Speaking Christian. Avoiding Christianese.

The abusive minister in my family could slip phrases like ‘I want you to know this, so you can pray for her’ into verbal exchanges; which were otherwise not exactly Christian. He could quickly crank out a heartfelt pre-dinner prayer in public, or private. He could sit with dying people and say the right things. He could sing old hymns as well as a professional gospel singer.

That confused me. Because when it was just close family or old friend company… he told perverted jokes without blushing, sexually harassed me and other young girls without remorse, and sang all the lyrics, by heart, to the bawdiest of songs, too. Then slipped back into an old spiritual hymn as if he had never been uncouth.

One of the reasons I couldn’t see, or admit to myself, (let alone disclose to others), that he was abusive, was because he could sound and behave very Christian. Because Christians really have developed their own language, complete with cliches and phrases unique only to The Fellowship. Like it’s been on my heart, or we need to pray for her, or I’m struggling with that.

On the upside, the ‘lingo’ makes it easy enough to find other Christians ‘out there’. On the downside, hearing Christianese is not a guarantee you’ve found a sincere, or a wholehearted, brother or sister. Plus, the use of these phrases can make us seem aloof and stereotypical, or even triggering, to wounded Christians and/or the unbelievers we meet.

Personally, I don’t mind some Christianese amongst the fellowship. But when it comes to engaging with strangers, or those I don’t know that well yet, I tend to take a different approach, without even thinking about it. I think it’s because I, myself, remain pretty cautious about people, in general. And so perhaps part of what I do, when meeting someone new, is a bit of a test of my own: to keep me safe from a potential poser.

I go biblical

I like to slip direct quotes into everyday language. For instance: I am over how frequently karma gets referenced. I intentionally say, instead, we all reap what we sow…The serious contenders might pick up on the bible reference; and appreciate it. The others leave me be, or ask questions which can open doors for further dialogue.

In the video above, I noticed that few Christianese phrases are soundly biblical. I think that’s key. Reading and studying the Bible for myself is how I began to gain the confidence I needed to break from abusers, to leave a religion I didn’t want to be in any longer, and, eventually: to heal.

Years ago a restaurant server with an arm sleeve tattoo, read aloud the Bible verse spiraling through the leaves (after a friend at the table commented on how much she loved his tattoo). He then shared the specific chapter and verse, as that part wasn’t written on his skin. My friend looked straight at me Is that really what that verse says? If anyone knows it by heart it’d be you!

To which I replied, “I don’t know! I’d have to look that one up. And I’m not that much of a Berean.”

The server looked directly at me for the first time, and said, “Oooo, Good one!”

Then he explained to the others at the table what I had meant by that Berean quip, as they’d had no clue. And so he gained a point, with me, for actually knowing the Bible fairly well. But, something about the way he didn’t even pause to see if I wanted to explain my own witty comeback for my own self…. seemed unsettling. I didn’t trust him fully. Therefore the competitive/prideful part of me wished I had been cheekier and said something like, “Oh, well, I got stuck on Leviticus 19:28 and now I can’t recall any other chapter and verse in the Bible…” but then I would have broken my lifelong rule to never, no matter what, be rude to someone who has the power to spit in your food…

Another time I exchanged first names with a lovely young couple I met while vacationing at an oceanside resort. The girl was prettier than Salma Hayak, if that’s even possible. I usually try and make some correlation to such things (celebrities, and Bible characters too) as it helps me remember people’s names. A few days later I ran into them. I remembered her name but called her husband Matthew. “Mark” she corrected, and I blurted out, in all honesty, “Shoot, well I made a mental note that he had a disciple’s name, so at least I wasn’t too far off!”

Later on Prettier-than-Salma sat down next to me at the cheeseburger bar on the beach. Though we hadn’t moved beyond first name exchanges: I had spoken her language with my disciple reference. She freely told me her entire testimony, and her dad’s and her mom’s. When I took a final bite of cheeseburger, and was about to eat my weight in onion rings, she started to share some pretty private details about her purity-ringed honeymoon… and I almost vomited up my cheeseburger. So I tried to stop her TMI-ing with a self-deprecating, and slightly uncouth, joke about my own marriage…all of which didn’t come out as I had intended and then ended up pretty stereotypically Christianese-ish.

Oh, I did see that Prettier-than-Salma was right, basically, as she exhorted me: our words are a powerful witness to others and you need to be more respectful and honoring to your husband so that others might be drawn to Jesus through your example of marriage. I mean, yes, true. But had she just honored her husband, or herself, sharing bedroom details outside their bedroom? Plus: I was eating food while she was oversharing. It was like a ‘sanitized’ peep show. At a cheeseburger stand… I was uncomfortable. I make jokes when I’m stressed out…

By that point I had well over a decade of experience and commitment to marriage, and raising children as well. But, I was also still so insecure about my own standing with Him too. I certainly wasn’t going to mention Titus to this girl, who seemed further along than me in some ways, and the older women teaching the younger because…well…

Bless her heart.

And my own heart was also reeling from the trigger of her sudden segue into bedroom-talk. Something which I hadn’t even known yet was a trigger. And, even now, it remains hard for me to tolerate whenever Christian married people start sharing too much with other Christians about their bedroom lives. Since that kind of thing has now just been so normalized, you know, because we need to be a good example to the world where the unbelievers have no good example to follow.

Now I know how much I just disagree with all that. Fundamentally.

At the time I hadn’t made those correlations yet. So I soothed my hurt heart in ways I did understand. I.e. honeymoon girl would learn soon enough that marriage doesn’t stay a honeymoon and that try as you might, you are going to be a bad example to others sometimes too. Even when you think you are being a good one. Although part of me wondered if this couple would make it long haul… wherein you can say it like it is and be completely understood and loved just the same. Marriage anniversaries trump honeymoons. Just like Biblical Christianity trumps Christianese. Which is why we all have to intentionally move beyond the honeymoon phase, the expected stuff, to enjoy the real stuff.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NIV

Christianese isn’t worthy of the doorframe. Even if it soothes the conscience. Dig deeper into The Word and let it unsettle what else needs to go. Let God write His Truths on the doorframe of your very heart, as you teach it to your children, and pepper it freely into your own words, too. It’s worth the effort. And it opens doors. Though sometimes some of those encounters can be frustrating; there is always something to be gleaned.

While I think I made the right move with not ‘going Leviticus’ on the arm-sleeve tattoo guy… I do wish I had been further along in my own healing, and therein would have been able to respond better than I did to the girl. As I think she desperately needed, herself, to hear more Bible straight talk and less seemingly-holy compromise.

Now that I’m another decade into all of this healing and developing better boundaries stuff: if a door opens again with someone who shares private bedroom details… I hope I can be wiser in how I respond. I pray I find the courage to hold a hand up and say STOP- private things need to stay private in my airspace, and if you continue, I will have a lot to say about the sanctified voyeurism of the Purity Movement and the normalization of bedroom talk amongst professing Christians.

If nothing else, asserting my own boundaries would have kept my cheeseburger-in-paradise a lot happier in my own gut.

(Truly regrettable is that her Christianized TMI-ing had me leaving behind some onion rings.)