Pasting Cliche’ Bandaids Over Mortal Wounds

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cli·ché

noun    1. A trite, stereotyped expression, a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.[1]

Dan Merchant as Bumper Sticker Man in his 2008 documentary, “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” I highly recommend this film–it is especially helpful for recovering Pharisees.

One of the biggest life changes I experienced when I began breaking free from Pharisasim was a dramatic switch in my worldview. I suddenly saw that a lot of the churchy things I had been spouting off were nothing more than meaningless cliches’. I was addicted to speaking irrelevant Christianese–a hybrid language comprised of cheesy slogans, bumper sticker sentiments, out-of-context bible verses, and exclusive club jargon.

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By thinking that proclaiming these things was a wise “witnessing tool,” I became a fool. It was actually just another manifestation of the symptom of externalism. It kept me in a constant instructional mindset–a state where, because I assumed that I was the one with the correct viewpoint, people would pause and consider my silly one-liners. It made me like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9 who, seeing himself as the pinnacle of awesomeness, looked down on everybody else.

My Christianese was basically the equivalent of that Pharisee’s prayer.

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I said the following lines so many times in so many ways that they began to sound as fresh and new as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” or “Row, Row, Row Your boat:”

-Everything  happens for a reason

-God is in control

-It isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship

-There’s a God-shaped hole in your heart

-Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

What in the world made me think these trite phrases could make a difference in someone’s life??

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I’ve even learned that I have to be careful with how, or when, or even if I should tell someone God loves them. I mean, think about it–what if a person with Mormon convictions announced to you that “Joseph Smith loves you?” Is that all it would take to get you to consider becoming a Mormon?

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It wouldn’t have been so bad if  my Christianese just resulted in mere stupidity or even silliness. It was the fact that speaking or displaying those slogans was downright disrespectful.  I ignored my unbelieving friends’ intelligence, adulthood and God-given freedom to hold their own opinions. I treated them like children.

Worse yet, I failed to see how horribly injured by sin we all are. Thinking that sin is just comprised of naughty external acts that I would never commit, I figured it was my job to slap my cliche bandaids on others’ obvious scrapes. Wally, my inner Pharisee, did his best to keep me from understanding how deep-rooted human sin nature is–mine and everybody else’s–and caused me to not take others’ hurt souls seriously.

I disrespected people by preaching at them. I devalued them and my faith by misusing phrases that didn’t even mean what I thought they did. I used bandaids for internal bleeding.

Fellow blogger A. Dumois (www.adumois.wordpress.com) in his post, “The Image of God at Wal Mart,” makes an astute diagnosis of our situation:

“…As I walk around the shopping mall or big box discount store, I see people who are spiritually dead.  I see the Image of God parading through the store encrusted by sin and I am heartbroken.  I see broken bodies, dehydrated spirits, damaged people lost to the possibilities of a renewed life with God…”

Mr. Dumois shows respect for the pain of our human condition. But he doesn’t tell us to wear another loud T-shirt, or plaster another sticker on our bumper, or set up another letter board outside our church building. He says instead,

“I see this and I pray silently, ‘Oh Lord, won’t you come and restore the glory of your Image in all people.  How long, Oh Lord, how long will you wait?’  And I wish I could do more.  I understand that each person I see should be, must be, treated with dignity and respect as God’s image-bearer no matter how defaced the Image has become, but also that every one of those people needs Christ.”

I agree, but want to take it even further by adding that “every one of those people” includes me.

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I have a feeling the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have been too eager to slap a bumper sticker on the back of his donkey. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, he says, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.”

And Peter said it like this: “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household.”

His household.

The members of His home.

The ones inside the church.

The one inside the church.

…Me.

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[1] Dictionary.com, LLC. Copyright © 2012.

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13 comments on “Pasting Cliche’ Bandaids Over Mortal Wounds

  1. The Waiting says:

    My best friend and I both went through phases in our life where we spoke “Christianese” too, and years later when we had both moved on from that point, we looked back together and realized the emptiness of what we had been saying. It was out of sheer spiritual laziness that we resorted to those trite phrases and the ideology behind them. It’s so much more of a challenge to meet people where they are in life and to speak to them as humans and not like religion consumers who you have to sell Christianity to through gimmicky phrases. However, rising to that challenge is so much more rewarding and beautiful!

    • You’re so right. It is challenging to just speak plainly sometimes. I find myself like someone in the process of breaking an unhealthy eating habit–I have to stop myself from automatically reaching for gooey cinnamon roll phrases such as, “we need to bring glory to God,” or “we need to plant a seed in so-and-so’s heart,” and instead grab onto plain, but nutritious sentences like, “God probably likes it when we get along nicely,” and “we should do something special to make so-and-so feel loved today.”

      I’m in awe of your sentence, “…speak to them as humans and not like religion consumers who you have to sell Christianity to through gimmicky phrases…” That’s practically a post in itself! Thanks so much for your feedback–it means even more knowing that you’re a new mom. Time and sleep for you are still precious and rare right now, I’m sure. I know, I’ve been there. Boy, have I ever been there…

  2. Alison says:

    I just saw this sign in front of a church this morning: “Forbidden Fruits Create Many Jams”

  3. Irina Riverman says:

    This one made me think. I’m still asking myself how often/when/why do I use those phrases. I’m sure I do. It’s just so much easier for other Christians to accept and like you if you prove by your language that you’re “in”. I do it because I want to fit in.

    • Kind of like secret club speak, maybe. Only regular church-goers ask for “traveling mercies” instead of just being safe on the road. Of course, there’s really nothing wrong with that–it’s just knowing where it is, and where it isn’t okay to talk this way. I think our jargon sometimes alienates us from community in the same way that professional medical journals shut out those of us who have no idea what they’re talking about.

  4. Great thoughts! As former church staff I was too “busy” on Sunday mornings to notice how much we all used those phrases and it wasn’t until I returned to being a regular church goer again that I noticed how much it’s used. And our church has many visitors each week – visitors who have not grown up in church and it sounds like a foreign language to them. It makes someone feel like they’re not part of the “club” when they don’t know the lingo. As believers we must remember where we came from ourselves and how it felt on the outside of the circle and stop using terms that mean nothing to those who aren’t familiar with them. Thanks for the reminder because I too am so guilty of using the full dictionary of Christianese.

    • I really appreciate your feedback. It’s good to know that there are others out there being convicted about–er, um–realizing this, too. We’re all in this together!

  5. Reid says:

    Ughhh, I hate all those stupid sayings. Another thing the people that say all these sayings like to do is remind everyone how they, “only listen to Christian music” and “only associate with Christian people” I hate when I hear that. The Christian music industry is just like the regular one, it’s all about the $$$. Theyre delusional if they think it’s about God. And hanging out with only Christians doesn’t help their cause any. They’re like the Freemasons lol. They speak Christianeze in their Christian club (church), while listening to Christian music and make sure it is inaccessible to outsiders. They need a PR person to improve their image greatly lol… That probably went way off topic, but I was bored haha

    • Reid, you make some interesting points. Certainly not all Christians act this way, but the Pharisaical ones do. You made me smile with your comparison to the Freemasons–a lot of Christians have a real problem with that organization. I don’t think they’ve stopped to think about how much they can make their church into its own “secret society.” We really need to reach out to our communities, not judge them and isolate from them. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. peachyteachy says:

    Thanks for a really thoughtful post–with you on so many levels. And thanks for the like on my blog!

  7. An excellent post. We have less Christianese here in the UK; but we also have falling church attendance. Here’s a cliche for you: actions speak louder than words. If the church isn’t serving the community, it’s not working. All the talking in the world won’t help if it’s not backed up with action.

  8. Well, at least when you speak Christianese in the UK, you do it with a lovely accent! But you’re right–I, too, believe that we should be doing something tangible to help our neighbors out rather than just trying to get them to come to our Sunday morning club. Just yesterday I heard a Christian radio broadcast that addressed this issue, though, and it was really encouraging. It’s the story of how a huge group of churches in Portland, Oregon have set aside their differences and have united to do some amazing community service projects. It was really inspiring.
    You can check it out at http://www.familylife.com/audio and click on “Charting a New Course for Portland.”
    I so appreciate hearing from you, Tilly, and so enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work–we’re in this together, right?!

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