October 29, 2009

a quick thought on language

For every week (at least) there is a prayer (The Collect) assigned that may have, at one time, in someone's mind, worked with the theme of the lessons for that week. This week's Collect works. It is All Saints' Day and so, quite obviously, the prayer deals with the Saints. What I find interesting is how often there are words in these prayers that even I, a master's level educated, ordained Priest have to look up.

I understand that I'm not a very literate person. I don't like to read, I find it difficult to do, and so I am at a disadvantage when it comes to vocabulary. But. But, I still think that there is a lot of language thrown around in the Church that is assumed to be understand, and isn't.

For our five15 service we are using the Collect, offering a prayer on behalf of the whole Church, knowing that with 24 hours tens of millions of people will offer the same (well at least a similar prayer). I've taken to rewriting the Collect in an effort to help them be better understood. I just can't ask people to say "Amen" to something they haven't understood. It is like agreeing to a contract that you haven't read.

This week's example is the word "ineffable." I got a text message from my sister when Chase Utley hit his second home run last night that simply said, "no effing way!" I think the root is being used in two very different ways, but again because I have no idea what "ineffable" means, I can't be sure, and as such I don't think my congregation can either.

Ineffable actually means "beyond description" and so our prayer is that we might come to know the joy beyond words prepared by God for those who love him. Yeah, Amen, I want some of that. The other eff? No thanks.

How do you handle the issue of language in your church? What sort of translation do you offer to the various generations who make up your congregation? And beyond word choice in, say, The Collect, how do you make you sermons "speak" to everyone? Language is important. It can do damage or it can empower. It can welcome or it can exclude. It can teach or it can confuse. As those paid to do theology we must be diligent in our role as interpreters for EVERYONE in our midst.

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