This post, despite a tongue wedged in the gap where my wisdom tooth once was, is like a knitting needle – it does have something of a point to it. On a stand-up show in Las Vegas, the so-called comedian Bill Maher referred to Sarah Palin’s Downs’ Syndrome son as a ‘retard’, prompting universal outrage. I haven’t seen the clip, and at face value even used in some satirical context, good taste trumps satire every time. Also, Public Figures can’t hit people below the belt, which isn’t levelling the playing field, really, is it? But – is satire sinful? If it is, then my new Facebook address will be somewhere in the Sixth Circle of Hell – nothing to do with the Sixth Ring – Kuwaiti friends please note (it is really but I didn’t want to frighten you). However, I want to talk to you today about the Use of Words and my point is that we churchy folk have a vocabulary all our own, don’t we? I say this in love. Nobody – not even the most primitive of Baptists – understands us, but we get to be quite cosy together in our linguistically challenged little corner. In deference to the pounding legions of progress, it’s time to refresh (what a delightfully modern word that is…) our cookie drawer and say what we mean – or is it ‘like?” So, let’s update the extraliturgical vocabulary a bit, shall we? Spiff it up, as it were?
I did get a little bit of help from the Beaker Folk when preparing this, and intend asking Archdruid Eileen for her hand, and possibly the rest of her, unless of course she has been secretly betrothed to that naughty young shepherd, Gabriel Oak. Surely, she is of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made. Since they hail from a little corner of rural England, far from the madding crowd, it’s possible that some of the more obscure references might lie beyond the scope of the seething, cosmopolitan audience which eagerly awaits my pronouncements. Nevertheless…For a start, Cedric, the octogenarian greeter is going to be replaced by a lifesized anime of Miss Piggy, with appropriately Pentecostal head covering and remotely controlled from the organ loft by a man called Alan. About time, really. Cedric died in 1978. And now for the main course, the pure meat of the word. First, a question. Can you pronounce the word “Taizé”? No. I thought not.”Unhappy” is now deeply cringeworthy and is to be replaced immediately with “challenged”, “differently inspired” or “fine”. “OK” isn’t sweeping enough, unfortunately. “Dreadful”. Much too direct – honest, even. To be replaced by “Truly meaningful” (as in “that’s a truly meaningful worship song you’ve just written, Doris”.) “Moaning whingers, always looking for things to complain about” to be replaced with “loyal members of the fellowship”. But everyone knows what it means. ‘A faithful word’ should more properly be translated as ‘not a spark of life but you couldn’t fault the theology.’ Really. “Worship leaders” was initially replaced with “lead worshippers”. No. Neither will do. We’re gonna lose them both. We’re not replacing them with a new word. We’re just gonna pile them all into a minivan with all their instruments and lose them off one of the A7’s more remote junctions. Near the sign that says “Taizé”. “Leadership Group” to be replaced by “Enablement Group”. This won’t make any difference to how any of them think or behave, but it just feels a bit less patriarchal, don’t you think? “People who are praying for you” to be replaced by “friends”. “I prayed about it” replaced with “it occurred to me recently”. “Sharing”. Monosyllabic interchange with the TV on. “Deep and meaningful sharing”. As above but with the TV off. “We just really need to share” to be abolished, with no replacement. And now for those who teach. Let’s hope there’s not too many of you and you only have one wife. Mistresses count, remember. “Why can’t your preaching be more inspiring, like at New Wine?” To be replaced by “why can’t the congregation be more inspiring, like at New Wine?” “Liturgical Dance” to be replaced by “Prancing Around In Long Frocks”. “Modern Liturgical Styles” to be replaced by “Prancing around In Long Frocks with Flags and Ocarinas, with fairy lights in the background, and simultaneous prayers in eight languages”. Ask Alan for an ocarina, should you have forgotten to bring your own. “Sunday School” to be replaced by “Sunday Club” to be replaced by “Kids Church, no apostrophe” to be replaced by “The empty room next to the ladies’ toilet”. “And finally” to be replaced with “Just ten more minutes. Please don’t leave just yet. The match won’t be on for at least half an hour.”
I’m glad to have got all that out of my system. If you can tear yourselves away from the next episode of “The Office”, at our next gathering – so much cosier than ‘meeting’ or ‘service’ – Revd Dr Margaret Witherspoon is going to be, er, sharing, on the probability of apocalypse next Sunday. Best odds, 52%, including rapture. That is, she’s going to be speaking next Sunday; the spreadsheet algorithm isn’t quite refined enough yet to predict a particular day. Assuming we’re all here, of course, and the Arctic methane eruptions haven’t turned whichever part of Eden you inhabit into a treeless, smoking cinder. Have a nice day, now.