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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Churchy Things People Say That Don't Really Help At All

Image result for michelle rapping gif
Several years ago, the media reported that there was an extremely important message from the President that would be interrupting evening programming. No one knew whether the news was good or bad and I remember Twitter had some hilarious predictions (Michelle is dropping a mixtape!) and somber ones (we're entering another war in the Middle East -- eek!) As we waited for the POTUS, I mentioned to my two roommates, "I'm starting to get nervous." One scoffed and said "It doesn't really matter what he says; Jesus is Lord and God's got it all under control. Worrying doesn't do anything so stop wasting your time. Where's your faith?"

In other words, she gave me the churchy, religiousy version of a husband telling his wife to calm down. (Spoiler alert: this NEVER works!) Note: As it turns out President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Ish cray.

Fast forward to now, just after our electoral college has elected Donald Trump president. There are many people grieving and many rejoicing; there is anger and there is glee. And most interestingly, there is an odd strain of something I call churchspeak. Yes, I made that word up. But I'll share a few examples so you'll know what I mean:

"Jesus reigns on the throne so it really doesn't matter who is president."
"Yesterday, I woke up and Trump wasn't president but Jesus was king. Today I woke up and Trump was president and Jesus was still King."
"Trump isn't my president; JESUS is my president."
"Ya'll worried about the election but God is in control and His plan is perfect."

Let me be clear, I'm super fluent in churchspeak. I'm a PK (Preacher's Kid) from a Pentecostal church. I imagine it has a purpose and in certain situations can be comforting. (Like say when you're getting to know a new coworker and a little churchspeak leaks out so now you know you can talk about your Bible Study group without them being creeped out.)

But for the most part, when people are in need of encouragement, empathy, or a shoulder to leave a trail of snot on, churchspeak comes off as condescending and tone-deaf at best or demeaning and cruelly insensitive at worst. It allows no room for people's actual lived experiences and as people of faith - we are called to serve each other. We are not called to dismiss people's genuine fear, sorrow or mourning, particularly before they've had time to process something as monumental as a presidential election.

And by the way, elections aren't the only inopportune times churchspeak crops up. I've seen people struggling to feed their families be met with churchspeak (Pray and God will provide!), when a bag of groceries might have been a better way to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Churchspeak finds its way into conversations about how hard it is to meet a spouse (Revel in your season of singleness; it's a gift!), or even with women struggling to get pregnant (Don't question God's timing!)

Here's the dangerous and tantalizingly tempting thing about churchspeak; it is almost always true. God is a provider. Singleness can certainly be a great season. God's timing is right. But a friend I respect named Jason Walker said this: Pharisees interact based on law and rightness. Christ interacts based on people and compassion.

Sometimes, when someone is fearful, anxious, or discouraged - the best thing you can do is hold their hand and be a safe space for them to be fearful, anxious, or discouraged. (Pssst, the Bible even says so.) Many of us have read the Scripture that calls us to grieve with those who grieve, and we all know the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But how often do we stop to consider that before healing Lazarus, Jesus first took a moment to weep with Lazarus' grieving sisters? That sounds crazy, right? I mean Jesus obviously knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead; but yet he stopped to grieve anyway. Jesus knew then and we know now the value of taking a moment to validate people's suffering by sharing in it - even if for just a moment. Even if we know we have good news coming, we acknowledge the bad news that rocks our brothers and sisters to their core.

This acknowledgement, this validation, this shared grieving is the Christ-like response that we all have craved at some point in our lives - and this election may be that thing for many. Scripture (and a little Kirk Franklin) is often just what you need when you are feeling especially low. But wielding Bible verses or churchspeak as a weapon to cut away sadness versus as a thoughtful dose of medicine isn't the solution.

And as a final note, Jesus is not your president. That's just weird. Please stop saying this.

P.S. My sister in faith who I consider to be the Master of Words That Heal wrote this piece. If you want some encouragement that lacks churchspeak - I recommend it! Read here.