Right now, our students are struggling a bit with an ongoing conversation we’re having about language. During our training week, we began to talk about word choice, especially blessing.
Since then, the topic continues to come up, and next week we’ll be training together on why language matters.
So far, they understand that sometimes their words are unintentionally hurtful. Like the time one said, “We are all just so blessed to be here.” In that group, throwing out a blanket ‘we’ statement, when the group is very diverse and got to ‘here’ in a variety of ways showed a lack of sensitivity to our team.
One thing that’s missing, and we all forget this all the time: there is no such thing as a universal lexicon. It’s not like things are just ‘out there’–chair, book, pen–and the only difference in languages is the sounds one makes when speaking–silla, libro, pluma. Rather, language is shaped by culture.
For instance, if I were to talk about a soda, you’re probably thinking of Diet Coke. (At least you should be; it’s the best.) But soda is also a type of restaurant in Costa Rica.
And it’s not a cafe, or a bistro, or a diner, or a restaurant. It’s a soda. It only exists in its culture.
No universal lexicon.
Because of that, a word like blessing doesn’t mean the same to a middle-income person in the U.S. as it did to the early church as it did to the ancient Israelites. And this matters.
Language is not only a reflection of our culture; it shapes our culture. The writers of Scripture got at this idea all the time. One of Paul’s main messages throughout his letters, for instance, is to be who you are. He uses language to shape the identity and culture of the church and its members and call them to be better. Compassionate, united, hospitable. And it’s still true for us today. Be who you are. Speak who you are. Even if it’s not really who you are…yet.