My friends Penny and Eric own a sheep farm, and on occasion Amish farmers come to purchase sheep or lambs. On one such visit, their granddaughter Kenzlie, then four years old, was at their house, so Penny suggested that Kenzlie go outside and play with the Amish children. They all had a great time — running, jumping, and sometimes just talking.
When the Amish family left, little Kenzlie came back into the house and Penny asked the usual “grandma” questions. Did you have a good time? What did you play? But when she quizzed Kenzlie as to what the children talked about, Kenzlie said, “I don’t know, Grandma. They don’t talk in real words.”
I love this story of the irrepressible Kenzlie, who always has an unusual but astute viewpoint, and I suppose, to an English speaking four-year-old, the language we call Pennsylvania Dutch doesn’t sound like real words, although of course they are.
As I look back on my life, I can truly relate to Kenzlie. When I was four-years-old, my parents moved us to a small, sweet town where we began to attend an evangelical Methodist church. It’s not difficult for a child to learn “church speak,” and I became adept at that “language” when I was young, but I remember cringing when my father took a turn leading congregational hymns or reading the scripture. I would sit in the pew and silently beg him not to let loose of a golly, gosh, or gee. Invariably he would, because he just didn’t get church speak. I, however, had learned the whole vocabulary, saying words like “sharing” when I was talking about a conversation, or reciting my prayers in King James English, and understanding and embracing concepts like born again, justified, and Spirit-filled.
Please don’t misunderstand me. These are good words, and they are soul-filling experiences, but I think it’s very important for Christians to realize that, when we speak to people who don’t share our faith or our exact brand of Christianity, that the use of church speak often makes them feel out-of-the-loop. I can imagine them walking away from a conversation and quoting Kenzlie. “I don’t know what they were saying. They don’t use real words.”
Many of my friends share my beliefs, but many do not, and the last thing I want is for my faith to stand as a barrier between me and the precious friends God has given me. I’m sure that the real words God wants me to use are all about love, respect, and caring.