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Sorry, what was that?

The manipulation of language is, arguably, done best by politicians and used car salesmen, but ministers of religion can be quite adept at it too.

In decades gone by, many preachers loved basing a sermon on an acronym (‘This month is JULY, so let’s talk about how Jesus Utterly Loves You’) or alliteration (‘Today we’ll explore the power, passion, purity and persistence of Christ’). These sorts of sermons often drove me batty, bewildered, bored and bothered.

I heard a lovely example of accidental yet amusing wordplay some years ago while listening to an address in an Army meeting. The speaker was talking about the ‘masks’ we wear to hide our true emotions or character; she referred to the facades or false fronts we put on to hide our true selves from others.

She went on to say that, with time, these masks can build up and form something of a ‘crust’, where our genuine character is hidden below several layers of false fronts.

So far, so good. Then it got weird.

“We need to remove these crustaceans and break free to live in freedom and honesty and show our true selves.”

Just a moment: crustaceans? Aren’t they, like, crabs and lobsters and yabbies and fishy things with shells? My phone (on silent) buzzed; a friend from two rows away was texting me: “Crustaceans???”

She continued preaching. “These heavy crustaceans can weigh us down and limit our freedom.”

My phone buzzes again; another friend from a few rows further away: “Well, I guess carrying a bag of crabs through life WOULD be sort of restricting.”

I’m thinking, “We have visitors here today, please, Lord, make it stop.” But it didn’t.

“We need to give our crustaceans to Jesus. He’ll take them for us.”

I text both friends: “Did she just tell us to give Jesus crabs?”

All three of us refused to look at each other, we knew that to make eye contact would lead to an eruption of laughter – not appropriate for while an altar call was being conducted. And when I say altar call, I mean, of course, a request for people to bring forward their lobsters to God.

The sermon topic was important, and the intent was good – but it was all undone by repeated references to our supposed hardened exoskeletons.

I’m sure some will say it was an honest mistake, and I (and others) shouldn’t have been distracted by it, and that may very well be true. However, the fact is: words mean things. I can’t talk to you about the Holy Goat (instead of ghost), and you just ignore it. Nor can I tell you about Mary and Arthur, Moses and the 10 amendments or Jesus and his disciplinarians, without simply confusing you.

Jesus once said, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no” (Matthew 5:37 CEB), and I’m guessing he thought that way about other words too.

– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos


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