Saturday, March 20, 2010

speaking true identities

Yesterday I sat through a fantastic lecture in my Old Testament course, where the professor lamented the Church's loss of a serious familiarity with the Psalms in the last century. At the heart of this lament was a respect for the power of a community's shared language.

What do I mean?

Nate: ... and that just didn't work at all. Oh well--now we know.
Joe: And knowing is half the battle.
both: [raising fists in the air] G.I.JOOOOE!

Sub-culture. Right there.
A culture or a sub-culture is bound together by shared experiences--experiences that were here articulated through and recognized by a shared language. These guys are both 80s kids, and now they know it. I could have used a hundred different examples, with talk of red-shirts, or "Who Dat?", or dropping Hennys--the point remains the same. Shared language can forge community.

The Church, too, is bound together by shared language. We have particular language of God, creation, sin, grace, membership, that expresses the particular beliefs and experiences of the Church. Of course the Church is also bound together in a more fundamental way than this--in Christ through the Holy Spirit. "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor. 12:27): in Christ we are made into something new and communal that we simply were not before. But socially, as the people who have different visions for the Church's budget, who have to work with each other's kids in the nursery, who have to make long car rides together, and who pray together, we need to be bound by language. Language of faith, hope and love; language of judge not, bear one another's burdens, and pure and undefiled religion.

How is this supposed to happen? Where do we get this language, and why is it common to us all?

It's the language of scripture.
This may sound simplistic, but the Church needs to know the language of scripture--we need to be reading and teaching the Bible. As we are immersed in the words of scripture, not only can we familiarize ourselves with them and be formed by them, but our communities have a foundation. We are the people called out of darkness into His marvelous light; we are the taking-up-cross people; we are the Body of Christ. This is our identity as the people of God, and we learn it and can articulate it from scripture. It is only as we do this that the distinctive culture that is the Church can be properly defined.

Of course, there's also the language of Tradition--the words that the Church has found, over two-thousand years, to best illuminate the scripture, speak where scripture does not, or describe new realities that we are forced to acknowledge. This is the language of Incarnation, Trinity, Fall, Eucharist, and so on. After we've learned the language of scripture--or, rather, as we continue to learn it, for this process won't ever be really concluded--we must begin to learn the language of the Tradition. Only then can we really appreciate the self-understanding of the Church that we've inherited from previous generations, and only then can we converse with the centuries of brothers and sisters who have gone before us, to learn from their insights and inspiration. This also is the language of the properly defined Church.

Why is this so important? Why am I writing about it now?
Though it may not seem so, this message is pressing. It's pressing because the members of the Church are also people in the world, and they are learning the language of the world. The language of The Bachelor or YouTube or SportsCenter. In this context, a subculture has to be purposeful about maintaining its particular identity.
The subculture that is the Church is going to be defined by something. If we are indeed not to be 'of the world' (John 15:19), then we do need to distinguish ourselves from it somehow, don't we?
We can start here. The language of the Church must be the language of the scripture. Therein will we find the perfect articulation of our identities--as a community and as individuals--and learn to articulate it for ourselves. Therein will we find an expression of the beliefs and experiences that bind us together as a particular people in the middle of the melting pot of the world.


Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

excellent post, Nance. I've kinda thought about this myself - though not so clearly and deliberately. I live among a people of "un-Scriptured" imaginations. I work with young people - most of whom would self-identify as Christians, but as a group they do not have the Bible knowledge that my Baptist friends had (although, I tended to hang with the guys that ended up going to seminary and they may not be representative of Baptists in general).

I don't know what is the best way to go about "scripturing" the imaginations of post-moderns who, we are told, are shifting from word to image anyways. Most of the cutting edge teaching tools (like, say, Nooma videos) convey Scriptural concepts more than actually helping students to learn scripture verses (though verses are of course included). Compare this to someone like Wesley, who can scarcely write a complete sentence without a scriptural allusion or quote of somekind (or an allusion from the Prayerbook :)

Ours is a different age.

JWD said...

For science, the following is a breakdown of significant words appearing on the front page of your blog in order of frequency of use. In a sense, a snapshot of your language:

Word Frequency

christian 24
language 21
new 20
scripture 19
church 18
teach 13
work 13
real 12
testa 12
people 11
word 11
post 11
january 10
haiti 10
one 10
man 9
say 9
point 9
jam 9
mean 9
faith 9
god 8
reade 8
nance 8
something 8

Poor sample size, but you get the idea.

Anonymous said...

Great post.