11/26/2011

A Few Language Burps: Why trying to be correct is not the same as communcting well.

OK. Some post Thanksgiving Day thoughts on "correct" language in various venues in Episcopal Land.

(ii) Why "Occupy" is not necessarily good news. The "Occupy" movement has a name that doesn't work so well in Haiti an other places that have primarily been occupied by, say, the United States.  "Occupy" is not necessarily good news if you live on the West Bank, in Haiti, in many countries of Central America, on various Reservations, etc.  In Haiti the plus side of the Occupy movement is sometimes called "Big Change."  The nice thing about that name is it doesn't say change for what...only big.  As the agenda of the OWS movement begins to develop we will need to note carefully, "change for what?"


(ii)  On "God's Mission" and "Outreach." Bishop Sauls, Elizabeth Kaeton and others of my heroines / heroes have suggested that "outreach" is not the right word for whatever it is that we ought to be about in relational terms with people in the context of God's purpose.  So "outreach" is a not so good word.  

Well, OK on some levels, point well taken. Mission and outreach are different things, and while Jesus' followers were clearly on a mission, and we talk about God's mission, which we are always running to catch up with. Still, "doing for the least of these..." is kind of like visiting in prison, giving food to the hungry, clothing to the freezing, etc, and those things have a lot of "outreach" sort of flavor. 

More, however, is that a reasonable principle is not to spit in the soup, we've all got to eat. So we need to be careful not to consider some lesser beings because they are "just doing outreach."   Outreach is what some people do, and when I see them about that and wonder when the last time I worked in the Thrift Shop or collected canned goods for the food bank, I find the outreachy people up to lots more than "just outreach." They are making a good stab at what Jesus suggested was in order.  


Which is to say, arguing about mission rather than outreach as the driving term is maybe going down the wrong road. Asking myself when was the last time I did anyone any good and when was the last time I wondered just what God is up to are not so different sorts of activities.  They are both paths, one perhaps greater, one lesser (I don't know), but they are paths to be honored.

And I know for a fact that the esteemed Stacy and Elizabeth do both sorts of things, and in the blink of an eye fold one into the other.  I only hope sometimes to do as well.

(iii) The Episcopal Church is an International Church. For some years now, beginning with George Warner's display at General Convention of the flags of the many nations in which The Episcopal Church is present, it has been fashionable to argue that The Episcopal Church, because it consisted of some 110 dioceses in 16 countries, is an International Church. Although the large majority were in The United States, the other dioceses are integral to the life of this church and so it is important to state it clearly - we are an international church.


The accent on the international character of the church has been beneficial, at least on some level.Over the years there has been greater effort to be sensitive to the diversity of languages and cultures in the Episcopal Church population.


But as with most fashionable ideas this one has a flaw. The Episcopal Church was clearly from the outset understood to be a Church in The United States of America.  As The Episcopal Church extend its overseas work it understood its long range efforts to be the establishment of Episcopal / Anglican national churches in places where it had missions. We can look with pride at the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church in Mexico, The Anglican Church in the Region of Central America (IARCA), and the Episcopal Church in Cuba, are all Churches that had their beginnings as overseas dioceses of The Episcopal Church. They have all become their own national church or part of some other regional body. 


I presume it is the continued assumption that churches in locations outside the United States will eventually become their own churches or part of regional Anglican bodies. 


So The Episcopal Church is, for the time being, an International Church, but always hoping that its member dioceses in other countries will have the benefits within those countries of the peculiar liberties that all Anglican Churches have to determine their own polity in the context of the societies and cultures in which they find themselves, not subject to "foreign" domination.


The phrase "The Episcopal Church is an international church" is a helpful reminder of the fact that we have many members who are not part of the US culture(s), economy, language and governance, and that we need to celebrate and attend to that. At the same time it is a statement about the present, not about the future.


About the future: We should be about supporting the separate and equal status of churches in those places where we began new work, so that they take their place among the Churches in the Anglican Communion.

In all these, and more, the problem is that words are slippery devils and likely to take us in directions unintended. I ought to know. I do it all the time.

So do you.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Mark. I love words, and I appreciate your turning these words and phrases around, and again around, for us.
    A meager contribution: Our Bishops in Connecticut have us turning one word around - the word "but". We are encouraged to try using the word "and" instead of but. It is having interesting affects.

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  2. Thanks for this - burping after Thanksgiving is not only appropriate, it is considered by some cooks to be a compliment.

    I just finished reading a book of poems entitled, "The All Night Lingo Tango" wherein the author dances with words. It's wonderful.

    The newest bishop of CT also likes the word, "Why?" "We need to be doing mission," someone says, "Why?" says the bishop. "Because, we need more members," comes the response. "Why?" asks the bishop. "So we can build up the church," comes the answer"Why?" responds the bishop." "So we can have more money," someone says. "Why?" asks the bishop. "So we can do more mission," is the response. "Why?" asks the bishop.

    At which point, he usually gets a blank stare.

    I love the bishop of CT.

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  3. The Bishop of CT... who is arguably one of the church's strongest proponents of mission in a non-colonialist, condescending manner, who understands mission as receiving as much as giving, who always brings marvellous questions to the table. Why? C'est parfait.

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  4. Of course I meant non-condescending manner. My phrase wasn't clear. Figures, my head isn't too clear these days either. Disculpe.

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