“If you would discourse with me, sir…

…you must first define your terms.”

This quote, that is attributed to Voltaire, is one that my dad cites on a regular basis. Obviously, when you talk to someone, you have to make sure you’re on the same page with the vernacular you use. Otherwise, you could be in deep trouble. Like if an American tells a Brit that they have really cute pants…awkward if the Brit doesn’t know that the American is referring to their trousers instead of their underwear.

I think we have some vernacular that needs tweaking so we can make sure our terms are clearly defined when we discuss things. One that has bothered me for a while is “church.” I mean, I can say, “I’m going to church,” in the same way that my son says, “I’m going to Scouts.” He means that he is going to an elementary school building where all the Scouts happen to be. But when we say that we’re “going to church,” people (in general) don’t think of a group of people meeting in a building. They think of the building. The “church building.” This one is worse because it indicates (to me, anyway) more that the church and building are one and the same: “I’m at church.”

It’s hard to break those verbal habits, though. They become cultural. I like the old-fashioned phrase, “meeting.” Ok, “meetin’.” Got your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes on? That’s where we’re headed…the meeting of the church.

“The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place, the church is the people. I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together.” (Excuse my run-ons, but that is how it is punctuated in my head from time immemorial back in Children’s Church days.)

I doubt that I alone can cause a change in how we talk about the church and the buildings where the church meets around the world, but I’d like to at least make sure that I speak about them in such a way that the people around me understand very clearly when I discourse with them what I mean when I use those words.

P.S.– I also very much want everyone to stop calling tisanes “tea.” Tea is made from tea leaves, people! (And I thank Agatha Christie for teaching me this useful bit of information through the fabulous Hercule Poirot.)


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