A Christian is totally fearless, constantly cheerful and always in trouble.
My first instinct is to disagree. I am not sure why. It seems like a decent statement, but I want it to be wrong. Probably because I am not fearless. Probably because I am often sad. Probably because I do not get into trouble.
Nothing makes me more uneasy than when someone offers a definition of what it means to follow and live Divine mystery. Often our definitions become privacy fences around our church gardens. When Jesus was asked what the kingdom of God was his only reply was a collection of similes so confusing and vague that his followers have been wrestling with them for 2000 years.
The Kingdom of God is like: seed, yeast, treasure...
But we need our definitions, creeds, doctrines, pages and pages of laws, all to define and explain an inexplicable God. It is all really a defense mechanism against the uncertainty of dealing with a wild wind of a God. We name and define ourselves to ensure that we are tallied in the right column.
Hey, Mom, am I doing it? Am I safe? Do you love me? Hey, God, do I matter?
And if our definitions fence someone out, we put in our own narrow gate welcoming in anyone who fits.
My Western Civilization class in college, taught by one of my favorite professors ever, who incidentally came to the first day of class with a broken fly, described this in terms of history. Roughly, he said, if one side of a discussion or ideology names their cause something Positive (aka good guys) then the opposing view must deal with being the Anti-Positive-Side (aka bad guys).
Any positive image implies a corresponding negative.
The Light Side implies The Dark Side
Language is powerful. Every word, spoken or written carries the weight of its thesis and its antitheses. Sometimes language is truthful and revealing and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it serves to expose injustice. Fair Trade implies that there is unfair trade.
Side note: if we were to label all items accordingly, it might temper our buying choices.
But sometimes our language just introduces exclusion and hurt. For every fearless, cheerful, mischievous Christian out there, there is a sad, coward sitting in the pew whose deepest need is probably not excommunication.
A friend recently said she had heard a discussion about the gross amount of energy consumed by “taking offense” and the zen lives we could all have if only we could learn to stop taking offense.
And I was offended by that. Winky face.
Taking offense is over done. We all spend way too much energy combing over our lives looking for places where we have been offended. Maligned. Our childhood cries of, "Not fair," simply reach a wider audience in their adult form. And now it is so easy. We have become a society of virtual protesters. All willing to join in taking offense as long as all it requires from us is a thumb tap.
But if we don’t take offense, then we become passive to the language defining us.
The happy, brave, trouble-maker who offended me to begin with did not seek to exclude me from the Kingdom of God. He just developed his language in a vacuum of offense. No one questioned him. No one with indelible tear stains asked, "What about me?"
Sometimes the regular old thing needs to offend us. Deeply.
After a truly remarkable week, I feel like our first response to the lives of others needs to be love and the second, and a very close second, is to watch our language. If all life is sacred, then we need to scour our language for what we are really saying, because no matter what our opinions are, the greatest commandment remains: love.