There are certain things we just don’t say in Christian settings. Perhaps a few choice words come to mind. Well, today I’m going to be bold—I’m going to say some of them. Here I go (take deep breath):
“God Bless You.”
“Jesus Loves You.”
Are you ready for the big one? (pause, swallow hard) “Praise the Lord!”
OK, perhaps I’m being hyperbolic, but when was the last time you said any of these phrases? I admit, unless you count “God Bless You” after a sneeze, I haven’t said any of them for a very long time.
Relevance has become the new righteousness. In our (well-intentioned) efforts to “be all things to all men,” to the partier, we’ve become partiers; to the foul-mouthed, we’ve become foul-mouthed; to the fashion victim, we’ve become fashion victims; to the irreverent and cynical, we have become irreverent and cynical. But have we forgotten the point?
When you’re part of a tradition which is thousands of years old, it’s hard to do anything for the first time, to be fresh and new. Whether we unconsciously fear smacking of starchy-pale-skinned-Puritanism, King-James-fire-and-brimstone-judgmentalism, Sentimental-Depression-era-plinky-plonky-piano-revivalism, or big-hair-fake-smile-tele-evangelism, we discount our own history and the language that goes with it. How can we possibly, with such skeletons in our closet, be truly relevant to a culture which craves the fresh and new? It’s a big question and our generation has invested a lot of energy in asking it.
But I knew things had gone too far when a friend’s review of my church’s new website said, “I struggled to find ‘Jesus’ anywhere. I feel very corny writing that.” The oversight was rectified, of course, but I was disappointed that she felt she had to apologize for bringing up corny old Jesus.
This made me see that this is no longer about being all things to all men in order to win some—she was a Christian, speaking to another Christian. This is now about something else entirely.
Since her comment, I’ve noticed how many times in my role, as pastor, I also, in the name of skirting cornyness, avoid saying the bleedingly obvious, even the bleedingly crucial. Things like, “God will provide” or, “Praise the Lord” or, “Jesus loves You”—all truths I believe people need to hear. Not only have such Christian sentiments lost their meaning, they’ve taken on new meanings. “God will provide” is now synonymous with, “I have an overly-simplistic belief in a Santa Deity.” “Praise the Lord” has come to mean, “Every good thing comes from Him and we won’t talk about the bad stuff.” And we fear that, “Jesus loves You” now implies, “I don’t care about you enough to go any further with this conversation so I’ll remind both of us that someone loves you.”
But what do we say when God honestly deserves the credit? When there’s nothing else to do but trust in our Creator? When we don’t know how, but we believe God is somehow involved in our world for good? (Even the more recent, “It’s a God thing” and, “God showed up” have their own kind of tackiness.)
I’m afraid I don’t know the answer, but I do know that, to remain faithful, we need reminders of the trite chestnuts that we already know. We need to know that others believe the same things we believe, in spite of the fact that we can’t see and often can’t feel the things in which we hope. This is how a tradition continues—those in it circulate its truths and pass them on to their young. And perhaps, if we can help each other remain faithful in this way, we will be equipped to take on the truly challenging task of meaning something to Those Who Haven’t Invited Jesus Into Their Hearts or The Lost or whatever cliché you prefer.
Previously published as a finalist in the Awkward Sermon Contest, Geez Magazine
Photo (Flickr CC) by A.Davey