I've noticed something strange since returning to the U.S. My habit of sounding out Spanish words while living in Argentina became so deeply ingrained, I find myself doing it now with English words. How weird is that? I'm a fluent English speaker and reader, so there's no need, yet I catch myself sounding out words on billboards, street signs, even once at a railroad crossing. I wonder how long it will take for that habit to fade? Hmmm...
Another thing I've noticed is how much of the English language I've lost/missed while living overseas. That brought about another realization: language has so much to do with the culture; the two cannot be separated.
It's culture that determines if a word is "bad". The bad words we know didn't start out that way, but over time our culture changed (or maybe I should say "warped") their meaning. That "bad" word referring to excrement was originally a technical term used for an intestinal condition in cattle.
How many of us from the Boomer generation have scratched our heads as words we thought we knew changed meaning? Like "That is so dope!" Isn't dope a bad thing? Now it's a good thing? Oh, it doesn't refer to drugs at all? Hmmm...
Or "Word!" Huh? I remember in a movie when the son said it and the dad, trying to be cool, used it too, but obviously had no clue what it meant. (By the way, it can have several meanings: 1) you agree with what's being said; 2) as a greeting; or 3) to convey that something was well said.)
Granted, both of these are older examples (remember what I said about missing a lot while living overseas?) but I'm sure you can think of at least a dozen words that have changed meaning in your lifetime.
And have you noticed that even if words retain their meaning, they can become...well, hollow is the best way I know to describe what I'm talking about. We've thrown words around so much they've lost their significance; so much so that we'd be hard pressed to provide an accurate definition. This is especially true in Christian circles.
For those who have grown up without even a base line of biblical knowledge, we can't use a spiffy little spiel we learned in evangelism class twenty years ago. We need to think intentionally about our words: What they mean and how we use them. We need to break down concepts we take for granted (sanctification, for example) into words clearly understood by younger generations.
And the best way to do that is start at the beginning of the Story.
Story, or narrative, is actually the best way to communicate, period. Give me a list of facts and I'll have forgotten 80% within half an hour. But tell me a story and it will stick. But others aren't going to "get it" if we don't tell the whole Story. Picking verses here and there to prove a point isn't helpful. The whole of it, the narrative, is necessary for true understanding.
It's also why sharing our lives -- our stories -- with others is so critical. God's story is still being worked out in us, at the most basic levels: where we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship... And how we do each of these impacts those around us. Do we just parrot trite sayings without any thought of how others understand them, or are we really, truly, honestly living out the Word?