The most distinctive feature of the South are the famous phrases from the past. Recently I asked you all on Facebook for you favorite Southern phrases and received sixty responses…Here are my favorites.
You look like a calf at a new gate.
A half bubble off plumb.
Busier than a one armed paper hanger on a busy day.
Nervous as a cat in a room full of rockers.
Bless your heart.
What do these phrases mean? Well, that's where things get even more interesting. These phrases aren't given any qualifiers.
If someone says “You look like a calf at a new gate,” which means you look lost or confused, they don’t tell you what they mean by "calf" or their views on moving them around.
No one fills you in on what kind of cat you look like, nor how many rockers are in one room.
I’m still wondering what a paper hanger is and why a one-armed man would be given this job.
You will not be told whether "Bless your heart" is coming from genuine concern or a devastating attack on your ability to think.
These phrases are just put out there, unqualified, and it’s most refreshing.
Many of the other things we talk about down here in the South, the things that really matter, are over-qualified to the max. Particularly our Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong, this goes for me as well as anyone else. In fact, another pastor here in Greenville called me out on it a couple years ago. He waited until the end of a conversation and showed me just how many subpoints I had attached to each big idea I was trying to communicate. Now I notice every time I do it and every time anyone else does it. Here are a few qualified Christian statements in conversation I’ve heard recently.
“We love our church! The music is traditional, but it’s a good church.”
“I believe Jesus saves, but I’m not a Calvinist. Well, I’m like a three point Calvinist.”
Yea, it’s a mega church. But they still preach the gospel and everything.
The Holy Spirit told me, and I’m not like super Pentecostal, but the Holy Spirit told me...
The last one was me. After I had said it, in a message, I cringed. In my mind, I was afraid some may think my theology of the Holy Spirit was akin to a TV preacher, who says the Holy Spirit tells him someone watching has a disease, and if they just plant a seed the disease will go away. Fear leads to damage, as this implies things about all of our Pentecostal brothers that is not true about all of them.
We don’t have to talk like this. We don’t have to distinguish ourselves out of fear of a possible mis-association when we talk about Jesus. We don’t have to identify with a theological camp in every conversation. We don’t have to attempt to promote our own knowledge or downplay a possible lack of knowledge. We don’t have to say everything perfectly. We don't have to prove we're worth having a Christian discussion with.
We don't have to start by identifying what we're not saying, and we don't have to give lengthy explanations that end with, "I said all that to say this." We can be free only to say what we mean and mean what we say. We’re free to talk about Jesus and free from the fear of “not talkin’ right.” Here’s why:
Jesus didn’t qualify everything he said
Almost every time I read the gospels I think, “I wish you’d divulge a little more on that, Jesus.” Like Matthew 7:21 where he says, Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” I just wish one of the disciples would have piped up, “Jesus, if you have a second, can you remind us of the exact points that make up your will real quick?”
If we were talking, instead of Jesus, we’d expand his phrasing into rabbit trails on Lordship salvation, eternal security, and the like.
Jesus didn’t. He was content to let this truth live alone for the time being.
The apostles didn’t qualify everything they said
Though they'd all agree there is a time for laser focused clarity, the apostles didn’t always worry about overly detailed articulations of doctrine in some of their recorded sermons. Sometimes their application was as simple as "Repent and be baptized."
More notably, however, they were not looking to be distinct from each other as different human qualifiers on the teaching of Jesus. They were just looking to lead people to the teaching of Jesus.
For example Paul writes, “Each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
He's illuminating how ridiculous our thinking can get if we qualify our Christianity based on who we learn it from, as if a man has revealed to us something new under the sun.
Right now, at least in the Christian culture I’m looking at, if you name a few preachers you listen to or theologians you read, you’re likely being categorized and/or looking to be categorized. One day our only category will be Jesus, and we'll finally know him as the only man who ever mattered.
We have to admit, there are divisions in the body that wouldn’t be there if we didn’t put as much stock in men (whether they’re dead or alive), qualifying ourselves too wholeheartedly with them.
Our identity isn’t in our knowledge
Many times when we qualify things we're trying to show off our understanding. When we do that, we’re assuming our Christianity is as pure as our level of knowledge. The Bible actually cautions us about basing the success of our Christian lives on our theological knowledge.
Paul tells Timothy that in the last days, men will always be learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul also says that knowledge puffs us up, but love edifies.
Instead of knowledge, the scriptures identify us by what Jesus has done for us, and our “knowledge” of that is tested by our love for God and others.
A custodian in a hotel who lovingly serves his savior and coworkers can have a purer religion than a seminary professor, even though he may not be able to articulate his walk with Jesus in the same way.
When you’re walking around the South, and you hear some of those famous phrases like “All Y’all” and “I’m fixin’ to…” and “Hows your mama and dem?” think about our conversations surrounding Jesus.
We’re free to talk about him, to glorify him, to share what we’re learning from him without qualifying every last thing we say.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jafir/