December 15, 2017

Pull the Plug on This Phrase, Please

plug

Language matters. Let’s start there. Now, let me rant a bit.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as intimately acquainted with the evangelical subculture as I used to be, so I don’t cringe as much about evangelical cliches these days. But there is a phrase I keep hearing that is driving me crazy. It seems to pop up everywhere. It may be the new evangelical mantra:

“Connect with God.”

Here is the phrase as it is used, in actual examples from evangelical churches and writers:

Our Mission is to help people connect with God and develop them into fully devoted followers of Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Music is the language of the heart, and it is our hearts that connect with God.

In the Pentecostal church, we were encouraged to connect with God through supernatural phenomena.

Now is the right time to connect with God and with others as you reach out and serve the community, study, and celebrate together.

I’m not attending church anymore, because I think there are other ways to connect with God.

I want to connect with God more deeply, but I don’t know how.

I suppose this way of describing a “personal relationship with God” is inevitable and to be expected in this day of technological “connections.”

We stay connected (that is, in communication) with others in a multitude of ways: cell phones, social media, email, etc. And it is the technological character of the phrase that irks me. I enjoy the benefits of these days of miracle and wonder as much as anyone, but I can’t quite get myself to think of making a connection with God in the same way that I send a message to a friend on Facebook.

We also use this word in our culture to describe the kinds of transactional contacts that can benefit us, say in business connections or when we need a good repair person. “Hi, John gave me your name. Maybe we could connect at Starbucks and talk about it.”

Having a latte with God to discuss what I need. How inspiring.

Oh yes, I know that those who use it are trying to communicate some kind of deeper bond, a personal connection, an intimate connection. But I don’t think the language works. It doesn’t occur to me to use the language of “connecting” when I think about my relationships with my wife or my kids, or anyone that I know and care about, unless we’re just talking about making casual contact, such as, “I was traveling, but we were able to connect by phone.” “Connect” just sounds so cold, so techie, so transactional.

To my ears, this phrase simply has no poetry to it, no emotional content. The metaphorical world it evokes is empty of human personality and depth. It’s as personal, sensual, and profound as flipping a switch or plugging in a cord, as expressive as a string of computer code. It has no heart.

plugged-inWorse, it is bad theology.

For example, I don’t see people in the biblical story “connecting with God.”

I see God surprising them, awakening them, encountering them, speaking to them, wrestling with them, thundering out commands to them, overwhelming them, listening to them, eating meals with them, rescuing them, forgiving them, leading them, providing for them, asking them to do strange or hard things, hiding from them, bringing the consequences of their sins down upon them, making promises to them, reassuring them, helping them, saving them.

I see people walking with God, hiding from God, rebelling against God, seeking God, praying to God, singing and making music to God, following God, trusting God, clinging to God, obeying or disobeying God, longing for God, loving God, complaining to God, crying out to God, asking God for help and provision, praising and thanking God, bowing before God, shutting their mouths in God’s presence, falling on their faces before God, trying to comprehend God’s ways, waiting for God, resting in God.

These are vivid, sweaty, tear-filled terms describing relational beings who live face to face, long for one another, and love in word and deed. This is the stuff of literature, poetry, and song, not bits and bytes on a screen. To describe such knowing we need words that strain to voice the mysteries of I and Thou, not digital tones from lifeless steel and plastic. We really must learn that our metaphors matter.

I know, I know. How ironic it is that I write these words to be read in cyberspace by a “community” of blog readers. The incongruity is not lost on me. I hope I’m “connecting” with you!

Anyway, back to the bad theology.

If I must use this language, let me at least remind you that we are all already “connected with God.”

In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 16:28). Where can we go from his spirit? Or where can we flee from his presence (Psalm 139:7)? There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). It is not a matter of us making a connection, but a matter of waking up to see that we are swimming in an ocean of God!

If that isn’t enough to convince you, remember the Story of Jesus. God came to us personally in flesh and blood, with words and touch and actions, to live and die and to accomplish whatever remedial “connecting” work needed to be done for us because we consistently fail to acknowledge God’s good and loving presence.

God already “connected” with you in Jesus Christ. You don’t need to plug in, flip a switch, sign on, update your status, or send a tweet. You don’t need to do anything to connect to him. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). The connection has been made. You don’t need to “connect with God,” and no person, no practice can “connect” you to God. You are connected.

Believe it or not.

And stop talking like that, please.

Comments

  1. God does the “connecting” (since we are “dead in our sins and trespasses”)

    And He does it through Word…and sacraments.

    • Some of us believe and know that the Holy Spirit can be received by a person, thus regenerating her or him and connecting her or him with God, without recourse to what some/many refer to as “sacraments.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Which has its own problems. Like “Lone Ranger Christians”, just Jeesus & Me with no ties to anyone or anything else — including other Christians who could provide a reality check. Or the various forms of Pentecostal weirdness, where stuff gets mistaken for The Holy Spirit without any reality check.

        • Insert handwaving about being under and quoting a Bible no one ever seriously reads beyond a handful of verses from Joel, the Gospels, and the first few chapters of Acts.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            At least that’s a change from Daniel, Revelation, the Nuclear War Chapter of Ezekiel, and Late Great Planet Earth.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has to have decades of committee meetings, full of oriental frumpery, to decide what to do about child-molesting. And is pre-millenarianism really any more off-the-wall than the notion that the pope is in a direct line from St. Peter, which gives him the power to bind and loose all in heaven and earth, or however it goes? (I guess that means he’s been sending people to hell on purpose.)

        • Problems, yes, but arguably better or at least no worse than sacerdotalism.

        • My “spiritual” busyness, that keep me “connected” to God (note it is the believer, not God, who does the connecting). My rejection of all creeds and any teachings of a church – except of course for that prosperity preacher on TV I watch when I am alone. My “literal” reading of the Bible as filtered through my feelings and experiences. Yep, no anchor, no rudder…

      • God can do whatever He wants…save whomever He wants…anyway he wants to do it.

        But He has given us some knowledge about specific ways in which He does act for us…and upon us.

        Word and sacraments. We can trust in those things. In other things…not so much.

  2. OldProphet says:

    When Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “tomorrow you will be with me in Paradise” I’m sure that that man didn’t know the Word or the sacraments. But he definitely was Connected!

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      Au contraire! He most certainly did know the Word! He just didn’t know the Bible…

    • Actually, some believe the thief was quoting the Psalms.

    • The sacraments are what unite us to Christ in his death (Romans 6:4). This man literally died with Christ. And he had a promise directly from the mouth of Jesus given to him. That’s what the sacraments are: visible words from the Word.

  3. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    What is a “personal relationship with God”?

    • A phrase with one too many words on it. 🙂

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Another Christianese phrase that has been badly overused.

    • Have you ever met anyone who didn’t have a “personal relationship with God?” I can’t think of anyone…

    • Something Jesus had, and which the NT says that we as his brethren can also have. Kind of like a “friend of God,” only better, because you’re part of the family.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      I think it’s meant to distinguish an emotional commitment from mere routine or social identity, and thus contrast Protestant soteriology from Catholic. It may also serve to distinguish theism proper from a more generalized spiritual ontology, such as what one might find in Taoism or the New Age.

  4. OldProphet says:

    Touche Dr F.

  5. OldProphet says:

    But not the Sacraments!! Well, maybe not all 7 Or, whatever that number is? Obviously, I don’t attend a liturgical fellowship

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      Surely God meant Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be empty rituals that have nothing at all to do with His grace and provision for us.

      • Note how sensual and evocative water, bread, and wine are! Splashing and feasting! Not “connecting”!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          It’s physical.

          Not some Mind Science cult floating around in the Spiritual(TM).

        • Actually, according to Merriam-Webster, to connect is to physically join together, in its primary definition, and its etymology in the Latin also means to “join together,” so the word is deeply rooted in physical experience. Its probably been adopted by the technological world because it has this physical sense.

          • As we learned over and over again in seminary, it is usage that matters, not etymology.

          • Never having gone to seminary, or been trained in the art of oratory, this is something of which I have no awareness.

            • Actually, that axiom was constantly impressed upon us in our Greek and Hebrew classes, not in homiletics. Too many preachers have camped on the etymology of words, thinking that is what determines meaning in a passage.

              For a crass example: What do we mean when we say we have to go to the bathroom?

          • Funny, that: I used to refer to the restroom in that context, not the bathroom, but because I moved into a new area of the country 7 years ago, where people of all classes and levels of education routinely say, “I’m going to the bathroom,” I’ve picked up the nasty habit myself, as if by osmosis.

            Next I’ll be eating scrapple.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            The art of oratory involves frequent citations of some dictionary with Webster’s name on it, or an equally authoritative source. (Wikipedia, perhaps.)

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        The Sacraments are just one layer in the networking stack. The OSI model is clearly divinely inspired.

        The Spirit is layer 1, the “Physical” layer, or should we say the “Spiritual” layer?

        Scripture is layer 2, the Data Link layer.

        Layer 3 is The Church, the network layer.

        Layer 4 can be complicated. I suspect that prayer is TCP – when you really connect to God. The other sacraments like communion are more like UDP – whether they work depends on the state of your heart. Would marriage be like SCTP, as it has multiple channels.

        Put them all together and you get Divine Broadband!

        • Ugh.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Terrible, yes. But you know someone somewhere will preach or is preaching that sermon.

            Or something approximate to it as they may not be as burden with quite this much technical knowledge.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I get enough of that at work.

        • Most dispensationalists are engineers, I’m guessing.

          • Engineers and businessmen.

          • Haha – businessmen like the Chick Tract corporation?

            And I can see the temptation for engineers to be dispensationalists…but the anecdotal evidence from my 50 person engineering office in the midwest is that we’re typically Catholic.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            They DO approach the Bible as a Spiritual Engineering Manual/Handbook/Checklist.

            And maybe a little bit of Pavlov with stimulus/response.
            Say the Sinner’s Prayer(TM) — Check! — You’re Saved(TM).

  6. Since I don’t go to church as often, I really feel like I’m connecting to God through this site and the comment threads….

    (Ok, bad joke. Let’s talk about powerpoint instead.)

  7. Serious question – if we are already connected to God, but don’t feel like we are, is there anything we can do change that? (Or is this too consumerist a mind set?)

    • I would suggest meditating on the words Scripture actually does use — for example in the Psalms — to describe the personal longing for God. Pray them, sing them, let them soak in.

    • In the good old days of the Fundagelical Culture, there was a trendy saying:

      “If you don’t feel as close to God as you used to, you better check yourself. It wasn’t God that moved.”

      This in clear contradiction of Job’s plight

      23 Then Job answered and said:

      2 “Today also my complaint is bitter;
      my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
      3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
      that I might come even to his seat!
      4 I would lay my case before him
      and fill my mouth with arguments.
      5 I would know what he would answer me
      and understand what he would say to me.
      6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
      No; he would pay attention to me.
      7 There an upright man could argue with him,
      and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.
      8 “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
      and backward, but I do not perceive him;
      9 on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
      he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

      • Yeah, that “it wasn’t God who moved” line really bothers me. How’s that supposed to make anyone feel better about their relationship with God and Jesus? It’s just a clever line to make the speaker appear wise.

        • “How’s that supposed to make anyone feel better about their relationship with God and Jesus?”

          It doesn’t.

          “It’s just a clever line to make the speaker appear wise.”

          More importantly, it’s a good lead in to telling someone to get with your newest program. You know why you feel bad? Not enough activities. Don’t worry though: there’s a workbook for just this problem.

          • I heard a good sermon series at a conference this summer. One of the speakers suggested that the biggest threat to our spiritual lives is the subtle shift from “God is more than enough” to “Am I doing enough?”

            I’m really enjoying Christianity Today these past couple of years, but I chuckle at the ads within the magazine. So many “trying harder” kinds of books and stuff out there being peddled!

      • Although I don’t accept the theology behind the statement implying that, since God doesn’t move (God, it seems to me, is always both on the move and absolutely still at the same time), we must have, it doesn’t contradict the overall theology of the Book of Job (which goes unstated), but only the words and thoughts of Job himself, which are not necessarily either the words and thoughts of God, or those of the author of Job.

    • No. I don’t believe there is any way we can reach down inside and alter our emotions. However, our thinking patterns can lead to positive or negative dispositions over time. If we encounter God’s words of affirmation, grace, and forgiveness to us as his children in Word and Sacrament, and make them a regular discipline and spirituality, they over time shape the way we think, which can result in positive emotions, but not always. Positive emotions are one of those things that you can never grasp when seeking, but rather come as a byproduct of seeking something else. If you want to feel “connected to God,” wouldn’t you want that to be based on a reality of a connection, and not off an imaginary connection? Seek God where he is revealed and has promised to be.

  8. I’m all about understanding our various language games and using them to articulate matters of faith in the best possible way. Yet this rant is lost on me.

    Around me, when “connect” is used, the first things that come to mind are not technological cliches. I hear “connect” used in the contexts of friendships, marriages, relationships of all kinds. In fact, I would argue that it’s negative corollary “disconnect” is even more potent when used in a relational context. It’s an immediate red flag. When someone shares feelings of disconnection, it is usually a vulnerable and sacred moment.

    So I’d argue that “connect” is vernacular shorthand for “intimacy.” In a religious context, it can serve as shorthand for what we might regard as “pray without ceasing” or “walk in the Spirit” or “remain in me.” Are they perfect 1:1 metaphors? Of course not; that’s the nature of language. But the gist is “connection.” Maybe churchy people abuse it, but regular people get it.

    When people ask me why I want to pastor, I usually reply with something like “Because life is hard, but t’s an amazing privilege to help people find a meaningful connection with God in the midst of it, sometimes for the very first time.” That usually resonates.

    Don’t take away “connect.” Use it more meaningfully.

    • What is the metaphor, Sean? I understand how people try to use the word, but as one who cares about language, I don’t get what picture is supposed to come to mind when it is used. It’s not a personal word. Look at the images that come up in Google pictures when you type in “connect with God” — puzzle pieces fit together, plugs and sockets, cyberspace links, etc. These may be useful on occasion, but for a habitual description of knowing God or others personally I find it sorely lacking. There’s no flesh on it.

      But like I said, it’s probably inevitable in a tech age. It’s just the way people talk.

      I never could get my kids to grasp the meaning of “awesome,” either. :))

      • CM
        I am with Sean. I am not sure why the word bothers you.
        Perhaps meaning in words is often highly contextual and you have coupled it with technology.

        I have been in Information Technology for over 30 years and the phrase ‘connecting with someone’ to me is not technological and never has been. It evokes images of friendship, bonding at a deeper level – something that goes beyond the mere casual banter that we see in our culture. To me connected implies ties that bind us to someone or something.

        On the other hand Jesus being the sweetest Rose of Sharon and many other metaphors used don’t do it for me.

      • CM: Relationships. Being to being contact. It’s ontological.

        I don’t run in cheesy Christian circles where this would be considered a problem.

        • Sean, knowing your input here on IM, I know you use words thoughtfully, so I believe and appreciate that you can use words and phrases like this well.

          My bigger complaint is with broader evangelical culture where such “catch phrases” tend to become mantras used without thinking or understanding.

          Thanks for the pushback.

          • Thanks, Mike, for the compliment. I mentioned it in a comment further down, but it’s hitting me how I have experienced an evangelicalism that, in my immediate circles, has tended to be more thoughtful and generous in its articulation of faith than was the majority of folks here have experienced. I’ve only observed the “circus” aspects from a distance, and when I find myself in those kind of environments I try to gently correct, or get out. But for some reason I’m still sensitive to some of these.

            So I probably need to practice some more generosity in acknowledging that many — if not most — of these critiques are aimed at communities that I’m not aligned with.

  9. To me, this is indicative of a kind of subtle dualism that is prevalent in contemporary forms of western Christianity.

  10. The language of ‘connection’ is very functional, I must agree – but to me it is meaningful. We are connected to God, as others say, but we still long for Him. He has destroyed any barriers that might stand in the way of our coming to him, but we still desire His closeness. Hence the desire (maybe mis-stated, but real nonetheless, I think) to ‘connect’ with God.

    • “Functional” — there’s another good description. I understand its usefulness in a technological, pragmatic age, but it leaves me personally cold.

      Give me some good old mystical passion!

      • Yes – if you do a side-by-side comparison of this language with, say, Psalm 63 then it does appear rather palid and lifeless.

        • I love, absolutely LOVE, some of the metaphors used in the Psalms.

          That said, at times the language is so melodramatic and over-the-top that I want to vomit.

      • See, I would use the word “connection” to describe exactly what the mystics teach us about. “But what about the mystics?” was my first visceral reaction to this post.

        I’m really starting to think I know a different evangelicalism than most in this community. This word hasn’t been tainted or usurped by cold, programmatic functionality.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Functional” — there’s another good description. I understand its usefulness in a technological, pragmatic age, but it leaves me personally cold.

        It’s like reading a My Little Pony fanfic written outside the USA and discovering the hard way that the ponies are Metric. To an American, Metric measurements are associated with science, precision, and SF, NOT Fantasy and cartoon ponies in a magical land. The engineering precision clashes with the genre atmosphere.

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    It always sounds like checklistism to me.

    Get married to the “right” person – check.
    Have 2 children – check
    Buy a home in the “good” neighborhood – check
    Connect with God – check

    “Connect” is too hollow a word, with to vague a meaning. So I connect, and what? Download some righteousness? Honestly that is how it appears people use it. “Connect” betrays a very clinical religion.

    On the other end is just dropping “cross” in everywhere. That is a thing where I live currently – Okay, you believe the right things, but have you been to the Cross? Yes, you do the right things, but have you been to the Cross? Those donuts are delicious, but have you been to the Cross? ,… … + “have you been to the Cross”. It is nothing but smug, and it means nothing at all. At least “Connect” doesn’t carry such a burden of arrogance.

    On the other hand WWJD is nowhere to be seen or heard. Yay! That lasted way too long.

    As for “connect” being technological… meh, I don’t know. I work in IT. Connection is a step. Everything important happens *after* the “connection” has been established. Connection is not a goal, it is a means. There is a dreadful sermon metaphor in there.

  12. The Mainlines and RCCs have their teachers and/or practitioners of connection…Centering prayer and Contemplative prayer is getting a lot of traction through the teachings of Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bougeralt, Anne Lamott, Basil Pennington, Brian McClaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, Sara Miles

    • Yes, these teachers use the word “connecting” to describe intentionally becoming aware of God’s presence through contemplative practice. This word also had wide usage to describe something similar among first the New Age movement, and now their inheritors who practice various “alternative” religions or composites thereof. So I think evangelicals, if they are using this term, have borrowed it from practitioners of other religious philosophies, rather than directly from the world of technology.

    • Yes!

  13. Ah, CM. You’re turning into a curmudgeon.

    This too shall pass. It is another in a long line of marketing fads that will evaporate on the winds of whatever the new hip trendy thing is that replaces it. No worries. Your wish will be granted as soon as they come up with popularizing the new phrase that will set your teeth on edge when you see it repeated everywhere.

    We’re about the same age. We’ve seen the same things. Just take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and let nature take it’s course. Let’s get back to griping about abuse of the Bible instead…

    🙂

    • You guys always having me look up words. Wish I could put them to use. I probably just say cranky old guy but then how would I have learned curmudgeon. Is that foreign language? Yet cranky old guy doesn’t say stubborn or opinionated either. I guess archaic is suppose to mean just for educated people. Hah you never know some of this could stick to this old dog.

  14. We drop seeds into people whether they be of good or bad. The bad, at least for me, seem to stick out more so than I would like them too. For a long time I have noticed in the circles I have been apart that getting someone to say the sinners prayer was a yea God testimony. The thing that always stuck out was the turning and walking away.

    It saddens me deeply that I might not see in my lifetime the shift or even be apart of it. Connection with God is connection with everything. It isn’t necessary for Him He is already doing it as stated above. The people called to go out and pray with others always take an easy road and shirk the responsibility of fostering real connection of the lost with God And His people simply because we are lazy and besides we done our job they said the prayer and good luck to them.

    There is an army of people that will put time and effort into something they perceive will make a difference. If they think it a waste of time then they will continue down their path until the time they can see. How many people have said the prayer and walked straight back into what they knew and some never to come out of it. Oh but BIll, where is your faith God is the one who does the work.

    I was pondering this morning what am I going to read as part of my daily devotionals along with my poem writing. These things that keep me in a constant relationship and growing in the love that changes me by being downloaded and then uploaded back with praise and worship based in the love given to me and then returned. What I was able to receive for the day. Yes I know download and upload it was on purpose but still.

    I have come to the conclusion I don’t want the negative seeds taking root. I will not give them anymore of my time. It is too valuable to me and it is the one thing that I have to give to Him as purely out of love. Maybe how to fall in love with God and the testimonies of those that have. I’ll take any other positive phrase one would like to share with me.

  15. Desert Storm Libertarian says:

    “Connection” reeks of Neo being plugged into the Matrix. Churches should help parishioners love God with all their hearts, minds, and spirits, and love their neighbors as they love themselves.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Connection” reeks of Neo being plugged into the Matrix.

      GREAT LINE!

      • You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and return to your godless life. You take the red pill, repent, and believe – you stay connected to God and He shows you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

        • Til he kills you in Machine City because of a repeating error in the code?

          lol

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Or you take the blue pill — the story ends, you stay only “connected” to God and YourPersonalLORDand Savior(TM). You take the red pill — you find out what it REALLY means to be more than just “connected” like a USB plug.

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        Or Korvac into Galactus’s spaceship.

    • The Matrix actually contains a lot of great metaphors for discussing God and Jesus with folks who’ve grown up with that movie. Kinda like Jesus using cultural stuff of his day to speak to the people.

  16. Speaking of “connecting,” I’m reminded of the Zen master who told the hot dog vendor, “Make me one with everything.”

  17. It sounds like hook-up culture language, i.e. “I thought we made a real connection when we met”.

  18. I get what you are saying here and agree that language is a poor means of communication, the human element so capable of applying multiple images to what we receive into our brain via such channel. Having ears, we hear not. it takes dialogue, discussion, and digestion afterwards, the latter hopefully in a “connection” with He who indwells us. I agree with your statement that, as believers, we all are already secured in a “hook-up” with our Creator, but a verse in Matthew 6 always puzzled me, the idea of our eye needing to be made “single” not clear to me until one day I chased it into its original Greek roots. The word actually refers to two things being made one, like twisting pipe cleaners together or two flames coming close enough to merge identities. If the “spirit of mad” is indeed the “candle of the Lord”, every man’s “wick” lit upon entering this world, and if second birth is indeed a second kindling, a second “wick” restored (Romans 5), then even though this Spirit of Christ now burns within me, there is yet a necessity for me to “move my flame toward His” in my daily walk. Who among us, even “in” Christ, does not yet stumble down the path following our own free will, His umbilical cord re-connection merely an anchor-line by which we are secured, but whether we respond to His tug our own discretion. Whether we “return and rest” (Isaiah 30:15) entirely our decision.

  19. One “connects” with an object (a “what”) not a person (a “who”).

  20. “Ron, I really hope that during these months of chemotherapy and fighting your cancer, you can connect with God in a very special way”…ugh. This is a time for me of suffering, enduring chemo and trying to find encouragement each morning to start the day. But your last paragraph CM, says it all.

    • I would argue that it’s not the word “connect” that’s at issue in a situation like this, but rather the total lack of wisdom and sympathy in the response.

  21. I think the origins of this usage of the term “connected” is back in the age when telephone operators were needed to do many different kinds of things over the phone, and the last thing they would say before doing what you needed them to do was,”I’ll connect you now….”

    • Robert F – I suspect you’re right.

      That said, I *hate* the way E.M. Forester used the phrase “Only connect!” in Howards’ End, but only because it seemed very trite.

      I don’t have the problem with connect/connection that CM is having, but then, I am not all that aware of the latest evangelical catch-phrases these days.

  22. Guess I’m in the minority here as I really don’t see the word “connect” in such a cold and meaningless way. You’d never hear me use it to convey some kind of spiritual reality but for other reasons. Annoying Christianese – oh yes. Trite, for sure. But cold, impersonal and harmful – I’m not so sure. There are other Christianese phrases that I’d love to see go before this one – “it was a God thing” would be right at the top.

    When my wife and I go thru periods of time where we’re overly busy, doing our own thing, not talking much, etc her best word to describe it is “disconnected”. I get that language has a way of making associations but I just think that it’s a way or saying “near” or “distant”.

    • Mike — and I hope everyone is listening — this rant is meant to be taken on the light-hearted side. Not that bad theology isn’t serious, but a phrase like this is not the worst of our problems.

      I just want to step forward today as one who cares about words, as one who believes in what Eugene Peterson said — that metaphor is the main tool of the pastor. I can’t imagine Peterson or Buechner or Wangerin or Marilynne Robinson making it a habit to use language like this. It is my hope that Christians will be able to express the beauty and wonder (and terror!) of knowing God with language that is more up to the task.

      • Thanks for the clarification. And just as a bit of counter argument, the people you mention are MASTERS at metaphor. Most folks can only pull out plain and simple metaphors like “connect.”

      • CM, we’re not all Marilynne Robinson or Buechner, and even if some of us are, they are not necessarily Marilynne Robinson or Buechner all the time.

        • Absolutely. But may their tribe increase.

          Sometimes I nearly faint for lack of beauty in the way our faith is practiced and presented.

          • I hear you Mike. Love Buechner. Here’s a money Buechner quote:

            Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. . . . Touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

            I don’t use “connect” for different reasons. Either way, the word doesn’t take us to the place that the poets can.

          • But isn’t the New Testament itself written in a low style, not considered artistically adequate or poetically expressive by the literary standards of its time?

            • I’m not talking about “high style.” The writers I mentioned write some of the most earthy prose I know. It’s about what metaphorical world you are creating in the minds of your listeners. Jesus’ parables are a great example, as are the psalms. I’m simply appealing for rich, personal metaphors as the priority in our speaking and writing about the faith. Occasional use of more “relevant” terms is not a problem. It is the habitual language that plays a more formative role in our faith.

          • In fact, the people who cared about the careful use of language in that era, the literary elite, pointed to both the style and subject matter of the gospels as evidence that Christianity was a religion fit only for ignorant slaves and peasants, and all those unable to appreciate the refined literary heritage that had been bequeathed to Roman society by its noble Greek and Roman forbears.

          • Have you looked up the Merriam-Webster definition, and the etymology, of the word? It is rooted in the physical action of “joining together.” Now, granted, God has joined us to him by his grace from his side, so we are always joined to him. But, if despite the fact that he is always present to me, I sometimes am rightly called on to make myself aware of his presence (a very abstract metaphor, channeled through the cognitive and at several removes from the physical), why can I not also deliberately “join myself,” or connect, with him (a very concrete metaphor, rooted immediately in the physical) despite the fact that he is always really connected to me?

            • Robert, I’m not opposed to using terms like this occasionally, but if I have to make an explanation like that to explain it it’s probably not worth it.

              One of the bigger contextual points about this whole discussion is that we regularly criticize evangelicalism, which raises its voice incessantly about the dangers of “secularism”, for being the most secularized subculture of the faith in its language and practice. One thinks they did not grab the term “connect” from Merriam-Webster.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I went to seminary twelve years after graduating from college. One of the things that surprised me was the poor caliber of writing that some of the students used in the papers they presented. Some of it was poor use of simple grammar. It was not simply the inability to use applicable words, but the failure of knowing how to put a sentence or paragraph together. I could not help but wonder how hey were able to be admitted to seminary when they had not learned in college how to do these things.

        I am aware that preaching involves far more than being able to write a decent sentence. But nevertheless it shows a flaw that the habitual carefulness of thinking that writing involves. Being able to preach means one should be able to think through a sermon carefully in advance. Poor use of words hampers good preaching.

        The same is true in being a pastor. When counseling with those who grieve, are sick, or in shock because of the revelation of infidelity, a pastor, or layperson, needs to use words that actually have meaning. One cannot study language usage at such a time, so becoming habitual in it usage is important.

        • You have no idea how much trouble I get into with people because I use spoken language like written language. I’m always limiting or leaving out phrases because in my mind they are assumed, and then everyone gets angry and appalled.

          99% of conflicts would probably never happen if people just used grammar and language properly.

          • StuartB,

            I’ve read a couple interviews with Marilynne Robinson, who is mentioned as one of the masterly literary exemplars above, and her off-the-cuff style of language use in those interviews was much more ordinary and demotic than her highly poetic and compressed literary style. If you were to have a conversation with her, I’d be willing to bet she’d use many of the same ellipses that you do in conversation.

          • David Cornwell says:

            Robert F, of course everyone speaks differently than they write. I’m just saying that the more aware we are of the written language and its careful use, the more aware we will be in speaking. This is just a theory, and I may be totally wrong.

    • I agree with you, Mike H. I’m with you as part of the minority. I have no problem using the word “connect” in a Christian setting. And maybe this will get me crucified at this site, but I’ve even used the metaphor/analogy of being “plugged into the Holy Spirit” in trying to describe my “connection.” To me, there are certainly more important things to rant about than the use of that word. Full disclosure, though: I’ve used “it was a God thing,” too. 😉

      • I think what needs to be considered is God knows what we mean, even if we don’t get the words right. As a knucklehead myself, I thank God for this. Over time we’ll learn to “get it right”. : )

    • I actually agree with you. I use this word in other contexts, not anything to do with church, and I think it’s a handy and compressed term that carries a good amount of context-dependent nuance. Languages develop over time, they add and shed words and usages. The word “network” has only very recently been used to describe the web of social relationships, but I for one think it’s a great usage of the word, saying a lot in two syllables, despite the fact that it’s also taken from the technological world. Technology, after all, is a human project, and language is frequently being “updated” and enriched by it.

    • I’m running through the uses of the word connection in my mind, and trying to think of how I actually use it. I can think of gimmicky uses for it, and uses of it that are unclear in meaning. It is interesting that in most of the sample sentences you provided, the writer is suggesting that there is a service he or his church has to offer, that will provide this “connection.” In the remaining sentences, the writer seems to be rejecting someone else’s sales pitch: “I’ve been told to attend church, but I believe I can connect with God elsewhere.” I wonder “to connect” is working in these cases as a good marketing lingo because it carries with it a strong suggestions of meaning, but ultimately is a vague word – I promise you “connection,” and you get to import your own idea of what precisely this phrase could mean. I make a sale.

      However, I can think of other, fairly plain uses for it where it’s not functioning like a marketing pitch and carries a fair amount of understood meaning. If it is borrowed from technology, perhaps that is precisely why it does carry meaning: technology has changed the nature of knowledge and of communities.

      We live in a world where knowledge is fragmentary and specialized, and there are many sources for it. People seem more aware that the self can be fragmented, parts of it alien to the rest. People seem more aware of the problem of isolation from other people. So the following sentences make immediate sense to me:

      -I want my students to make connections between theory and real problems
      -I can see the connection between these two ideas or events
      -I feel a connection to you
      -I’m glad those two people connected; they have a lot in common
      -I hope this forum can foster connections between people that did not exist before

      “Connection” may not actually be the best or more precise word; yet it is immediately resonant.

  23. It’s been quite a while since I worked with teenagers but I would bet that if they were using this metaphor of connection in a discussion and you laid this rant on them, you would lose them on the spot. I’ll stand with Sean on this one and I personally find the metaphor useful to describe something I am trying hard to do more and more. So what do I take away from this discussion? Don’t use the word “connect” in any of its forms when speaking of God with our good chaplain. Seems harmless enough. I’ll try to remember. Otherwise he’s pretty rational.

    • Ha, you don’t know me very well, do you Charles?

      Irrational is my middle name.

    • Another thing, Charles. I wouldn’t “lay this rant” on any group that used this language in that kind of setting. I do it here because one of the things I want to discuss with the IM community is the importance of words and the need for beauty, richness, and texture in our faith.

      I’m willing to play the fool or the old curmudgeon once in a while if it gets us to talk about that.

    • Thanks Sean, for expressing part of what I feel, but don’t have the time to write before leaving home in order to ‘connect’ with my students.

      In what’s probably my last career (maybe), I’ve worked in schools for the past 11+ years, the last 2 being High School. IF I use flowery, metaphorical language or even just the expressions of my own youth (admittedly a ‘few’ decades ago), or even from MY kids’ adolescence in the 1980’s, the students of today are utterly lost. I might as well be speaking Greek or Latin to them. Like Paul exemplified, I use, as much as possible, their OWN references figures, expressions to communicate with them, so as to ‘CONNECT’ with them, and help them to ‘PLUG IN’ to whatever I’m trying to communicate to them. Communication isn’t truly communicating, UNLESS the recipient grasps understands the message being transmitted.
      Maybe it’s just me, but I think it is counter-productive to require my students to learn a whole new ‘language’ before being able to ‘download’ any data I’m ‘transmitting’! 🙂

  24. Chaplain Mike, you have inadvertently (or not) just savaged the entire United Methodist Church, which has referred to itself as “connectional” for some time. (Perhaps “savaged” is too strong — make that “took to task.”)

    But, being a “language person” too, I get your point.

  25. Chaplain Mike, can I just say that you’ve been on fire lately? Thanks for this.

  26. Words matter, and metaphors matter. I hesitated at first on this one, but upon reflection I’m with you now Chaplain Mike. I understand that language is fluid, but the technological concept of connection and disconnection is an inadequate and somewhat misleading metaphor for how we encounter the living God. We do not “plug into” God when we want to be good Christians, or “pull the plug” when we’re naughty. That’s just bad theology, but that’s what the metaphor suggests.

    I think it’s little like what many Christians do with the concept of “peace” as something we must wait for God to pour down on us from heaven. I counter that misconception by teaching that peace is not a rainshower, but a reservoir–it is within us through the Spirit and released by faith, not poured down on us if we live correctly or ask the right way. The metaphor is important if it suggests theology.

    We don’t have to use a metaphor for God just because we can. “Hook up with God” is synonymous with “connect with God,” but we choose not to use it (I hope) because of the mixed metaphorical images the language would create for a modern listener. Thanks for this reminder to be more aware of the metaphorical impact of words that we casually use, even with good intent. I’m disconnecting from connecting with God.

  27. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    There is a perfectly good New Testament phrase that can be used to replace the phrase “connect with God”: Maybe it got overused a bit in the trendy 60s and 70s, but I haven’t heard it much recently…

    koinonia, or the Latin translation communio. It gets translated “sharing” or “fellowship” a lot, which conjures up the image of Church potlucks and the like, but I think the idea is much stronger, along the idea of “oneness” or “union”, sort of where you throw up if your wife is pregnant, or where your leg starts to hurt when you hear that a dear friend was injured in a an accident.

    The Internet is not, for me, a medium that fosters ‘koinonia’. Nevertheless, it would be nice to hear the word in Christian circles again.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Oh, it got overused. (Including the name of that shepherding group that messed me up.)

      Right alongside “Maranatha”.

    • That word was opened up to me when I learned that its usage in Koine Greek was predominantly commercial, describing a “partnership” in which varies parties cooperated together in a mutual enterprise. It is therefore a missional word as well as a word about union and communion. We are workers together, not just members together in the same potluck line.

  28. As of now I haven’t read all posts, saving that for insomnia time. A while back, on a Christian Reformed email list, the head mailer, evidently important in publishing, teaching etc.,,used the phrase “persuaded by a story” describing the way he came to be a Christian. A poster shouted, “I want to meet the living God! As opposed to being persuaded by a story. I thought YES, me too I told a friend about this guy,who(m) I thought at the time was a total loser. She thought he may have very well been right since only the Holy Spirit could persuade you of this strange supernatural story. This seems OT now, but originally I was thinking “meeting God” and being “connected” with God.

  29. I guess it just comes down to this: Some of think the word “connect” is not suitable in reference to God, and some of us think it’s okay. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is no authoritative guidebook to definitively inform of the esthetic and/or theological appropriateness of the use of all words, so I guess we’ll just have to live with the uncertainty. How unusual.

  30. Whether you agree with him or not, I’d say Chaplain Mike connected with a lot of people today.

  31. In the evangelical church, Connect = Plugged In. It’s always a technical metaphor, an invitation into a experience or setting.

    Connect bugs me less than “plugged in” does.

    We invite you to get plugged in to the ministry and to what God is doing!

    How about no.

  32. I’m very grateful that God chose such articulate wordsmiths to be His disciples.

    Wait a minute….

    *scratching head*

    • Well, those who wrote the NT did a satisfactory job, don’t you think?

      Once again, the emphasis is not on saying that everyone has to be rhetorically brilliant. It’s about the culture we create through our metaphors — especially in our preaching and church pronouncements. These can be as down to earth as David saying, “I miss God as much as a thirsty deer in the wilderness longs to find a stream,” or Jesus saying, “Look at this seed — that’s what the Kingdom is like,” or Paul saying to the Philippians, “I consider my own righteousness to be like dung.” Earthy, vivid, evocative, considered metaphors.

      On the other hand, today’s evangelicalism (past 40 years) has looked primarily to pop culture, youth jargon, technology, the corporate world, and motivational psychology to craft its language. The culture that gets created follows the language. I think that works better if sprinkled like salt, not served like meat.

      • Makes total sense now. I misunderstood thinking you mean only the Fred Buechners of the world can communicate God’s Message when I think the D.L. Moody’s of the world do a pretty good job too.

        • I agree and I also agree that language can and should change depending upon audience. I deal with a lot of country folks here in the heartland, and you can bet I don’t throw around 5 dollar words when talking or praying with them. It’s always best to keep it as simple and earthy as possible IMO, and I try my best to use organic, relational metaphors habitually. Sometimes, however, I just sound like a suburban guy trying to talk like a redneck.

      • “Well, those who wrote the NT did a satisfactory job, don’t you think?”

        After thinking about this, yes, for a bunch of earthy country folks, Peter, John and the others wrote pretty articulately. Credit to the Holy Spirit.

  33. Dana Ames says:

    I’m certainly for better use of language. And the phrase in question doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers Ch Mike.

    However, the thing that stands out to me about the phrase is the sense of distance between God and people – as in God is “way out there somewhere.” I changed my mind about this theological concept years ago, and came to think of it “spatially” as everything that exists being somehow “in” God. I began to actually believe psalm 139:

    Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
    If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

    Dana

    • YES (+1000)

    • Comforting. Thank you Dana and CM for this reminder.

      How does this concept of God’s Omnipresence fit together with the idea of Christ being specifically (exclusively?) present in the Sacraments? Forgive me if this is theology 101.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Joel, I don’t know how it works; I just believe it to be reality, and I’m not sure if we can even wrap our mind around this, anyway… At my age, at this stage of the game, I feel like I don’t need to be able to nail it all down. Sorry if that doesn’t help.

        Dana

    • I was dwelling on the likes of this Psalm on the hour plus ride to work this morning. Especially this one line.
      if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there
      Interesting I am still trying to wrap my head around it

      • Dana Ames says:

        Dearest w, I think what the psalmist was saying was that even in death and the grave we are nonetheless in the presence of God. I think it’s part of what St Paul summed up in Rom 8:

        I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

        God never, ever, ever abandons us. He created us, and will bring us to what he meant for humans (and the rest of creation) to be.

        Dana

        • Interesting your written words pour into me and stay with me longer than any others I read. Echoes in my head all night long and I sense a love purely divine coming from you. I think we shall meet at some point in the eternity and it will be a privilege.

  34. Amen and amen, Chaplain. You might be interested in this post from Ponder Anew.

    http://www.theologyinworship.com/2014/07/07/4-1-1-on-connecting-with-god/

  35. I still respect the Jewish faith for its reverence for God’s name, even to the point of making it unutterable. The incarnation does not make God pedestrian.

    I heard a presentation this week where the speaker explained in grandiose terms how the God of the Universe has this wonderful plan and its all about ME. I kid you not!

    I understand at the end of the day we need to apply feeble human words to describe God and his interaction with us; but when we start with a man-centered theology, the selection of those terms will reflect that bias. I fail to understand how “connect” in association with God can reflect anything but a man-centered theology and an objectification of the Divine.

  36. “Objectification of the Divine”=A means to MY end.