Monday, March 10, 2008

A matter of semantics

Recently I have been particularly cognizant of people's diction. Especially their word choice around what it is I do. I'm not sure why, but I have been particularly sensitive to things like:

"I'd like to come and see you perform."

"That was a nice talk."

"What you do is magic."

Generally I don't make a fuss to the person saying such things. I just thank them and move on. If they are closer to me, then I have said things like, "I don't do magic. What I do is of God." Sometimes I find it hard to articulate just what it is I do, or how it is different from other things. And yet on the other hand, it is not terribly difficult for me to articulate what it is I don't do. I do not perform. Worship is not a performance. It is not theater. It is not drama. It is worship. It is experiential, and, despite common practice, can be dramatic, engaging, and full of things other than standing, sitting, reciting, and listening. But it is not a performance. What I do is not an act. It is real. It is authentic. It is genuine. Granted, my worship persona is a bit different than how you might find me if we were hanging out at the beach, but that does not make it an act.

The "nice talk" comment actually came from someone who was in church for the first time, so there is no real offense there. But I have received that comment on multiple occasions from regular church go-ers and the reference to a sermon being a "talk" or "speech" in my mind diminishes the actual act of preaching, and it seems to be related either to my age or to my gender, or to both. So while the particular incident of this comment is not a valid queja. The others, more often than not, are.

Then there's magic. This one, too, urks me. Seriously urks me. I am not a magician. Neither is God. Feeling better through prayer isn't about magic, it's about God acting. It could be said it's simply a matter of semantics. You say "po-tay-toe" I say "po-tah-toe". But to me it's more than that. One is a negation or diminishing of God and the other is an elevation of God, God's investment in the world, and God's care for the individual. And I can't help but think that some of the general whatever-ness toward God and religion comes from this blurring of lines. (though this might be one of those chicken and the egg questions). I mean, if we make no differentiation between what we consider magic (or luck) and what we consider God's action, then we have little care for the agent. If it's all the same, then choosing one over the other doesn't matter, because they become one in the same. And since magic seems to be much more kosher than God these days (culturally speaking), then it becomes the default for what we believe and trust.

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