I don’t like labels and I don’t like jargon either.
Jargon is insider language, code language, technical language that is intended for and understood by “those in the know.” You can tell when jargon is being used: all the insiders are cheering and all the outsiders have no idea what everybody is so excited about!
Jargon infects and corrupts our religious language, too. When I ask, “Are you born again?,” I am using jargon. I want to know: Do you know the code word? Are you one of us?” The metaphor of spiritual rebirth is a wonderfully meaningful metaphor, but when the term is used as jargon, it does not communicate; it divides. Tell me you are born again … but tell me too what that means! Tell me of your experience of God’s healing grace in your life; tell me what you were and what you are. Tell me what new things God is teaching you day by day by day, and I will tell you too what God is teaching me. Tell me what you see and hear and taste of the grace of God is your own words!
On the other end of the religious spectrum, the word “justice” is also used as jargon. All you have to do is say the word and you are identified as one of the “good guys,” not one of “them.” Again, the word “justice” itself is a powerfully descriptive word, aptly characterizing God’s will and God’s way in relating to the human creatures God made. But used as jargon, without content, it is an overused cliche and communicates very little. Don’t just tell me to do justice. Tell me what that means in your own words. Tell me what you care about and why you care about it. Tell me what God has called you to do and to be.
In our present context, the word “patriot” is jargon. It is used not to unite people through the expression of a diversified and many-faceted love for one’s homeland. It is used to divide people and to categorize people. You’re either “for us” or “against us.” If you agree with me, you’re a patriot. If you disagree with me, you’re traitor … So don’t just tell me you’re a patriot. Tell me what it means. Tell me why you love your country and what you are doing to show that love. And I will tell you how I love my country and how I may show that love by speaking out against whatever degrades us and compromises our best values.
From the time my parents began reading aloud the books of the Narnia Chronicles to my sister and brother and me, I have appreciated the Christian witness of C. S. Lewis. He has been a lifelong tutor of my growing faith. I believe the effectiveness and enduring popularity of a book like his “Mere Christianity” is rooted in its clarity and authenticity. In other words, Lewis doesn’t use jargon! He uses fresh language, genuine and meaningful language, describing faith in terms “outsiders” as well as “insiders” can appreciate.
It has been my goal in my work as a minister to do the same, to communicate the gospel not just with cliches and code words, not just with jargon, but with language that is authentic and evocative, language that can speak both to those who have lived within the Christian context for a lifetime, and those for whom anything “religious” is utterly alien. If God is real, if our experience of God is real, we surely can find our own words to describe what we know and believe!