As ministers, we are the arbitrators of the gospel, professional communicators of the Good News of God’s love and favor proclaimed in the teachings and life-example of Jesus of Nazareth.
We are a people of the Book, affirming the central role of the Bible as the foundation of Jesus’ Jewish heritage and the authoritative text for the details of his life and the community of faith that emerged around him.
This leads to a great deal of time thinking about language: the original languages of Scripture, the various interpretations of the faith tradition and the best ways to express these principles and insights for a contemporary culture and setting.
Meanwhile, the English language is morphing into something almost unrecognizable: AAMOF, OMG, LOL, IMHO. The speed, widespread use and complexity of the Internet reduce language in the same way the jetliner has shortened travel time and cultural distinctiveness.
Wal-Mart opened its first store in India this summer, McDonald’s has been in Africa since 1992, and the first thing recognized by others about Kentuckians when we have traveled abroad is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Our world resembles one giant NASCAR, decked out with corporate logos, burning up limited fossil fuels, and speeding round after round in one indistinguishable mile upon another, awaiting the next sensational event to grab us.
It takes little skill with language to describe a world without nuance and with limited patience with complexity. Twitter demands brevity, expecting an attention span no greater than 140 characters long, as today’s political issues literally “spin” on the pivot of repeating the same few words over and over again.
We might credit Mark Twain as the patron saint of more succinct language and the one who gave us the “sound bite” as a “a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.” But even the latest hip expressions have limited appeal and even quicker lives. In July, the Urban Dictionary – a user-developed and defined Web resource for slang – bore 15 million unique users and 1,000 words a day.
Proclaimers of Good News, take notice! Our challenge is to move folks beyond jargon and jingles. We must discover the gift of community where friends can sit awhile in silence, where ambiguity is tolerated and where complicated issues are discussed patiently and thoroughly. “God is love” is not a slogan. It is a way of life.
And if you didn’t understand this communication, realize that it might require me to “go primitive” on you. If you didn’t get that, then let’s try it F2F, and if you are still in the dark, well, I guess I’ll have to T2UL.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.