On this particular day they were sitting next to each other, and Reese was talking with great animation and excitement. She was waving her hands and squealing and going on about her “One Baba” and “Water John.”
I’ll save you the long back stories and just tell you that “One Baba” was (and still is) her name for her favorite blanket. “Water John” was her name for her favorite movie at the time, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.
It goes without saying that the little boy across the street and his grandmother both had no idea what Reese was talking about. Reese’s excitement was impressive, and she has a way of demanding your interest under any circumstances, but there was a barrier to the communication because the meaning of her language hadn’t yet been opened to them.
This is not only an issue for Reese. I’ve had any number of experiences when I’ve been talking with a car mechanic or a computer technician and not really known what was going on because their languages had not been opened to me. And this doesn’t even take into account the times I’ve been in countries that don’t have English as their predominant language.
In fact, I read an article recently pondering what Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning might mean when he shouts “Omaha” over and over again before the ball is snapped and the play begins. There is confusion because Manning refuses (understandably) to let anyone other than his teammates in on the meaning of his language.
Apparently such issues of understanding are a common thing in life. So, it comes as no shock to me to see that it is a significant issue for Christians.
Now I’ve been a Christian for a while, so I have all these terms I can throw around with great excitement to anyone I meet – redemption, resurrection, salvation, sin, God, grace, peace, prayer, charisma, creation, etc, etc, etc. But what do they mean? Do the terms mean pretty much the same thing to both the speaker and the hearer? When I use the terms, do they mean pretty much the same thing as the Bible suggests they mean?
If we don’t think about this sometimes, we might end up throwing words around without creating understanding. My excitement might be interesting as I talk about “redemption” (like Reese and her shouts of “One Baba!”), but the lack of common understanding can build a wall that needs to be removed for the good news of Jesus to be shared.
I think a lot of my “aha” moments as a Christian have come when something like the original meaning of one of these “churchy” terms has become clearer to me.
For instance, growing up I always thought of “redemption” in terms of coupons in the newspaper. My mom would clip a coupon for 50 cents off a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter margarine. We’d go to the store, my mom would “redeem” the coupon, and she’d save a little money. Redemption.
I don’t think it was until graduate school that I was taught that the biblical use of “redemption” has more to do with slavery and liberation than it does with pinching pennies. In essence, to redeem someone was to purchase them and then set them free. Redemption
So, years after I had begun to say Christian-y things like “Jesus redeemed me,” I finally started to actually understand a little of what I was saying. When I said, “Jesus redeemed me,” I was saying that I was trapped in some way, locked up, enslaved, and Jesus had come to me and set me free.
Understanding the little story behind the word helped me to see how redemption was told in the stories of the Bible and is still told in the stories of the world I live in everyday.
The same is true for all the words that our central to Christian jargon. I invite you to take one of those classic words from the list above and explore it. You might be surprised (and even blessed) by what you find.
For Reese to be able to tear down the language barrier with her friend she needed to be able to tell the story behind the word. Instead of just saying “Water John” she needed to be able to say, “Now there is this movie I love about a boy in Scotland who lives near a lake named Loch Ness. One day he finds a large egg….”
I need to learn the stories behind the words of my faith so I can tear down some of the barriers that might block the people around me (and often even myself) from a deeper, richer experience of God’s love in Jesus Christ.