06 February 2018

Things People Say: Christianese Edition


Christianese: a dialect in its own right, spoken by an entire subset of English language users. Like the wind, you don't see where it comes from, but you see what it does (mostly, makes us look silly).

First up, we have money-related Christianese.

This really is a thing, you know. We have almost as many euphemisms for giving money as we do for death, which is really telling of what makes us uncomfortable when you think about it. Nevertheless, a whole host of "Christian" activities -- ministry funding, missions support raising, sermons on tithing, and so forth -- depend on asking people for money. It's a job that just has to be done, it seems. However, we're aware that saying "Please give us money" sounds bad. So we've come up with all sorts of other ways to say it without actually saying it, including but not limited to:

1. Partner with us. This one is a particular favorite of parachurch organizations. But don't get any ideas that this will be like a business partnership, where you'll hold an equal share of the benefits, or any decision-making authority. No, in the simplest possible terms, it just means: hand over the cash. (So then I wonder: If you get robbed at gunpoint and have to give the thief your money, are you "partnering" with him in his life of crime? I do think a case can be made for this.)

2. Worship through giving. Note that when you see this on the order of service in a church bulletin, the key word is "give." The "worship" part is there to make you feel obligated, more or less. After all, when Jesus talked about worshiping God "in spirit and in truth", you didn't think He meant you could do it for free, did you?

3. Fellowship with... Back when I only knew "fellowship" as "coffee and donuts after the service", this one really confused me. Especially the first time I heard someone announce during the church financial meeting: "This month we had the opportunity to fellowship with missionaries Ron and Debbie Smith who are serving in Bulgaria..." I thought, Wait, they were here recently? How'd I miss that? And then I learned. "Fellowship" = cash. Dollars. Dough. Moola. Et cetera... So, I went home and told my parents to consider increasing their "fellowship" with me -- i.e., I want a bigger allowance, please. (It didn't work.)

4. Sow a seed. This one was a trick question. "Sow a seed" isn't so much evangelical Christianese as it is televangelist flimflammery. If you hear this one, make sure you know where your wallet is, and then make a speedy exit.

We also have a well-stocked arsenal of prayer-related Christianese terms:

1. Prayerfully consider. There's an episode of Adventures in Odyssey in which Brandon Teller proposes to Katrina Shanks by asking her to "prayerfully consider" becoming his wife. It's an awkward moment, not only because of Katrina's budding relationship with Eugene, but because anyone who will drop a phrase like "prayerfully consider" into a marriage proposal has got some serious social anxiety.

I don't hear prayer used as an adverb much anymore, but when I do it always makes me laugh a little. And for reasons unknown it almost always collocates with "consider." We can't tell you why. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and so does our terminology.

2. We covet your prayers. This one always gets me. Coveting is a sin, so associating it with prayer seems like a very wrong and unnatural alliance. I have to agree with the person who said it's like saying "We lust after your prayers." It just doesn't fit.

3. Bathe this matter in prayer. Oh, what a visual this one is! I'm picturing someone dunking a piece of paper with a prayer request written on it in a bathtub full of water. How do you "bathe" something in prayer, anyhow -- as opposed to, say, sprinkling, or affusion? (It kind of sounds like we're talking about baptism now.)

Speaking of which, it's even weirder if you say you'll bathe a person in prayer. On Facebook recently one of my friends posted that she was going through a hard time and somebody commented: "Just wanted you to know I'm bathing you in prayer today."

I'm not sure how I would respond if someone informed me of their intention to administer a prayer bath on my behalf. Thank you, but my general health and mobility levels still allow me to bathe myself without difficulty. I do appreciate the thought, however.

4. Season of prayer. A season is approximately 90 days from solstice to equinox. But my backside gets numb after about 90 minutes of sitting, so an entire season of prayer is probably out of the question. (The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.)

5. Popcorn prayer. For short, one or two-sentence prayers in a group setting, I prefer the term "conversational prayer." It's really not a good idea to mention popcorn, or snacks of any kind, because then some of us can't pray without thinking about food.

Of course, beyond money and prayer, Christianese covers a broad range of miscellany, such as:

1. Blessed. Be not like the uncircumcised Philistines of this world, who call themselves "lucky" or "fortunate" or who wish you a "good" day on your way out of the store. No, thou that wouldst behave as one of the called and chosen, must substitute the sanctified "blessed" in all thine interactions. It matters not that all these terms have the same intended meaning in casual conversation, or that overusing a powerful word like blessed cheapens it faster than a government subsidy. It's simply what you must do; yours is not to reason why.

2. Hedge of protection. If someone you love is facing many dangers, toils, and snares, the best thing you can do for them is to erect that holy shrubbery known as the Hedge of Protection around them. And don't be fooled by the name. Satan may be perfectly capable of passing through walls, locked doors, and other barriers impenetrable to humans, but he's no match for that Hedge, that Hedge of Protection.

3. Travel mercies. "Mercies" come in different varieties, apparently, so if someone is on a road trip or taking a flight, remember to invoke the special travel mercies on their behalf. They're different from regular mercies. How? Well... we don't ask that. Mostly because we're not sure.

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