I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. But I had to let it brew around in my head to find the right words.
The post was inspired by an article I read some time called The English (Language) Privilege. It’s a great article and really summarizes a great deal of what I’ve also experienced.
Here’s what I consider to be the most important paragraph:
Speaking English, considered by many to be the “world language” of the modern era (despite ranking third in number of native speakers behind Mandarin and Spanish), quite literally opens up a whole new world. It’s more than speaking to American tourists, more than communicating while traveling to English-speaking countries. And it’s more than an economic opportunity, albeit a major professional advantage with business conducted primarily in English across Europe (oh, and Asia and India and Africa and the Middle East). The ability to speak this “global language” is a ticket to the world only issued to one out of every seven people on the planet, including non-native English speakers. A ticket that definitely isn’t free. How easily I had taken it for granted.
Now, here’s where I’m going to take a detour on you and head to the exit marked “Church.”
Church has its own language too. A language that is unique and spoken by a limited number of people. The language can be divided into a few categories like. There’s the official language for things (for example – chasuble), doctrine (justification and sanctification come to mind), architecture (chancel is an example of this).
And then there is the unofficial language which speaks to the culture of a church. The unofficial language can be harder to understand at times. Sometimes the language appears negative on the surface (“That’s how we’ve always done it.”) but in reality, it expresses something else that is usually unspoken (the truth is we’re scared to try this new thing because the last time we tried something new it didn’t end well).
In seminary we learn several languages – Hebrew, Greek and some learn Latin among other ancient languages. But we also unofficially learn the Church language too. We learn what the terms mean, what the unofficial phrases are and ways to respond to them.
Church has its own language. And like so many languages, we often speak it as a second or third language – slowly becoming more familiar with the language and its nuances.
We know we are progressing when we can get the humor. You know you are understanding Church language when you can crack a joke involving God or church because you understand that God has a sense of humor and that church, while important, doesn’t have to be stuffy and stiff all the time.
And at the same time, those of us who are fluent in “Church” should keep in mind that many others are not. That doesn’t mean we should jump in right away and start correcting people for misspeaking, or using the wrong term. It does mean though that we can accompany people on their journey through church and through life and speak with people in a language that they understand and help them to understand this foreign language if they want to learn it. Church language can be fun and very useful at times. It can also be a cause of separation for those who don’t understand the terms. Just as with anything – its knowing when to use it and how.