Saturday, August 11, 2018

Pronouns Matter


For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:12 (ESV)

In my time in the Army, I often heard leaders say while pointing to the US Army strip on our uniforms “there is no me in Army” then point to our name tags, mine of course saying SHAW and offering “there is no I in Team.” Sometimes they would close that lesson with “Go Army, Go Team.” 

There is no me in Army, there is no I in team. 

The preamble to the Constitution doesn’t say “I the person” it starts, “We the people.” 
          The New York Yankees do not allow names on the backs of their jerseys, only numbers. 
               Some coaches tell basketball, football, and baseball players to play for the name on the front of their jersey rather than the name on the back.  The back has their last name, and on the front, is the team name. 

All of those ideas point to the same concept that Paul was pointing to in his ongoing philosophical dispute with the church in Corinth: when you sign on to be a follower of Christ, you leave the stuff behind you previously held on to. For Paul, the image of a healthy human body was helpful to understanding the idea of team: the team worked together and the eye was the eye, and it didn’t try to be the ear, mouth, or ankle. 

There is no me in Church, there is no I at Hilltop. Me and I are called pronouns, which mean they can be used as a substitute for nouns. There is no me in church surely sounds better than ‘there is no Dennis in church.’ 

Here is my point: Pronouns matter, they matter a lot. 

How many times do we hear national leaders over the last twenty years get into extended dialogue where the pronouns used are I, me or my. Those are all first person, singular pronouns. Somehow when Jesus says “I am the light of the world” that is positive, but when a leader pronounces “I am the light of the world” it is jarring. 

Personally, I always try to make sure the pronouns at Hilltop are to the maximum degree possible, if first person, plural. We.  Us. 

But that is so hard. Look at the very first sentence of this thought piece: quickly it gets to first person, singular. Sometimes the I statement is unavoidable. First person singular isn’t automatically sinful.  But other times, it would be more true, more helpful, and more kind to go to plural pronouns. 

Reading European sports writers talk about the recent World Cup was interesting. England are something. Not England is something. My word processor gives me an error on are following the singular noun, England, but England in the context meant is a team, a plural. 

Maybe we need to think of the Body of Christ in a European team concept: The body of Christ are …

English teachers will freak out but in reality the plural verb makes an excellent point – a team is intrinsically plural, not singular. You want the team to get to a place of unity, oneness, functioning as one. But even in perfect oneness, perfect unity, it is still a collection of me’s and I’s. 

I used The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown last year for sermon illustrations. Boys in the Boat is the story of the University of Washington Rowing Team and how, spoiler alert, they won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1936. In part, the book is about how one man, Joe Rantz, neglected and abandoned by his family, had to learn to sacrifice his personal individuality for the unity of the team. When Rantz makes that psychological, spiritual shift in his understanding of how it all fits together, the crew is one with each other.  The nine members of the Crew becomes one. 

For Paul, this thing called church is a one.  He sees it in terms of the complexity of the human body, many diverse parts and roles, but still functioning as a single thing. All of this diversity of function and role still serves to keep the body healthy and viable. Every member of the body, that is eyes, fingers, feet, stomach, ears, all function in support of the one that is the entire body: the entire body of Christ. 

This Jesus stuff isn’t easy. It isn’t going to happen without effort and hard work and a willingness to make that psychological, spiritual shift in understanding of how it all fits together. You’ve got to sacrifice much of our individuality to make it all fit together.

One of the barometers in how we assess how we are doing on this “body of Christ” stuff is the pronouns. When first person singular dominate, we are probably focused on the wrong things. When the dominant pronouns are plural, we are probably functioning consistent with what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 12. 

There is no me in Church, there is no I at Hilltop. 

Selah, Pastor Dennis