A Word is a Word is a Word

Forewarning: This post may seem unbecoming coming from clergy, but we are not your grandmother’s clergy! Do not fear, be brave!

The title of this blog may seem familiar to some of you. Not because you have heard it before, but because it sounds like Gertrude Stein’s “a rose is a rose is a rose”. That is intentional. This line of Stein’s verse is famous in American/Modern poetry because it points out the hypocrisy of language in the modern and post modern era. In fact, Stein’s words want us to see that so much of what we make words to express is sometimes not what we mean at all and sometimes exactly what we mean. Hmmm…what? Yes in the modern and post-modern world we live with words that both say exactly what they mean and not at all what they mean–all at the same time. And we wonder why our society sometimes seems so crazy! We seem to live in a world that wants to reject the basic theological and religious principles of the “both / and” while at the same time society promotes dual meanings of so many things.

We used to live in a world where the social rules were clear and people more or less knew what was expected of them. The black and white time of knowing what was acceptable when and where–is no more, yes even before I was born we moved into the Technicolor age! The time when people both understood that others expected to be treated according to the Golden Rule and one might expect to be treated according to the Golden Rule is gone. We do not even know what to expect of our own language in such a twisted age. Or do we?

This has all been on my mind as I serve as a chaplain in multiple places. We often forget that our world is now in color rather than black or white. In some cases it is more shocking for those I meet to realize that I am an honest authentic human being then it is for them to accept that I am female and clergy! Several times in the past few months I have over heard people speaking plainly and honestly, letting the four letter words fly. But then they suddenly realize I am near by and I hear the refrain “We gotta be good, the chaplain is here”. Nothing makes me laugh more! Really, are they afraid of me? But inside it makes me sad for those I serve with and for myself. It makes me sad that individuals feel a need to censor their most authentic self as unfitting to being in the presence of those human beings who have been set aside as God’s servants. Occasionally in fulfilling priestly duties clergy may fulfill the role of the representative of God for portions of the liturgy, but clergy people are not God! Confusing clergy, in all they do, with actual representatives of God can be catastrophic, as I learned in my grandfather’s church.

In my years of chaplaincy, I have had my share of encounters in which I have heard many a swear word, not in a profane way but in an honest–there are no other words for this kind of way! I learned much and walked away from a particular encounter with great respect for an individual who in the face of power was authentically and piercingly honest even when every other word that had to be said was a swear word. I mean, when you get to down to the bones of it isn’t God, God’self a rather honestly authentic but there are no other words to describe it kind of being?

So, please do not feel the need to censor yourself around me. Really I am big woman, I can deal with it and I am not gonna judge anyone’s swearing (I feel differently about language that defames or degrades human beings). There is no need to pretend you don’t use the four letter words simply because I am around. I like four letter words–they can be theological. After all have you ever heard clergy talk amongst themselves when they think no one is listening? Besides, LOVE, is also a four letter word. Let’s be real, a word is a word, is a word. Except for that one Word from which all others spring.


2 comments on “A Word is a Word is a Word

  1. Ed says:

    Yes. I have heard clergy talk among themselves when they think no one is listening. And then I said, “we ought to start a site called Women Who Speak In Church!”

  2. Thanks for your comments, Kelli. I know that I don’t want people to treat me any differently because of my role as a pastor… and I’ve been known to use a few of those four-letter words a time or two (or more!) myself. AND… instead of trying to show more respect to people we perceive as somehow “special” shouldn’t we be recognizing that EVERYONE is special?

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