A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend and our conversation turned to the obnoxious pervasiveness of certain words and phrases in the church. Naturally, we started compiling a list of some of the most inescapable and most objectionable Christian catchphrases. I now present this list to you:
Pursue. I first heard the word “pursue” used when I was about 13. Naturally, the context involved courtship and young men stalking and securing their brides. (Stay tuned for a blog post describing my traumatic early encounters with the writings of that killjoy, Joshua Harris). We still enjoy saying “pursue” to describe the ideal male’s actions in the ideal romantic relationship, but we’ve expanded our usage to include our relationship with God, the church’s relationship with parishioners, and even friendships. When I hear “pursue,” I envision a redneck decked out in camo trailing a deer. I beg of you, for the sake of my mental health, stop saying this.
Share. We like to substitute this for the perfectly functional words “said” or “told.” Constantly saying “share “makes it sounds as though we are all in a large group therapy session rather than in a church. This cannot be attractive to newcomers.
Come Alongside. The syntactical awkwardness of this phrase offends me. If this construction is ever appropriate (which seems doubtful), it is only in a maritime context. For example: “The tugboat came alongside the steamer.” I just spent 5 minutes attempting to think of a suitable non-nautical use for this phrase. I could not. If you can conjure something up, leave me a comment. I’d be highly interested. If this phrase was used by a renegade pastor once or twice, I wouldn’t be bothered, but the fact that it has entered the vocabulary of otherwise eloquent preachers is galling to those of us who value the English language.
In other news, I googled “come alongside” because I had a bet with a friend about the results of said search. After a dictionary definition of “alongside,” the first result was a website with the telling address www.victorshepherd.on.ca. Apparently, the victorious shepherd himself endorses this phrase.
Cast Vision. I’m honestly at a loss as to how best address this semantic travesty. It would appear that no one in the church actually knows what the word “cast” means. (Generally, “to throw or hurl”). Or perhaps this phrase is linguistically legitimate, but only because we’re reaching deep into the bowels of the Oxford English Dictionary and drawing out an obscure definition. I generally glory in using arcane and antiquated words, but this phrase just makes us sound confused.
I’ve created with my own narrative about the origins of this phrase. In my imagination, a pastor attends a business seminar, hears about the importance of mission and vision statements, and then decides to pair that terminology with the word “cast” since casting sounds like something the disciples might do with fishing nets. Having redeemed a secular concept with a sanctified word, he then proceeds to broadcast the phrase among his colleagues until it is fully incorporated into the ecclesiastical vernacular.
Blessed. When used appropriately, “bless/ed” is a valid and pleasant word. However, some individuals sprinkle it so lavishly through their conversation that it takes on obnoxious qualities. Part of the problem is that “bless” can function as a variety of part of speech. One can bless (verb), one can hear a blessed sermon (adjective) , one can be presented with a blessing (verb), and one can live blessedly (adverb). Having discovered this, some of us have taken to substituting the appropriate form of “bless” for any positive noun, verb, or adjective. This reveals a remarkable lack of originality.To combat the pervasiveness of “bless,” I refuse to let the word pass through my lips. When I’m particularly peeved, I purposely use words like “lucky” or “fortunate.” This distresses pious people who then begin to say “bless” more and more frequently and aggressively. I respond in kind and everything rapidly devolves. *
Naturally, any community will develop its own vocabulary. When I go out to drink chi chi craft beer with my fellow academics, we like to say things like “ juxtaposition of the public and private spheres,” constructed narrative,” “politics of desire.” Any group of people with a common interest will naturally produce their own shared language.
Here’s the difference. If an individual walks into the bar where I’m chatting with my psuedo-intellectual friends and finds us incomprehensible, she’ll write us off as snobbish idiots and walk away. This is hardly upsetting. But we have a problem if an outsider walks into one of our churches and has a similar reaction.
Its appropriate for some groups and communities to be exclusive.
The church isn’t one of them.
*If you are in certain reformed churches, people take things a step further and use forms of “providential” instead of “blessed.” In these situations, I have taken to peppering my speech with phrases such as “What a lucky coincidence!”