Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Serious Mistake

My wife made a serious mistake this morning.

She asked a computer-related question on Facebook.

Really she deserved what she got. What did she get? Answers. Answers from computery people.

‘Anyone know why I can access Facebook but not anything through Google?’ she posted. (She wanted to listen to the Archers online. Each to their own.) It wasn’t long before genuinely helpful computer people came to her aid. The only problem was they spoke computernese.

‘Could be the DNS server down,’ posted one. ‘You can change them,’ he added helpfully. ‘I use or which is Google’s, more faster and reliable than my own ISP.’


Does 'ISP' mean something like 'RSVP'?

Then another piped up: ‘Yes, https. Probably need to get someone to look at your ipcop box again.’

When did my wife change her name to ‘https’? And does she need to go to the doctor about her ‘ipcop box’?

I know computery people try to be helpful – these two most certainly were – but honestly, I can't understand a word of what they say. It's a different language.

Which got me thinking about language. At its best, language is a wonderful means to communication. At its most obfuscatory it can render recondite and abstruse via equivocation, prevarication, obliqueness, ambiguity and all manner of sophistry.

(In case you think I’m clever, I used a thesaurus on that last sentence. I’m not nearly as clever as computer people – they really understand all that httpy stuff.)

As a Christian involved in media and communications, I try to use language to communicate what I consider to be simply the best message of all time: God loves us.

But sometimes, my own Christian language can get in the way. And I don’t mean only the obvious pitfalls of pious metaphor (‘Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?’) No, I mean language we’d never suspect may mean little to the Great Unwashed (in the blood etc.)

 Take my above attempt to communicate something of the wonder of the Christian message: God loves us. It falls over at the first word.


We Christians think we know what we mean by ‘God’ (and some of the time, we might be almost right). But we can be fairly certain that the average honest non-Christian we’re speaking to means something else.

No, not an old man in the sky with a beard. No, not like Ann Widdecombe only male. No, not a passive observer in the sky who wound up the universe then left it to get on without him. No, not the Greek philosophical absolute. No, not like Father Christmas. No, not like your disapproving/dysfunctional/dislikeable dad. No, not a silly fantasy character that we’ve decided to believe in because we can’t cope with the real world. No, not the Force. No, only very slightly like Morgan Freeman.

And on it goes.

We talk about God. People hear those three letters, G-O-D, but they reference something completely different.

Christians believe that we come to know who God is through Jesus. God is Jesus (better that way round than saying ‘Jesus is God’, since that second statement starts by assuming we know what ‘God’ means apart from Jesus – which we don’t.)

Jesus is God’s human face. God’s final word. God’s love in our language. So let’s talk about Jesus.
But, of course, then we hit another linguistic rocky patch.

No, not that miserable looking guy made out of stained glass. No, not Andrew Lloyd-Webber's rock star. No, not Mary Madelene’s husband and lead character of Dan Brown’s backstory. No, not the ‘babyjesus’ who makes no crying (well, not for long). No, not like Ann Widdecombe only male... (and so on).

It’s enough to make a Christian communicator like me through up his hands in horror and quit. If I can’t even mention God or Jesus without sending a whole host of unintended, unmeant messages – what’s the point?

Well, I think the point is that the message is important enough to keep trying. It’s even more important than my wife getting to hear the next instalment of the Archers. So, I’ll keep trying. Please accept my apologies in advance if I don’t do it very well.

But I have another idea, too. What about if – along with the words – I and my friends make it our aim to live like Jesus. He is brave – we’ll be brave. He is compassionate – we’ll be compassionate. He breaks taboos – we’ll break taboos. He shares his whole life – we’ll share our whole life. He sacrifices for others – we’ll sacrifice for others...

What about if we do Jesus as well as talk Jesus? Theologians call it being incarnational. (But then, they’re the Christian world's equivalent of computery people.)

Oh God (the real God), please help us to live like Jesus (the real Jesus) so that people can see who you are, what you’re like, and that you do – you really, really do – love us all.


Aidan Ashby said...

Yes, amen to an ecclesialogically normative Christo-centric incarnational missiology.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the problem but not entirely sure I'd agree with the solution you propose. As christians we spend so much of our time trying to be something we're not and pretending...but love comes naturally when we know God (REALLY know him - this is where it gets lost in translation!) and His love is real to us.

n0rma1 said...

Anon (who are you, I wonder?): thanks for the comment. I think I used the word 'trying' to indicate that we're not always very good at it, rather than in the sense of striving to keep up appearances. There goes language again, you see?!

Nikki C said...

Sorry James its me, hiding in anonymity because I hate disagreeing with anyone! Actually rereading your blog, I think my response comes more from what I am going through at the moment than what you are trying to say - a perfect illustration of your point. I have an aversion to all things (I perceive as) religious. My aim is no longer to live like Jesus did but to know him and see what he works in me. I know that when someone 'tries' to love me with God's love it feels at best insincere and at worst the opposite of love. When people really love me (including people who don't claim to know God) it is not achieved through trying - it comes naturally. But actually I'm not sure this was where you were going with this blog at all! Communication hey. I'm not sure I'd want your job!

n0rma1 said...

I get the feeling we've been on similar journeys, Nikki. At any rate I agree with what you just wrote!