A Changing Language
written by Rev Gary Heard

A thirteen-year-old aspiring professional golfer who qualified for a tournament on the women’s circuit recently was interviewed following the completion of the qualifier. She described three critical holes where she had hit her approach shots “really bad”. So bad in fact that they landed close to the pin and allowed her to score a birdie or two.

My 16-year-old nephew recently described his DVD player, complaining of the “really gay noise” it makes after a short period of operation.

It is part of being human to redefine language with time. We have seen the time when “good” things went from being “the bees knees” to “far out”, then were “really cool”, before becoming “hot” or “rad” and then “wicked”. But all the while they stayed good. And all this took place within a generation or two.

This simple example is representative of a much broader trend in communication. Not only have words been adapted for different purposes, the vehicles for conveying meaning in general have changed markedly, the impact of advertising and the broader media being one catalyst affecting how we access information, and understand concepts. Not only have words changed, but methods of understanding, dialogue and debating are worlds apart from previous generations.

Being part of the church, which is founded on “the word” and proclaims a “living word”, we need to reflect upon the implications of these changes in the ways in which we communicate. To simply mouth truths into our present context, utilising language rooted more in King James English, is more like trying to program a computer using spoken English. The two just do not connect.

Remarkably, the language of the gospels is filled with new language and imagery. Jesus was not captive to the language of his predecessors, and with the use of story and parable, image and action communicated a powerful message of God’s Kingdom to a responsive generation. In the life and teaching of Jesus we have a very creative and grounded representation of love and truth. The church today seems largely stuck with language and illustration of an historic era, and a message which appears largely removed from the realities of life, not only of people in common, but of the communicator as well.

The challenge we face is not to devise a better message, but to allow it to speak in word, in deed, and in imagery - without removing its mystery - so that others might be able to connect with God through it.

And wouldn’t that be a wicked thing to be able to explore?

June 15, 2003
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