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Watch Your Language

Once, my husband and I traveled from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South to speak at separate ministry events and were graciously invited to stay with an older couple living on Mobile Bay’s eastern shore.

After our events were over, we drove to their home, rang the bell, and were greeted by our new friends–plus a few guests they’d invited for a dinner party in our honor. The lady of the house grasped my hands warmly. “Welcome, dear. We’re so glad you’re here. Would you like to go upstairs and freshen up before dinner?”

Freshen up? Wait, what? I stared while processing, What does that mean? Was I supposed to take a shower? Did she want me to change my clothes? Maybe she just meant, “Honey, you need to put on some lipstick.” But I don’t wear lipstick. “Um, no. I’m okay,” I stammered. “Thanks anyway.” Now, it was her turn to stare.

I was mortified. I wanted to go upstairs, not to freshen up, but to hide, where I couldn’t make any more social blunders. How was I going to make it through an entire dinner party?

The experience reminds me of how it must feel when a new believer goes to church or a Bible-study class. The pastor says, “We all know the story of Jonah.” The new Christian wracks her brain. Oops! Did I miss it on CNN last week? Or the Sunday School teacher asks the class to “turn to Amos.” The poor girl looks around, wondering, Which guy is Amos? Can you imagine how confusing it is to hear, “Would you like to share your testimony with us?” Again, she wonders, Is someone on trial?

If we’ve been going to church for many years, we become comfortable with “Christian-ese.” The terms, phrases, and Bible stories are woven into our vocabulary. But to a new believer, those same words sound like a foreign language. Just like the words freshen up—which might seem obvious to the genteel class. But where I come from, we take a shower, get dressed, and call it good for the day.

One reply on “Watch Your Language”

So true! I think we need to go the extra mile in church settings to think about how we could exclude people by our assumptions or language. And the added benefit? We all get to learn or be reminded of something.

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