redeeming old words (like “redeem”)

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 38 Comments

transformation is tender

Oh, I’d love to know how many of you cringed when you read the word “redeem”?

It seems like an additional hard part about some of our faith shifts is that particular words we used to love and appreciate have become ones we begin to avoid or cause us to twinge.

For all kinds of reasons, certain words just stop working and just become too loaded.

I recently had to enter into an online site where people were talking in extreme Christianese. I knew enough to brace myself but goodness gracious, I could only watch about 2 minutes! The insider language, the do-we-even-understand-how-weird-we-often-sound-ness was kind of funny.

At the same time, it’s easy for me to point the finger and say “your Christian language is lame” but I also know that even though a lot of how I talk has changed, sometimes my non-Christian-y friends are like, “what in the $(#&!&($@* is she even saying?”

Words do matter. Language is important, and all kinds of feelings & experiences are tied to it.

I am okay with some people not understanding certain things; of course we can’t make every word work for us or for every person in our lives. Yet, I am also sad at how words that are deeply integrated into our faith have been hijacked in all kinds of ways that make many people not want to use them anymore (or feel like we need to explain them if we do).

Here are some words that have bugged me or currently bug me that I’m open redeeming. Of course there are others, but here are a few off the top of my head:

“Church“- Oh, this is such a misperceived full-of-baggage word! “Church” and “God’s people” are often two different things but they weren’t meant to be. This comes up all the time related to The Refuge because we are indeed a church. At the same time, I often hesitate to use it because when people think of church, they think of Sunday mornings, sitting in chairs facing forward, listening to someone talk, singing some songs, etc. The original word in the scriptures–eklessia–had nothing to with a “service” but was centered on “gathering.” My very loose definition of church has helped me hang on to it: People gathered together in some shape or form to learn to love and be loved by God, others, and ourselves. There’s a lot of church going on that doesn’t look like church-as-we-once-knew-it.

“Christian” – I know a lot of people have let go of calling themselves Christians for all kinds of reasons. Some do not consider themselves followers of Jesus any longer but far more still do, but don’t want to be associated with anything tagged with the word “Christian” because of the implications. Our job is to be Christ’s ambassadors, not his policeman, but we’ve often failed. Part of my faith shift has been to still own the word and play whatever part I can in being an ambassador not a policeman.

“Leadership” – Yikes, as I walk through these I realize that each of these words are often extremely loaded. Because of a wide range of truly horrible to truly lame experiences with leadership, many shy away from the word. We don’t want to be leaders or follow leaders. However, I’ll hold that leadership is important and can’t be completely avoid. But we need a different kind of leader–a Beatitude-centered kind, an under-the-radar kind, a cultivator-of-people’s-gifts-and-deep-community kind, a friend-and-equal-in-this-crazy-life kind.

“Salvation” – Over time, I’ve wrestled with what “salvation” and “being saved” means apart from old teachings. For many, salvation was taught to us as solely being saved from spending eternity in hell when we died. The meaning of the word “sozo” in Greek means “to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, do well, and be made whole.” I love this thought of healing here & now not just later.

“Repentance” – There are countless bad stories of “repentance” being used against us, but I really love the word because of what it actually means–to turn away from. There are so many things that lure me away from the truth of who I really am. Repentance is about change and transformation and it requires our participation out of hope & desire, not shame & fear.

“Redeem” – It is easy to toss out the word when we shift away from the notions of total depravity and nothing good in us. Yet, I’m keenly aware of my humanity. Despite God’s image embedded in my soul, I also have a lot of brokenness in need of God’s grace and mercy. To me, Jesus’ grace and mercy isn’t the kind that says, “You are absolutely nothing but a miserable wretch apart from me” but the kind that says, “You are something because you are a part of me. Trade your brokenness in for your true belovedness.”

“Blessed” – I can’t quite stomach this one yet outside of the Beatitudes so if someone can help me out with it, I’d love more input. It’s difficult for me to think of “blessed by God” in the same way when so many friends suffer, when certain people have access to medical care and millions others are at risk of contracting a virus and dying, when there’s so much desperation & poverty & pain. The only way I can make sense of it is to shift it toward a sense of gratitude instead. I am grateful for all kinds of things and believe God is always at work, but I’m not sure that God is “blessing” me while ignoring others.

“Lord” – Last one for today and it’s a biggie. When I hear it, I get this weird little knot in my stomach, yet I know it’s about my past not about its meaning. It’s in the scriptures thousands of times and a crucial reality of Jesus. I’m going to keep wrestling with this one this upcoming year because I know there’s something good underneath.

I don’t think these words are going away, but I do think our relationship with them can change; wrestling with them is good.

I’d love to know what these words stir up for you?

What other words are you trying to redeem? 

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ps: I know some of you are trying to redeem the Bible, too, hoping to re-engage with it in new ways.  My online friend Heather Caliri has a 2015 exercise to engage with it through art and reflection. Here are all the details if you want to join in.