“Shoot” Christians Say
By addie zierman
March 19, 2012
The whole thing went viral in the early months of 2012, and for a couple of weeks, the Internet was flooded with clichéd "$#!% [People] Say."
People were clicking the links, watching videos uploaded by fame-seeking hopefuls, listening to $#!% New Yorkers say and girls say and rich people say and hipsters say. We recognized ourselves and each other. We saw the absurdity of it, and it was really funny—until it wasn’t, and we’d all had enough of the whole thing.
There’s a ballpark 5,570,000 of these types of videos strewn across YouTube now, scattered debris from the whirlwind craze. What that says to me is this: Everyone has verbal tics, tired metaphors, words that have grown worn and trivial from use. And, of course, Christians are no different. A Christian language parody video would (of course) feature Kirk Cameron in a cameo, and the script would read something like this:
"It’s not religion; it’s a relationship": A phrase commonly used when explaining the evangelical faith to outsiders. It’s meant to show how relevant it all is. How not lame Christians are. How the whole thing is really no different than just being in love.
"I have a heart for Kenya": A passion for some country or demographic that is given to one by God, and thus can be discussed with anyone, at any time, ad nauseum. Note: This does not have to be Kenya. Other popular choices include junior highers, the homeless, unborn babies and Darfur.
"I’m dating Jesus right now": To give up romantic relationships for a window of time in order to focus on your relationship with Jesus. As a bonus, someone can add a slightly martyred tone and a nuanced “Sorry,” at the beginning of this phrase to diplomatically turn down unwanted dates.
"Lord, we just pray that you’d just fill this place, that you’d just send revival, God …": The typical evangelical prayer—long and wordy, as if you get bonus blessings for every "just" you use, or a little extra helping of God’s riches for each time you say His name.
"I’m saving myself for marriage": The evangelical response to anything having to do with sex. You can join the movement (True Love Waits), wear the purity ring (available in all colors and designs), and sign a pledge card while sitting next to your (wildly uncomfortable) father at a formal banquet hosted by your church youth group.
The list could go on and on, because all over America, Christians are penning their testimonies, musing about their calling. There are "prayer warriors" seeking revival. Believers are "planting seeds," "having devos," telling each other the truth "in love."
And it’s nothing new, nothing all that specific to us. Five million YouTube videos don’t lie: Everyone has a certain amount of $#!% they say.
No, the problem with evangelical language is not so much that it’s cliché. It’s that it’s not the whole truth.
Returning to the Word
Christians say to each other, to those who are wondering, “It’s not religion; it’s a relationship!” And this is all well and good until the depression comes or loneliness breaks through and it doesn’t feel like relationship. It feels like emptiness. Like God is a million miles away.Someone may “have a heart for Kenya,” and the language is passive, possessive, capable of creating distance, making the whole thing theoretical. They can love a demographic without ever having to learn the names of its individuals.
Someone asks a girl out, and she says, “Sorry, I’m dating Jesus right now,” in order to terminate the possibility of a relationship with all its messiness, its capacity for breaking her heart. Christian singles say we're “saving ourselves for marriage,” as if we could ever arrive at “I do” without some amount of brokenness, some painful fractures on our own fragile soul.
Believers pepper their communal prayers with that word “just,” and maybe it’s a verbal tic or maybe it betrays something deeper: a theology of not enough. As if God does not have enough for us or simply doesn’t want to give it. So we ask for this. Just this.
Someone is lonely; the Church says “get plugged in.” Someone is struggling, and it is shrugged off. “You should really get into the Word," we say.
These phrases are not the beginning of the discussion; they are the end of it. They are a reduction, a door closed, a bow tied neatly over the whole complicated thing.
But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: We were broken, and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.
Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends. This whole faith thing is big and mysterious. Just when Christians think they’ve got it pinned down with the right phrase or word or metaphor—"It’s not religion, OK? It’s relationship!"—the light changes and we can see it afresh. If we’re willing.
This is the work of it, the vulnerability of it. It’s easier to say “just get plugged in” than to dive into someone else’s loneliness. It’s easier to say “Sorry, I’m dating Jesus” than to say no to the hopeful-looking boy.
But then, Jesus has never really been about what’s easy.
He’s walking that long dirt road with those road-worn travelers. He’s saying it fresh, cutting through the cliché, making it all new.
He’s talking, listening, explaining, discussing.
He’s staying until the words add up. Until they see that it was Jesus' Word all along.
Addie Zierman is a writer, mom and Diet Coke enthusiast. She blogs at How to Talk Evangelical, reimagining faith one tired cliché at a time.