Monday, June 13, 2005

"Well, I know what I mean..."

On some of my trips around the area, I pass a sign which is placed at the corner of a field. It's pretty non-descript; just white background and dark letters, but it stands out. The words painted on the sign are simple ones: FARMERS PAY MORE TAXES". Now, I'm a big fan of the farmer. I live in farm country. But one question crosses my mind every single time I pass that sign -- More taxes than what? More taxes than they should? More taxes than I do? More taxes than truck drivers? More taxes than they used to?

I'm no professional writer, but I play one on the Internet and I'm pretty sure that if you use the word more, there has to be a than at least implied somewhere in the sentence. The fact is I have no idea what the sign means, other than the fact that farmers pay a certain amount of taxes. Yet I'm certain that the person who painted the sign, paid for the sign and posted the sign knows exactly what he or she means. That farmer likely doesn't know that I am confused by his expression of free speech (unless of course he's heard me screaming, "MORE THAN WHAT???" out the window of the truck as I pass by!) Mr. Farmer is sure he's making a clear statement, while I along with most everyone else rolling by on the four-lane highway are scratching our collective heads and yelling out our collective windows.

I often wonder how many times each week that I lay out a brilliant (if I do say so myself) opinion or analysis only to have my reader or listener nodding agreeably on the outside, but on the inside thinking, "This guy isn't making any sense." Probably far more often than I care to consider. I know it happens in the context of my faith. I'll assume that I'm talking to someone who has at least a passing knowledge of the life of Jesus only to find out that this person thinks that Joseph and Mary were two of Jesus' twelve disciples! So my explanation of the theological ramifications of the Transfiguration probably swooshed right over my hearer's head.

I try to do what I can to eliminate the misunderstanding. I have a list of "church words" that I try to avoid unless I can explain them to be sure my meaning is clear. After all, a lot of people will just play along so they don't have to admit they really don't understand what grace is. Or justification. Or resurrection. Or any number of other words or terms we Christians toss around on a daily basis. It's easy to assume that someone who is a church member will have the same perspective as I do, yet it's rarely the case. But if I talk about sitting in an apartment listening to the bass beat from the stereo vibrating the walls for minute upon minute, hour upon hour, until suddenly it stops as an example of mercy, then we start to understand each other.

On top of that, some faux Christian churches use the same buzzwords but alter the meaning. "Faith" becomes some kind of force like electricity. The "Son of God" becomes the product of physical sexual relations with Mary and the Heavenly Father. "Salvation" becomes something we earn by being good enough. And sadly, too many people are none the wiser.

We must make ourselves clear. Never assume the other person has the same perspective as you do. It's easy to forget. But if I'm going to preach the Gospel I want to be sure that my words are understood correctly. Sure, I know what I mean. But I must communicate so that others know as well. If that means avoiding "Christianese" or explaining my terms, then I'm willing to do it. And I pray that I can do that without condescension and with a godly amount of love and patience.

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