The Words We Use/Choose

Every pastor has at least one calling card of sorts. By “calling card” I mean a part of the individual’s ministry that best captures its essence.

So what’s my calling card?

I suppose different folks from the congregation might give different answers to that question. If you were to ask me, my calling card happens in the first 2-3 minutes of the service each Sunday when I issue an invitation for people to adapt any language in the service that is not consistent with their beliefs in hopes they might have an authentic worship experience.

I began to develop this approach years ago at the first church I served as I watched folks wrestle painfully with various language issues. Some people, for instance, insisted that we use the language “Our Creator” instead of “Our Father” at the start of the Lord’s Prayer. There were some who fought that language because they preferred “Our Father” to “Our Creator”. We also had long conversations in the Worship Team meetings about what to call the table at the front of the sanctuary. One person insisted it be called the Communion Table; others insisted it be called the altar. I spent so much time exploring languaging issue, after languaging issue, after languaging issue, after languaging issue … You get the point.

It took me a few years before I realized what was going on on deeper levels.

While the words we use ARE certainly important, what was fueling the controversies were deeper issues of power and control. Some wanted to insure the congregation bought into their set of values by insisting everyone use their preferred words; others resisted the effort – saying, “No one is going to tell me what to say!”

If I hadn’t figured out a way around that impasse, I would have left ministry years ago!!

“So how did I do it?”

I diminished the fight for control by honoring the convictions of each person by explicitly giving them permission to choose the word(s) that are most meaningful to them. In other words, I shifted the focus away from their tendency to obsess about the languaging of others and moved the focus back toward their own choices.

Some might think this struggle is unique to churches. It’s not. In fact there is a HUGE languaging issue happening as I write this in the National Football League. Let me take a moment and explain.

For many years, some have taken offense at the fact that the team that plays in Washington, D.C. calls itself the Redskins. They say the nickname is offensive to Native Americans. Others do not agree. Consequently, every few years a controversy erupts and some try to get the nickname “Redskins” dropped.

Each time the controversy erupted in the past, there was a predictable dynamic that occurred. Some people got angry and led protests, there was talk in the media, the owner resisted the efforts, and people continued to use the term “Redskins” since the owner wouldn’t budge. That’s how things played out again and again.

This time something new is happening. Something that reflects what I thought was my unique way of being. Individuals who find the nickname offensive – individuals ranging from sports broadcasters/journalists to fans – are being asked to stop using the term. Some broadcasters and journalists have bought in and have agreed NOT to use the term. I find this exciting because it invites people to expend less effort on trying to control the language of others and more energy into choosing your own language. For the first time, it seems like their might be some movement on the issue!

Wouldn’t you know it, right out of the gates I get to practice my approach – for who is my favorite football team playing this weekend? That’s right. They are playing the team from Washington, D.C.

It feels great that I don’t have to wait in hopes that others might see the light and stop using what many consider to be an offensive, racist term. I myself can stop using the term immediately and – in doing so –inspire others to do likewise.

Today, I would encourage you to pay attention to where you expend large chunks of your own energy. Do you find yourself focused on controlling other people’s language in hopes they adopt the words you prefer; or are you able to put the bulk of your energy to monitoring your own choice of words?

As you choose your words, take hope knowing that your personal choices can be pebbles thrown into a proverbial pond. Pebbles that create ripples that spread out and change the world around you: one life at a time.

See you next time!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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