Vocabulary Lesson

dreamstime_s_31315050I recently read Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris and was captivated by her inspiration for writing the book.

In the preface, she explains that when she decided to return to church after many years of questioning her faith, she realized that she’d need to brush up on her church vocabulary. So her story begins with insightful, real life definitions of the language of faith—everything from forgiveness and grace, to baptism and annunciation.

Through personal stories, Norris’ experience is woven into traditional definitions to reclaim their meaning in a way that makes sense to her. In so doing, readers are invited to make sense of the vocabulary of faith through the lens of their own life experience.

I too am interested in making the personal connections between our “real” lives and our faith that Norris does in her book. Too often, I think, people put faith in a box, place it on a shelf, and only take it down on a Sunday (or Friday, or Saturday) morning. We fail to make connections between how faith is expressed in worship and how it is relevant the other days of our lives. As a result, the language of faith loses its meaning.

To complicate matters, the media’s depiction of faith communities in general, and Christians in particular, is confusing. Christian attributes don’t always match the vocabulary words they throw around in church. For example, Christians talk a lot about grace, yet their behavior, portrayed in the media anyway, is anything but gracious.

Perhaps then, as people like me consider and imagine the future of the church, a vocabulary refresher is in order—but not only for the sake of appearances, or to appeal to those who question faith—but to deepen and expand our own. It shouldn’t be a complicated task. On the contrary, taking my inspiration from Norris, I propose starting with one word at a time.

What words define your faith? What words need to be redefined in your context?