Say what? A Chaplain’s Satirical List of Inconvenient Religious Words


I confess. I read corny books.

One such book is “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” (Crown, 2002).

Bryson doesn’t suffer from literary fools when it comes to the words we commonly misuse.

He’s a purist, making careful, some would say absurd, distinctions between words like “nauseous” and “nauseous.” The first word describes the cause of your illness and the second describes the feeling of discomfort you feel.

With inspiration from Bryson, today’s column is “Burkes’ satirical list of troublesome words of faith.” Often referred to as “Christians”, it is the nauseating church words that cause nausea in non-believers.

According to, “Christian is the language spoken by Christians. This makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with biblical texts, but it wins big points in the eyes of other Christians because it means your words are damn holy.

They are the insider language that church people use and which tends to put off those curious about the faith.

Christian Baby: Refers to someone new to the Christian faith, not to be confused with a Christian acting like a baby.

Born Again: The misunderstood phrase responsible for turning many people away from the Christian faith. In John 3:3-5, Jesus tells a faith seeker that he must be “born again.” It works in the context of the story, but a more accurate translation is “born from above”. It means a new start in life. I don’t know why we just don’t say “fresh start”.

In the adjective form, “Born-Agains” is a derogatory label for evangelicals.

Father God: informal for “God”. Used in earnest prayer when the petitioner really, really wants something, like really right now. (See Fair and Truly)

Hedge of Protection: Commonly invoked when praying for someone in need of protection. This is not to be confused with one of those hedge mazes at the Harvest Festival where I get lost.

tion: The suffix of words like justification, sanctification, indemnification, propitiation. The ending changes the word from a verb to a noun and proves that we clergy have earned seminary degrees.

Just and Truly: Exaggeratedly used in public prayers. Example: “Father God, I’m just really praying right now that you really, really…” Not sure God needs us to beg like a Christian baby before He hears our prayers.

King James: The Christian’s key dialect taken from the 1611 King James Bible. Over four hundred years later, some churches still believe that God responds more favorably if we say, “Oh Lord, we pray for your walking daughter Sally in the Valley of Shadows. grants him a hedge of protection.

Love On Him/Her: This may be a nice phrase, but often a bit condescending. Probably not the best term in the age of #metoo.

Open us up with a prayer: Ouch, that feels like surgery. Better to change that to “Please start our meeting with a prayer”.

Roving Mercies: Related to the Hedge Thing, but more mobile. It is a blessing or a wish for Sister Sally to stay safe as she crosses the state to see her brother during this storm.

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Unspoken prayer request: This is when someone asks for prayer for themselves but does not confess what they have done. Or a sneaky prayer for a sinner who doesn’t know he’s being prayed for.

Without Church: Describes a person who has not yet found a church that speaks clearly. Please don’t give up. They’re over there.

Many other terms could be added to this list, but in the meantime, I beg my fellow Christians to speak clearly. When we use these terms, we are only talking to ourselves. Worse still, we are losing our relevance in a suffering world. Our discourse must reflect real wounds and real solutions.

By the way, I often use Bryson’s dictionary to help me fall asleep. This column will likely serve the same purpose.

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