This is another thought I’ve had while sailing (the last one is here), but it probably actually applies to most activities or things which we learn. It’s about learning the right words.
Using the right words
When I first started to sail, the most helpful instructions would have sounded something like this: “When the big white thing at the front starts to move over when we turn, pull on that rope so it doesn’t flap around.” There is no technical language in that sentence at all – anyone could understand it, and anyone could follow the instruction.
But there’s only so long that can be useful. Having to explain everything in the most basic terms means we can never advance beyond a certain stage. It’s much more efficient to say, “When we tack and the jib moves over, pull on the sheet.” Only once we use that sort of language can we begin to do more complicated things and move on to more advanced aspects of sailing.
I’ve sailed in three consecutive years, and each year I’ve got better. I’ve also learned, and started using, more technical terms and language. The two things go together.
It’s probably true of anything. Football. Engineering. Dance. Politics. Literature. They all have their language associated with them. Even as we become engrossed in a book or a TV series, we start to learn the names of characters, places and events. As we become more familiar with a subject and it becomes part of our lives, we use more of the right words.
I think the same is true of being Christians. There are lots of ‘churchy’ or ‘Christian’ phrases or words out there: ‘grace’, ‘atonement’, ‘mercy’, ‘justice’. Then there are ones which might be even more unfamiliar: ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’, ‘hermeneutics’. I don’t think we all need to know all of them. That’s not the point.
The point is that as we grow up in our faiths, we should also be growing in the language of that faith. Of course there’s all sorts of lingo floating round that is just weird and can be exclusive, making us part of the club and other people on the outside (this video is both hilarious and true). But that doesn’t excuse us, I think. We need to avoid being exclusive, but we also need to embrace growing up in our faith.
We all care about certain things. The things we care about, we want to find out about. The things we find out about, we become more knowledgeable about. And as we become more knowledgeable, the language comes along with it. How many of us know more technical terms in our fields of work or hobbies than in our faith? I probably do, in lots of ways. I could tell you in more detail the storylines of Lord of the Rings, Lost or The West Wing than I could most of the Bible. I probably need to ask myself some questions about why that is.
Not the whole picture
Of course just knowing the language isn’t enough. Knowing all the sailing lingo (or even theory) doesn’t make you a good sailor. But it is part of it. I may be wrong, but I have sensed a certain unwillingness among a lot of Christians to become familiar with the language of their faith, almost an anti-intellectualism. ‘We don’t need that fancy mumbo jumbo.’
I don’t think we would apply that sort of criticism to other areas we are passionate about. So why not try to learn a little bit more Christianese?
Any thoughts? Am I right? Please tell me if you think I’m not!