redeeming old words (like "redeem")

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? 

//

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. 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

38 Comments

  • I take issue with the word “deserve.” I cannot even use it in casual conversation!

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  • I’ve been having trouble lately with the word ‘blessed’ as well. Because blessed in the Beatitudes certainly doesn’t look anything like blessed in the way we use it these days. It’s been a good exercise for me to come up with words that actually say what I’m feeling. Like “I’m having a lovely day with my cat laying on my arms while I type. I feel so content.”
    I like the idea of salvation as being made whole and how that ties in with repentance and redemption. It’s all a constant turning away from the things that break us, being made whole in the process. Which makes ever so much more sense when you say it in real words like that.

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  • Coming out of a harsh and legalistic church the word “works” would make my stomach churn as it was taught as something we had to do to earn salvation and Gods approval. The word has been redeemed for me as now I see good works are simply the natural outflow of being in Christ, of being beloved, free, whole and wanting to give that away to others.

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  • Vision. “Serving another man’s vision”, “submitting to the vision”, “aligning with the vision”. These were expectations for me as a staff member in my previous church. The more it looked like a staff member or volunteer was doing these things the more “favour” they might experience from the senior leader. I feel sad now that I tried to live up to these expectations, sometimes squashing my conscience in the process. I hope to redeem this word…any suggestions?!

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    • that is such a good word that has been so misused. i know that vision, strategies, objectives all feel in the same genre to me and are hard. but i do know “vision” is good in that it’s seeing what could be, etc. i don’t have any great suggestions but maybe some places to start for us are to write out all the word and all the ways it is used that makes us cringe and how it feels like it has been misused and how we compromised something inside of us along the way related to it. then, i wonder if we could then write out why we like the word, what’s good about it, what it means to us or even what we want it to mean to us, what parts of it resonate and just sit on that for a while? (just brainstorming here…)

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  • Maybe it’s a cultural thing but I can’t stand the expression ‘love on’, as in ‘lets love on our brothers and sisters’. I was talking with a friend who has no church background about this expression, she said ‘yuk, sounds kind of perverted’.

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    • Yes! It sounds gross. What’s wrong with love?! Let’s just love people. Love on sounds weird.

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    • To me it has a paternalistic or above/below feel to it. When I extend Love to someone, we are equals, sitting on the same bench in the sunshine holding hands. If I were to love on someone am I not standing and preaching while the loved one sits (or kneels) and is expected to be grateful? No thanks!

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    • it’s so funny, i just heard someone use it and i thought of your comment! i am with you on it just being weird and condescending..

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  • Without setting the scene regarding who was in the group, what had been said and so on, I remember several years ago when Kay and I were in the middle of a group of fifteen or more people, none of whom had any use for “Christians” or “churches”. One fellow said “You can’t be a Christian! They all hate us. You love us.” If we weren’t already cured of using “Christianese” we were after that evening. Using terms that do not identify who were are or how we think is inaccurate at best. All of the terms you listed and many more “Christianese” terms, as they are understood and defined by much of our culture, do not define who we are or how we think.

    We try to use descriptive language, such as “We’re Jesus’ followers. We try to show Jesus’ love to people we meet.” “We believe what Jesus said and try to live like he did.” Almost everyone except “Christians” understand. Lest I start a good old “Christian” brawl on your blog, I won’t give any more examples. 🙂

    Personally, I strongly dislike “Christianese”. Most of the terms are loaded with their own special meaning by the people who use them. What one person means by a term may be much different than what another person means. It’s almost a secret language, the meaning of which is known only to the elite “insiders” of whatever group the insider is insinuating they are one of the “insiders”. The implication is “I am an insider. I’m one of the special ones, both with my group and with God. You, on the other hand, are dung on the bottom of God’s shoe.”

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  • I grew up in a little, traditional, conservative church but most of my memories of that are positive as I always felt at home there. It’s the newer, more trendy stuff that I can’t stand, having worked for a trendy megachurch that was mostly concerned about its image/brand.

    With that said…

    – plug in – e.g. work for us for free
    – press in – what does this even mean? “Press in to God, the Bible…” I can press in to my COUCH, how does this work? Also so much burden on the person, especially if they are in pain.
    – anything that insinuates we control God’s presence – “God showed up,” inviting God/Holy Spirit, wording that implies God is more present at certain events, etc
    – “God has given me a heart for” – I get how this can be helpful but I think “I really care about poor people/sex trafficking/orphans/etc” works just as well and takes more ownership of the concern or cause.

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    • I so relate to all of these… Except ‘plug in’ – I was spared that one!!

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      • You were lucky… or blessed ; ) I heard it in relation to the church, maybe to God, but mostly the church. “We want to help you get plugged in” i.e. join a small group, if the church is unwelcoming or impersonal you just need to “plug in” (which is placing the burden on the guest/newcomer, too).

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    • Oh yes, to the “God showed up” one! Even 12 years on from a major shift in this area, I have so many habitual cries to God that sound like, “Come, be near, be with me”…as if God is not already! So much language that implies that we are trying to reach God or get to God instead of being present to the God who is already present.

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  • “Prayer.” Because I’ve been a part of traditional denominational churches and charismatic churches since in utero, I fully lived a relationship with all of God–Bible knowledge and experiential. I was fortunate enough to be raised with excellent examples of what it means to be ‘all in’ with Jesus. Now that I feel betrayed by the system of church and am learning all the different perspectives on the Bible, I question who or what I’m talking to and what the purpose of ‘praying’ is. Some of it is thrilling–trying to learn to engage in the presence of God more than ‘spiritual warfare’ or even ‘ACTS’ mnemonic through the Lord’s Prayer. Some of it just feels disheartening–like learning that your beloved father is actually a mafia don and you don’t know him at all….

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    • thanks, maggie. i know what you mean. “prayer” has become so formulaic and confusing when it really could be so simple…i love this line “like learning that your beloved father is actually a mafia don and you don’t know him at all…” 🙂

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  • I resonate with your writing here. Thank you!

    These are all good words, but there are many times when I’m not sure what is in the person’s heart when we both use the same word. Because I know it might produce a different image in their hearts.

    Other words:

    Sin –

    Grace – love Dallas Willard’s ideas on Grace.

    Faith – confidence in the goodness of God and His provision for you.

    Sinful nature v. human nature

    Prayer – who knows what is in people’s hearts when they say this?

    Grateful for this conversation.

    Blessings,

    John

    johnloppnow.wordpress.com

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  • I also feel uncomfortable with “blessed.” Here’s how I’ve come to terms with it: I am blessed with good health. My friend, who has battled with cancer, is blessed with a great sense of humor. My other friend (who lost the battle), was blessed with a great family who continue her legacy. I’ve essentially redefined the word from the dishonest expression it seems to be (Got problems? Ignore them and they’re not there!) to an acknowledgement of the good things in my life (and there are many).

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  • I hadn’t read this the other day because I was at work. But this morning I was feeling so crazy in the head about my faith shifting I had to just come to the site and remind myself I’m not alone. I’d gotten a “Satan is trying to deceive you…don’t let him!” long message from a family member the other day and it threw me into a spiral. I’ve been pretty comfortable where I am (right now…I believe there is a God but that’s about it! It’s all in pieces around me.) especially after having read “Faith Shift” a couple of months ago. But when all your family is very evangelical and they all think you’re on the fast track to hell, and all your close friends aren’t Christian at all and can’t understand where you’re coming from in that regard…well, it feels utterly alone and like maybe it is you, maybe there is just something wrong with you. I picked up my copy of Faith Shift and breezed through all the places I’d highlighted and underlined to remind myself I’m ok, and then I came here. Thanks just for being here and continuing to remind me that this journey is ok to be on.

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    • You are DEFINITELY not alone!! We are, in some ways, stumbling around in the dark and then realizing that the Light is within us! Guided by an inner beacon, a whole bunch of us are heading in the same direction. Welcome to the journey!

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    • thank you so much for taking time to share and it is sooooo hard when all around you are those kinds of messages. you are so not crazy and so not alone. peace to you from colorado.

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  • Headship and submission.
    As a counselor working with those who have been abused spiritually, verbally, sexually, physically, these words have been used toward most of them to further enslave and have caused years of anguished vacillation about whether to stay or leave.

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    • oh i am so glad you shared these…so much trauma out there related to headship and the misuse of submission. peace to you as you journey with people toward freedom.

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  • So many trigger words (and I would so love to be less reactive!). But it’s funny, ‘redeem’ is one that I still use. But here’s the context: I no longer ‘know’ whether everything happens for a purpose or whether God is behind everything that happens, but what I do firmly believe is that everything can be redeemed. Yeah…I don’t like using the term with regard to people, but I do love the hope that redemption is possible for anything we go through.

    The other thing was about blessing. Blessed…ugh. I really dislike when people say “Have a blessed day!” Like, is it not spiritual enough to just wish someone well? One of my friends told me that when people say that to her, she feels like they’re using some sort of password that shows that she’s an outsider. But…I just finished editing a book for a wonderful person, and he was talking about seeing being a blessing as our core biblical mandate–in contrast to, well, all the other ways Christians describe goals and agendas. I really loved that. And while I don’t know that the term would resonate with everyone, I think it is a loving, respectful way to look at things. And seeing blessing in the context of how we act is so much clearer than trying to decode what we think is a “blessing” from God (don’t even get me started ;))

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  • I love the new wave of people I see trying to have integrity with their word choices!!! God did this same thing in my life over these years Kathy … still sometimes the only thing that comes to mind is a Christianese word or phrase….. but i love that I can no longer use the words church or blessed or worship without pausing….and it causes a little cringe when I hear them used incorrectly. I’m sure there’s still a lot i use in the wrong way and context….but I see progress!! I can’t wait until all words have one common meaning and we can fully communicate again like we were intended to (before Babel maybe?)

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  • For me “love on” has always had a positive connotation. I have always accepted as an expression some use to speak of loving someone, and have used it myself. I’m enlightened to read how this phrase is experienced in a negative way by others whose life experience is different from mine. I now have something new to consider about my love language. The phrase that really bothers me is the one that says; “I love you anyway.” That usually says to me “you are wrong,” “you are not ok, etc. I have used this one too, and am trying to be more sensitive about it. It’s often said with good and loving intentions, yet also feels to me, like a back door way of saying, “You’re wrong” or “You’re not ok” etc. etc. Saying it playfully and in humor feels good to me, but hearing it said seriously in response to some difference or disagreement, feels like a put down, at least to me.

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  • how about “ministry”? what does that even mean? “i didn’t have a significant ministry that i was part of…”

    “covering” — “we need this event to have all the prayer covering it can possibly have” or even on a personal level: “because i wasn’t part of a local church i didn’t have the covering i needed from the elders…”

    another one that sometimes doesn’t connect for me: when people so confidently and clearly say, “in my spiirt i knew/felt/heard xyz” maybe i’m missing something, but i really don’t understand that one!

    Reply

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