Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Curious Conundrum of Words

Recently I noticed the mall bookstore had a sign that read, “Giant Book Sale.” “I wondered what that meant. Were they having a special sale on books about giants? Were they offering a special on oversized books? Or were they just having a really big, super-stupendous sale?

Funny thing about words, especially in the English language: They can mean so many things. And create a lot of confusion in the process.

Take “cool,” for example. If I go outside in the morning and say, “It’s really cool” (which hasn’t happened much lately), I’m referring to the temperature. If I meet someone and conclude, “He’s really cool,” I probably mean he’s very interesting. But if I walk in the door and notice my wife is unusually quiet and think, “she’s really cool,” I’m suspecting she’s upset about something. If I’m “cool” to an idea, it means I’m not very enthused about it.

The same applies to “hot.” It also can relate to the weather outside, as well as a pot on the stove; but “hot” can also mean something that’s very popular at the moment. “Hot” can be used to describe someone’s physical appearance, but saying someone’s “hot” might also mean the person’s extremely upset.

I suppose that’s one reason I’m not an advocate of the term “Christian.” In original translations of the Bible, the word is used only three times, twice by nonbelievers trying to label “Christ fanatics.” The sole time a follower of Jesus uses the term is when the apostle Peter writes, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

Not that I’m ashamed of the term. If someone asks me, “Are you a Christian?” I’ll confirm that I am. But I don’t go around announcing I’m a Christian because – like giant, cool and hot – the word has come to have many, often conflicting meanings.

In our society, “Christian” can mean someone that’s not a Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. I’ve heard people described as “a good Christian man,” meaning the person displays good morals – or at least hasn’t been caught in grievous wrongdoing. Once I asked a “Christian bookstore” what it believed, but it never gave me an answer. I doubt it was a real Christian.

That’s one of the problems with referring to the United States as “a Christian nation.” When we get to heaven, we won’t see the U.S.A. miraculously transported there.

So instead of using the ambiguous term “Christian,” I prefer referencing myself as “a Jesus follower” or “follower of Christ.” Some people might not like those terms either, but at least they’re more specific and less easily confused.

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