communities. And the insider language is a Christian problem.

    Your short article reminds me that I need to learn to listen, and maybe even respond. But certainly not react.


  15. David Cornwell says

    Stephen King believes in the power of words and of their intended meaning. Anyone interested in writing or being “well-spoken” should read his “On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft.” He says “’This business of meaning is a very big deal’. If you doubt it, think of all the times you’ve heard someone say ‘I just can’t describe it’ or ‘That isn’t what I mean’.”

    Words have the power to both create and to destroy worlds. The words of Hitler created one of death and horror, of Anti-Christ and the Lie. But out of it was born the Barmen Declaration which helped uncover the lies of Nazi theology, and become a word of truth.

    Barth believed in the sacramental power of words, especially the word of preaching. Bishop William H. Willimon wrote a book called “Conversations with Barth on Preaching” in which he lays out anew what it means to preach the Word. It is a serious and holy calling, never to be taken lightly, nor to be a tool for winning popularity contests. In it the preacher holds the power of life and death. This is why I believe the right to ordain resides in the Church. It is not a matter for individuals to decide, but rests in tradition. One speaks from the pulpit because of holy orders conferred by the Church.

    In the one of our translations we read “And the words of my mouth shall be such as may please.”

  16. Thanks Chaplain Mike, we need this desperately.

  17. Many of us here in North America just came thru a fairly intense mini-winter out of season with Thanksgiving still ahead as the unofficial kick off for normal winter. Today out it could be March where I am with almost all of the snow melted. Topsy turvy in both weather and the flow of thought. I somehow feel as we made some kind of important step or shift over the past week.

    The sound of the Man With a Bullhorn still echoes in these pages and in our minds, some of us at least. How do we deal with disturbance? Is disturbance always bad? The answer to that does not seem simple. The key would seem to be not to meet disturbance with more disturbance. I have been reminded that I’m not very good at that yet. I am too easily disturbed out of Center to the place where ego takes over. CM’s story of the fundamentalist Baptists sets a high bar.

    In all this I continue to regard Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture as required reading for anyone trying to sort out the way different Christians interpret words and teaching differently. It doesn’t resolve the differences, merely demonstrates that they are there as a hard reality seen by a sociologist looking from the outside. It isn’t going away anytime soon.

    It seems to me that acknowledging the differences as valid, each in its own perspective, is a vital first step, and one that so many Christians are unwilling or unable to do. In my view the solution to this lies in new language to speak of matters that have ossified in the religious speak of previous generations. I believe that this present generation may be the one to break thru, that this may be a manifestation of that which religious speak calls the Second Coming.

    Lot of baggage to sluff off. Behold Chaplain Mike riding the crest with great skill and showing it can be done. Surf’s up!

  18. I wrote this poem nearly 30 years ago:

    …………………………….The Writer

    ………………..With words alone, he paints
    ………………..from the palette of his mind,
    …………………….hues and tints
    ………………..until he sees the exact shade
    ………………..he wants.

    ………………..With words alone, she chips away
    ………………..rough edges of meaning,
    …………………………the solid rock
    ………………..until the long-sought shape

    ………………..With words alone, she pins and drapes
    ………………..original ideas
    ………………..over the naked manikin page,
    …………………….tucking in a bit of material
    ………………..snipping off
    ………………..a dangling thread
    ………………..dropping thoughts
    ………………..as easily as hemlines.

    ………………..With words alone, he composes
    ………………..irresistible music,
    …………………….seducing the ear,
    …………………….searching for a particular chord,
    ………………..the one right sound his words must make
    ………………..for echoes
    …………………….to linger.

  19. Wow. Bless you, Mike.

  20. At one time I had hoped to be a poet, and even wrote a handful of reasonably estimable poems. I’m afraid they’re gone, having been destroyed by me in one of my fits of destructive self-erasure,when I was like an animal chewing off its own leg to escape a trap. Naturally, I did not escape the trap, though I did sever an appendage or two.

    At the point where I gave up the hope of being a poet, I also gave up the hope of becoming well-spoken. It seems beyond me, at this point. Water under the bridge. My new vocation has been to learn the language of silence and humility, and that’s taking some doing. I haven’t been successful at that either, but it’s something I know I can do.

    I believe that when I finally become conversant in the language of silence, I will also find the few words that I need to live and love well. I will finally know the rudiments of language, without force or intense effort, and then perhaps I will have become well-spoken despite myself.

    “Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing…”

    • Robert, may I recommend the book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault. It treats the very old tradition that silence is the first language of God. She is an Episcopal priest, tho I don’t think that affects her understanding a lot one way or another. She approaches the subject as a practitioner and almost a technician as to how to achieve results. I find this book more helpful on this subject than any other I have run across, and I find the subject to be at the center of what God’s Spirit is bringing about today.

      I know that you have had some awful experiences with meditative practices, and for that I am sorry. Contemplative prayer is linked with meditation, but is not the same thing. If you continue to explore the concept of silence, I hope you give the book a try. Not the kind of book you can digest completely at first reading, but understandable for all that.

      • I’m familiar with Bourgeault’s name, though I’ve not read the book you mention. Thank you for the recommendation, Charles. And thanks for your good wishes and support. The grace of God must surely transcend, and be far ahead of, the language of theology, and our disagreements; where would we be without that grace?

  21. I’ve never been conversant in Christianese. It’s an alien language. I haven’t spent a significant time in the subculture where it’s coin.

    Sometimes I’ve tried to speak a little of it with people for whom it had become a primary language, but it’s always felt awkward and empty. My impression is that when people speak this peculiar language to each other, they’re not really communicating, but following scripts that minimize their personal contribution to communication to a bare minimum. It seems like they want to disappear behind words that are communication in appearance only, to hide and take shelter behind them; but, lacking any part of themselves, such a tongue cannot be a living language, and can offer only false comforts. It’s make-believe.

  22. I have got into trouble asking on a Southern Baptist blog about the use of the term ‘the gospel’ . . . having noticed the prevalence of its use, but in different contexts, and at times seemingly emphasizing different points of theology . . .

    my questions were not well-received, and I was called ‘ingenious’, and banned from a blog, so I must have said the wrong thing to the wrong blog administrator . . .

    is it possible that Christian ‘catch phrases’ are used because it’s easier than trying to find the right word(s) to explain one’s meaning? Or is it because an exploration of the meaning brings the faith community into some disagreement within itself as to specifics, especially in a situation where the ‘autonomy’ of each congregation is celebrated?

    What I have learned is that these ‘Christianese catch phrases’ are somehow NEEDED. And treasured. Which helps keep the peace when you realize that the in-group all ‘assume’ what each other means by that phrase, even though if they had to spell it out, they might not come up with the same parameters of meaning for the term. So phrases are used, and time is saved, and everybody’s happy . . . until someone like me comes along asking detailed questions, and wondering about apparent inconsistencies, and making everyone uncomfortable in the process. Oh well. Lessons learned. Diversity is kept neatly in its place under the protective shell of Christianese in some circles.

    • Christiane, you have here pretty much summed up the book I mentioned above, The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. As I remember, he didn’t explore the use of the term “Gospel”, maybe because it was too explosive, maybe because his own take on the word was too close to necessary for comfort. I remember discussions here at iMonk concerning the meaning of “Gospel”. Sparks flew and nothing was resolved. It was like everyone agreed to stop talking about it so they could continue using the word with their own meaning. It’s a peculiar phenomena. Jesus didn’t seem to have any problem with the word or what it meant but it went downhill from there.

  23. Chaplain Mike,

    What was your single turn of phrase that caught them off guard?