This London Olympic coverage of course includes some joking about how the English language across the pond does not match what Americans call English. Having lived in Northern Ireland, I can attest to these differences. I remember on my first or second day going into a restaurant to eat. I was confused about the layout and went and talked to a waitress. I could not understand a word she said to me, so frustrated, I just left. Not my usual way of dealing with someone speaking a different language, but we were both speaking English. I acclimated quite quickly and fully, as most people thought I was from south of the border, The Republic of Ireland. There were certainly other instances of miscommunications. My flat mate was from Newcastle, and honestly many of the Irish had a hard time understanding her accent as well. I remember one night about 6 pm she asked, “Would you like some tea?” and I said “no” thinking to myself I want something to eat. About 15 minutes later I went into the kitchen to see she was preparing dinner. I asked if I could have some, and she said, “I asked you if you wanted some.” See, at that time of day, asking if you want tea referred to a meal, for I should have known that generally when someone was offering the beverage tea, you would be asked, “Do you want a cuppa?”
I am sure you know stories of miscommunications, which would have made the writers of “Three’s Company” consider them, but these miscommunications within the same language are frustrating. This is what happens in Christianity often, and we assume we are speaking the same language.
Let me remind you that English on both sides of the pond works well, even if their petrol pedal is on the opposite side of the vehicle. So why do some Christians that I know shy away from certain words in our tradition? Evangelism, salvation, righteousness, sacrifice, etc. are example words that I sense have been dropped from many pastors’ lexicon. I understand there are strong connotations, for some of these words do require careful use out of the Body of Christ, the church. For instance, I will not go and greet someone by saying, “Hi I am from my Church’s evangelism team, and I want to make sure you understand the sacrifice Jesus made for the world’s salvation from violence, and we try to live a righteous life, so I hope you join us for worship.” There is way too much baggage in those terms, and I am very aware of that.
You may say we need to reclaim the terms--I know I have said that myself. Upon reflection, that attitude demonstrates defining my Christianity against another. I just need to use the terms as I have learned from Biblical and theological study, while being aware when I am talking to those that know only the fundamentalists or media’s language of Christianity. Let us be comfortable with our own speech.
If we are comfortable with our language, we are able to answer the questions and hang in there in dialogue with other Christians who are using a language that seems “foreign.” I know there are people filled with hate using that language, and I do not recommend anything but a smile and prayer for those individuals, but I have seen time and again Christians that explored the deeper and complex meaning of our traditional key words--they may talk the talk, but they also certainly walk the walk.
The best way to be comfortable is to use these terms without apology, while knowing these same words will have different meanings to other Christians. Hopefully, we will find each other at the same table drinking from the same chalice or cup.