Words can be contagious. Few things seem to harbor the power of transmittal as words, and with them ideals. Take for instance the words “change” and “hope”. When wielded in a certain way, they have the power to win a presidency.
I experienced a similar situation here in the last couple of months, howbeit not quite as consequential as the previous example.
I live in a culture which places high value on greetings. People will go out of their way to greet you if they see you, simply because this is the appropriate way to respect a relationship. Furthermore, my work has me spending time with students who are roughly high school age.
Imagine my surprise when one of my students walked up to me, and instead of initiating the customary ritual of greeting, stuck out his arm indicating that he wanted a fist bump. Then, upon bumping said fist, he clamors out the words, “big ups.”
At first, due to his heavy Franco-African accent, I thought he was trying to say “hiccups,” but upon him repeating it several times and me taking guesses I made the discovery that he was indeed saying “big ups.” Within a mere period of days, it seemed every student in town had replaced their normal greetings with the “big ups.” It spread like a disease. My astonishment was complete when one of the little six-year-old girls with our organization walked up to me one day and demanded the “big ups.” Where in the world did she pick it up?! Even she had been infected.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the “big ups” terminology. Its definition, as listed on Urban Dictionary (a site I will not be linking to from this blog), is as follows:
- lots of props, sent through a messenger, such as the radio or a friend
- massive props to someone you respek (I did not misspell that.)
- (n.) a phrase used when dealing on the street to give props or show much respect to someone/something
Now, you may wonder how kids in the middle of absolute nowhere, in a land without reliable electricity or running water, would pick up on street lingo from the States. The answer lies in the power of words themselves. Words convey ideals, and with the term “big ups” comes a truckload of American culture. One song by Akon (a West African himself), with lyrics of wealth and fame, and the youth here realize that is the ideal to which they want to aspire. People who have nothing think Americans have everything, and the youth here imitate every ounce of our culture they can.
But is that not true of humanity in general? A need for acceptance, a desire to make ourselves look as though we belong in a certain group of people, causes us to say and do some of the strangest things.
Christians are no exception.
You know you have done it, and so have I. We say the darndest things to convince others we are indeed the kind of person we are “supposed to be.” As we settle into the Christian subculture, we get cozy and begin to aspire for an elevated position in this social circle. Soon, the desire is to ooh and ahh those other members of said circle with our obvious spirituality. Before you get mad at me for posting this, let me be the first to admit, I have committed at least five of these, and my hope is that you will laugh at yourself (or at least me).
Following is a list of those things we often catch ourselves saying in order to prove our spirituality to the Christian in-crowd:
Quoting a minor prophet
(especially when it has no bearing on the conversation)
What better way to show one is definitely on God’s speed dial than quoting the Bible? But for those who really want the most bang for their buck, quote a minor prophet. Everyone knows John 3:16, but who can recall the words of the prophet Haggai? An added advantage comes with everyone’s lack of knowledge when it comes to the minor prophets, so one can stick these little nuggets into many conversations where they admittedly do not belong. The prophets were preachers of old, and their words often sound cryptic and extra spiritual when used to season conversation. Common uses of this are seen during group Bible study, or more subtly in the middle of a vocal prayer. “As your Word tells us in Nahum 3:5,” makes a convenient prayer insert. A word of caution: Read the passage (and maybe even understand it) prior to tossing it into the mix.
Christian name dropping
This one is big enough it deserves its own post! It is increasingly common to hear people drop the name of a Christian pop writer casually in conversation. The phrase often begins with something like, “You know, Donald Miller says it best when,” or “I think Mark Driscoll would agree.” In using these little jewels, one simultaneously shows an extensive understanding of “the Christian conversation” (as so many now call it) and enlists a famous Christian mind on his or her side of a discussion. Good show!
However, one must be careful with this tactic. Within the Christian subculture are still further Christians subsets. Assuredly, it is never good to mix subsets. For instance, name dropping Jon Piper in a circle of Paige Patterson sympathizers will result in a point deduction. Past this reality, one must consider whether it is appropriate to pull a name from the realm of theologians, Christian-living authors, or the new up-and-coming pastor podcasters/ bloggers. Remember, context is everything with this one. Be aware of your surroundings.
It was the hymnbook of ancient Israel, and aside from the command of God to have “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the first song in every hymnbook after the crucifixion, it functions in much the same way as our own hymnals today. Its purpose is to bring the reader(s) into worship, and more importantly, to provide God with the honor and praise he deserves. Filled with deep, thoughtful words that cry out to God in both joy and pain, the Psalter is indeed inspired worship.
However, a common purpose nowadays is to demonstrate the exceeding spirituality of some. Envision a group worship time, not the Sunday morning service, but something more personal, where all are invited to participate in vocal prayer, reading of scripture, and song. There is a momentary silence and just enough time to flip to the Psalms (conveniently located right in the middle of the Bible) and employ the pick-a-psalm tactic. There are psalms for every occasion in scripture. Furthermore, when properly executed, this can make it seem as though the person was coincidentally reminded of these words of worship as though he or she cuddles up nightly with the Psalter and cup of tea. It is virtually a fail-safe way to rack up points; however, for this approach to work, it must be used in bulk. Simply calling everyone’s attention to a particular psalm once during a group worship will not do. One must become marked by this tendency. Happy hunting.
This tactic is best employed in group settings. Often times, it is appropriately used during Sunday school or “small group.” Proper execution seizes the moment when a call for prayer requests has been made and uses it as an opportunity to soapbox some extra-spiritual event that has recently taken place (or will take place) in one’s life. However, like Jeopardy, this one must take the form of a question. “Please pray that I have boldness as I single-handedly scour the streets in our slums for victims of poverty in order to invite their kids to VBS next week,” is a case example.
I am not sure if this is a tactic or a spiritual gift, but certain individuals appear to have the ability while others do not. Similar to the strategy listed above, the practitioner of this tactic tends to commandeer every conversation, no matter the subject, and morph it into a discussion of his or her exploits in short term missions. “You know, speaking of your toilet getting stopped up, I am reminded of an experience I recently had in the jungles of the Amazon,” may be how this one begins.
While also most effective in a group setting, this approach is markedly more casual and occurs during conversation; therefore, it is more flexible in usage and can gain the user points in a non-church setting. Prime times for this occur often, such as that vacuum period between Sunday school and the Worship service. The skilled can also use this tactic in a one-on-one conversation, and the truly brazen can insert it into group Bible study as an answer to a question. Admittedly, this last use is precarious, but if done successfully, it leaves all in earshot feeling as though they have learned spiritual truths from the sagely wisdom provided by the short term missions superstar.
By all means when God teaches you a lesson, shows you a deep truth in his Word or lays a need on your heart, share it! Let others know, but check your motives. Let us all make sure our purpose is to edify others in the process, and not to make ourselves shine. May God get the glory from our words and not ourselves.
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