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Opening up our "language house"

Opening up our "language house"

The way we use language influences the way we think. When I was in high school in the late 1960s, the country was in the throes of the civil rights movement. Part of the movement’s energy was directed to creating equity in the use of language. Instead of calling people of color “Negroes” (which is Spanish for black), the culture was challenged to identify people by their color (whites and blacks); thus creating a language equity.

As cultural awareness grew, the language moved beyond color to ethnic origin (African-American, Italian-American, Asian-American). Ten years later, as the feminist movement gained momentum, our language began to reflect the equity between genders: women were referred to as women – and not as girls.

In his book, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Alan Roxburgh makes a similar case with the church. He talks about a “language house” (page 57). We Episcopalians have a well-developed language house – Vestry, Eucharist, sursum corda, undercroft, offertory, Rector, Warden, Bishop. They help identify us in our uniqueness – yet they also have a tendency to keep us sealed off from those who don’t know who we are.

We would be hard pressed, in some cases, to come up with equivalent terms; I have yet to identify a corresponding term for sursum corda (which means “from the heart” in Latin). But it seems to me that we would do well to examine our language – to retain our unique identity and at the same time render us more acceptable. It will influence the way we think – and believe.

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