Some Thoughts on Christianese

Once upon a time I had this friend at work who identified as Christian. That was cool, because I did too. We would talk about Christian things and had a lot of common ground, and could share a lot about Christian culture, God and people, and other things of that nature. It was nice to have short hand for discussing some of those things. We spoke a lot of Christianese.

I think Christianese is great. It is good and important to have a shared language to talk about things that are important to you. For crying out loud, Klingon can be studied at the Klingon Language Institute in Flourtown, Pennsylvania (I swear I’m not making that up) and as of 2008, about 25,000 Elvish words have been published (okay, Quenya, not Elvish, but I nerdgress). My point is, people come up with shared language to talk about things that they care about with groups of people who care about those things too. And that’s a good thing.

BUT. It’s only useful to a point. Please allow me to illustrate something quite on the other side of that point.

Once upon a time, later, my boss was asking me about one of the ways we live the life of Jesus in the world. It had recently come to her attention that I am Quite Religious (it is worth mentioning that this was only after I’d worked there for 2 years and had been asked repeatedly to talk about my beliefs in ways I preferred not to and so had declined), and so she was asking me what we do. At that time, we had a big family-style dinner at our house every Friday, and people would come. Most of them would be Christians, though not all. It was a chance for us to connect and share and be encouraged by each other because living the life of Jesus in the world can be HARD.

Anyhow, I was explaining all of this to my boss (who is Jewish) in front of my friend. I said most of that and then at some point she rolled her eyes, leaned in front of me, and said “That’s when she has her fellowship time.”
And I realized: ohshe feels like she is explaining something clearly that I am not. Though from the confused look our boss gave her, I would say that was not true.
The point at which Christianese becomes unhelpful is when we are talking to someone who is not part of American Christian Subculture (though arguably, there are many Christianese words that need a thorough redefining for a lot of us if Christians are actually going to do things that Jesus says to do; but that’s another post altogether). If you are discussing atonement, sinfulness, fellowship, sanctification…or any of a number of very important issues, it is important to have a way to talk about those things that will reflect their importance (it is also important to make sure that when you are speaking Christianese you agree or at least are clear about someone else’s definition of a word). But you wouldn’t go into your average local restaurant and try to order in Klingon or Elvish (although if you find a place where you can order in Elvish please let me know because I want to go to there). Or if you did, you probably wouldn’t expect everyone there to know what you were saying. Why? Because that would be nonsensical. Context matters.
It is worth noting that Christians are not the only subculture to come up with a shorthand that leaves other people in the dark. Tech-speak, music speak (classical, jazz, funk, pop, etc….many different ways to talk about music in there), medical jargon, foodie talk, sports-talk; I could think of countless examples. Here’s one.
Soon after J and I got married (or maybe even a little bit before), we were at a family party with a bunch of his relatives when this conversation happened:
Fun Relative: Hey! Good to see you! How are you doing?
J: Fine! You?
FR: Good! Good!……..
J: Did you hear about the decision?
FR: Yes! Oh, man, can you believe that?
J: I know, right?! Well, anyway I think whoever they get in there is going to have a really hard time this season. I mean, look at what happened last year.
FR: That’s a really good point. Hey, I’m going to go get another beer. It was great talking to you!
K: Um, what just happened?
J: What? Oh…we were talking about sports.
K: Yes. That much I got. But what sport? Baseball? Football? Basketball? Were you talking about a coach? A quarterback?
J: I don’t know. Whatever. There’s always some decision that everyone’s upset about, last year was always bad, and we’re always hoping to turn it around this year.
It is useful, then, to be able to recognize when other people are speaking a subculture’s lingo so you can choose to participate, if you know enough words. My husband is one of the best people at this that I’ve ever seen (see above). So having a shared language as a subculture is not the problem, then. Expecting everyone else to speak your lingo and then start agreeing with you about everything is.


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