As a child growing up I often heard recited the adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. At the time, I felt the adage true but have come to learn that names or words often hurt more than anything physical. My bones will heal must faster than names/words that are used against me. Of course, I am not alone in this matter. Far too often the wounds of name calling can last a life-time.
To make matters worse I have often heard the Bible (sometimes called the Good Book) used more as a weapon (sometimes quite literally) that causes harm rather than offering words of comfort. In the movie “Saved”, Mary is considered a backslider and needs “saving”. After being hit by a thrown Bible she turns to the thrower and says “This (the Bible) is not a weapon”.
I would like to say that such usages is a large part of the reason that many people have stopped attending worship, but I don’t think it is a much the words themselves as it is our understanding of the words. One of the main reasons, I believe, that many folks are not keen on the church as an institution has to do with intolerance of those who think or look or even act differently. Too often we are unwilling to think that because someone is different or differing views that they are wrong and we are right.
I experience this concept most recently when I listened to a sermon that was preached (the fourth in a series) entitled “Jesus was an Exclusionist”. The gist of the message was that unless one accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour and rejected any other there would be no being saved and if one is not saved there could be no admission to heaven. I have to admit that I was at odds with the message right from hearing the title, but I plugged on. When the sermon was finished I immediately had two questions come to mind. (I am sure there were others but my mind could only handle two that day.) The questions both had to do with how to understand certain words. I wanted to know the speakers definition of the words “saved” and “heaven”. I have to report that the speaker has yet to give me an answer.
The point I wish to make here is not that I was not given an answer by the preacher, but that definitions are often quite different. I would not want to say that his (it was a man preacher) definitions are wrong. They are his. But does that mean that my understandings are not correct? More than anything else I believe that our understandings are what cause us to turn away.
Some years ago now a book was published entitled: GOD: the Greatest User of Capital Letters and was sub-titled “A Modern Churchgoer’s Dictionary”. The author (the Reverend Andrew Jensen) wrote many hilarious definitions about “churchy” words and things. In the introduction talking about his reasons for the book we can read “Jensen introduces religious folks…through high exaggeration and double meaning, he helps us to view life in its proper perspective”. When we fail to see “life” and meaning of even words from different perspectives we fail one another.
Recently I wrote an article that talked about the meanings or “religion” and “spirituality” and how they used to be virtually one and the same but have come to mean different things to different people. The problem arises when we assume that there is only one way to understand any word. We become like the cartoon that shows neighbours arguing each in their own yard. One passer-by overhearing this argument says to his friend that they will never solve their problems because they are “arguing from different premises. And so it is that before we even disagree with another and their view, we should be clear that we know about that which we are arguing.