Thursday, 16 May 2013

Suggestions for our church swear box?

I’ve spent some time this morning getting ready for Sunday morning at YWBC. We’re carrying on with our series on the Sermon on the Mount, and this week we’ve arrived at Matthew 5:33-37, the section where Jesus calls for our language to be characterised by honesty, and free from guile or deception. On the same morning, it’s been striking to read reports of Google executives appearing before the Public Accounts Committee to face questions on their financial reporting and tax bills, with exasperated MPs asking them to ‘call a spade a spade.’

I realise that we live at a moment when trust in the credibility of statements made by public figures is low, but I can’t help feeling this is one more area of life where it’s easier to distract ourselves with what goes ‘in the world,’ conveniently forgetting about the need to put our own affairs in order first.

Reading the passage again this morning has reminded me of so many of the pretentious ways we use language in church, how we dress up our gossip or criticisms in pious language (we don’t pass on bits of juicy information, instead we say ‘I’m just telling you this for prayer…) or how we use euphemisms to play down the significance of behaviour which causes hurt or bad feeling. I thought this morning of a person I once knew who prided themselves on the fact that ‘folk always know where I stand with them.’ This was a coded way of acknowledging that lots of people had been crushed by their criticism over the years.

I’ve also been reminded this morning of Adrian Plass’ excellent, and very funny, book, Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation, where he provides an A to Z of definitions on the Christian life. For example, ‘Pillar of the church’ is defined as ‘(1) person who is consistent and reliable in their commitment to the well-being of the congregation (2) big thick thing that holds everything up and restricts vision.’

I think that a major step in combatting this problem is to start by naming it for what it is, to be upfront with each other about the games we sometimes play. So, why not have a church swear box? But let’s make sure that it’s not just about the outlawing of ‘rude’ words, but the prevention of self-righteousness and pretensions. Let me know your suggestions in the comments section below.

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