Victorian Prudes

Well, let’s just say it’s been a while since since I’ve been here.  I took a long hiatus from the blog, went totally MIA for over a year while I continued to work on the book I am writing. And besides that, it has been a really full season with starting a stand up paddle board business and an Airbnb gig out of house, as well as a spiritual direction practice, not to mention working non-stop on house projects, interviewing for jobs, and trying to get in the water to surf at least 3-4 days a week and having family & friends in town. Anyway, excuses aside, I am back.

As the Benedictines say, always we begin again…

I took a philosophy class in seminary taught by an eccentric, almost too brilliant for his own good type of professor named Dr. Carl Raschke. His lectures were a mix of complete, utter nonsense and some astounding philosophical logic (or perhaps illogic because that is how one feels when one leaves the classroom after listening to him talk for 8 hours: ill) thrown in. They made my head spin and left my brain feeling like it couldn’t handle even the simplest of tasks because it was chock full of terms like noumena, ockham’s razor, and weltanschauung. Ya know, words like that you hear at lunch with co-workers.

I love words. I love language. Having done a master’s degree in theology, I’ve used some words that are pretty far out there. But I felt like I had to learn a whole new, strange language just to read Derrida, Kant, and the rest of the philosophers or to understand dear old Raschke.

But there is something he said, in plain English for once, that I’ll never forget.

“We are Victorian prudes when it comes to language.”

The language that Christians use has become neutered. It has become impotent largely because so many try to honor God by overusing religious speech. How many times have you heard someone offhandedly throw out phrases like “praying for you,” or “just have faith,” or “her faith is carrying her?” Or heard someone say “It was a blessing?” Nothing is inherently wrong with using these words, of course. But overusing them, speaking in “Christianeze” has an impact on us and the people around us: language that once held power turns into religious platitudes. This ends up dishonoring God and other people and cheapening the gospel itself. As Carl said, we end up “dehumanizing by routinizing.”

Let’s look at the word “faith” for a minute. It has become a Christian catch-all for anything pertaining to belief. The problem is, that is not what faith actually is according to the ancient Christian tradition from which many of us come.  Faith in its original sense is not a simply a matter of belief. In fact, it has as much to do with doubt as belief. Faith can probably be better described by what it is not than by what it is. Yet so often, the word faith is used to signify certainty and security, or a means of getting what we want.

If I have enough faith maybe I’ll get that thing I’ve been praying about.

If I believe enough maybe God will answer my prayers.

Real faith takes going beyond the mind and into a different kind of knowing, one that relies on mystery more than certitude. The great philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said that faith involves a leap into the absurd, into that which is unknowable.

The absurd
A leap
Embracing doubt

Wouldn’t it be such a breath of fresh air to hear these phrases at church next Sunday?

Christianity doesn’t need to be so congested with menial platitudes-it’s the greatest story ever told. Which means that we can let go of our inner Victorian prudes, that part of us that believes cramming as much god talk as possible into as many conversations as possible will make us better Christians. It won’t. And no one wants it or needs it. Sometimes less is more- and that’s the good news. We can stop trying to please God and other people with trite phrases. We can relax and be present with ourselves and others when we stop neutering our language and start being real. We can let the words we choose be those that contain the  gravitas that reflects the depth of the Christian mystery.

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