Saturday, August 4, 2012

Who talks like that?

I well recall the Sunday some thirty years ago when a member asked to see me about something.  It was after a Sunday service and I was a young Pastor.  I was all set to dole out some of my newly minted pastoral wisdom and to offer my deepest pastoral counsel and advice but that was not why he had come.  He asked me to define a word.  The word was purview.  I guess I had used it in the sermon on Sunday.  He could have looked it up at home but he was making a point.  "Who talks like that?" he asked me.  He was not being rude or disrespectful.  He was being kind, in his own way. 

The parish was mostly blue collar with a minority of college educated folks.  Many of our folks were in technical trades.  They were not stupid or backwoods.  But they did not use terminology like that.  He was telling me to be careful the vocabulary I used to make sure I did not miss being understood because of a poorly chosen word.  It made an impact on me.  I resolved to write and to speak more plainly -- to be more conscious of the vocabulary of most folks in the pews.  That does not mean talking down to them or avoiding Biblical terms but it does mean thinking about what communicates well. I remain thankful for this man's kindness in pointing out a problem I did not know I had.

That said, there is a distinct problem with the way we talk today.  I am speaking to those in the Church.  We are further and further removed from the vocabulary and syntax of the Scriptures and our Confessions.  No, I am not talking about King James English.  I am talking about the lack of familiarity with the names, places, events, and concepts inherent to faithful and Biblical proclamation and teaching. This not about our witness to those outside the Church -- we need to speak in the language of the unchurched in order to effectively proclaim the Gospel to them.  I am speaking of the internal speech of the pulpit, prie dieu, and catechetical classroom. 

Part of the function of Bible study and catechesisis to become conversant in the vocabulary and syntax of the Scriptures and tradition.  Increasingly, however, we are forsaking this language, vocabulary, and geography for the commonalities of the marketplace.  In other words, the Church no longer seems to believe that familiarity with the Scriptures, tradition, confession, and catechism is all that important.

It troubles me that we have so casually jettisoned the distinctive vocabulary and cadence of Scripture and tradition as if these were not important.  In our rush to adopt slang and common speech as something of great value to the liturgy and classroom, we have surrendered something of great value and substituted something of dubious usefulness.  Again, I am NOT speaking of how we speak to the world but of how we speak one to another within the settings of worship and catechesis.  Who talks this way?  Christians do.

On the other side of this subject, I am shocked by the vulgarity of TV, movies, pop songs, and other conversations.  The crudeness and casual use of obscenity make me wonder if these, too, will find their way into the Church sanctuary and educational wing.  Who talks like that?  The folks in my parish, neighborhood, and community are not prudes and are not saints yet they do not routinely drop the F-bomb into every sentence nor do they use obscenity with routine effect. 

Now I know that there are those who do talk like this.  I am not stupid.  But the fast majority of folks speak with some sense of decency.  Why must we endure the vulgarity and obscenity of the TV, movies, and pop music as the norm for all speech?  Who talks like that?  I am not alone in being shocked by the fact that the average family with pre-teens cannot sit and watch movies and TV without embarrassment.  Will we find ourselves soon just as embarrassed by the kind of things we hear in Church?  Who talks like that?


Timothy C. Schenks said...

"Purview" is not an uppity or difficult word. I don't get it.

Somewhat related: I don't like it when the pastor assumes everyone in the room has no idea what a word means, stops the class and explains it to everyone. I can image we've wasted half a Bible study because of pastors going off on tangents like that.

Gnesio Hamartolos said...

Mr. Schenks,
You completed the other side of the pastoral dilemma. Most pastors face a congregation that, when comprising an adult education class, include "seekers" who know next to nothing while others are "lifers" who retain everything they learned in confirmation catechesis including the church's vocabulary. The pastor ends up getting criticized if he ignores either group. The class should be divided, the beginners separated from the veterans. But what happens when no one is willing to help the pastor in this vital task of teaching or if there are so few people class ends up with pastor and ten congregants, each of whom is at an entirely different level from all the others?

Kimberly Kirby said...

I respect this. I had a chaplin that has developed a friendship with my husband. I spoke to him in confidence bevause of some marital troubles. He blabbed my confidential concerns to his friend, my husband. He only made matters worse. I quit the church. My husband still goes. I stamd back and watch. The man is a hypocrite. He talks about peoples troubles in front of his small congregation. My husband is now befinning to see the mans ways, but keeps the friendship and keeps going there. I will never return to that church. I am disguted with his ethics. I just look at my husband shaking my head when he tries to tell me things the man tells about others. I tell him that talking about others that way is not nice.