It was the first day of an annual conference of a Christian denomination. The hotel where the conference was taking place was buzzing with people. The lobby was filled with attendees who were checking into their rooms. A group of people who had just checked in was standing in front of the elevators waiting for the next one to take them to their rooms. From looking at their badges, any outsider could tell they all belonged to the same First Church of the Greatness.

When the elevator finally got down to the lobby, with much patience and courtesy, they all let the bellboy carrying several bags get in first. Trying to return the kindness, the young man standing next to the elevator panel, asked each person which floor they were going to and then he would press the appropriate button.

“47,” shouted a lady standing in the back.

“So you are going all way to the top?” asked the young man.

“Yes, I AM going all the way to the top, but ARE YOU?”

Suddenly a hush came over the full elevator. It was one of those moments when pulling a George Carlin’s suggestion on what to do in a full elevator would have been much welcomed. George used to say every time we got into a full elevator, we should make higher and higher dramatic notes as the elevator went higher and higher. Alas, no one had the presence of mind to do something like that. So, understating the lady’s Christianes language, everyone else held his or her breath, waiting for the bellboy’s response.

For a split second a confused look came upon the young man’s face as if he was saying to himself, “What kind of a @#$!% stupid question is that? Isn’t it obvious that, along with everyone else, I am going to the top, too.” But then, Eureka! You could see the light bulb began to flash on the top of his head like a neon sign on the top of a cheap motel in Vegas.

“Yes, Ma’am, I’M going to the top, too,” He responded politely.

But the lady just couldn’t let it go. By witnessing to this heathen, this was her chance to make a point with the people present and show them how to add another notch to their spiritual gun.

“I am not talking just the top, but all the way to THE TOP,” she continued.

By now the man had caught on with the game she was playing. He was doing his best to play as dumb as he could just to get the woman off his back without giving into what she expected him to say.

“Yes, Lady, I am going all the way to the TOP where the pool, the bar and the gym are.”

Recently a friend gave me a book by Anne Lamotte entitled, “Traveling Mercies” In the book Anne talks about how she got “all the way to the TOP”. The contrast between her language and our elevator lady, who represents so many evangelicals, is so striking that while reading the book I cried, screamed and laughed for joy.

Anne did not grow up in a Christian family. Just like me, she grew up during the Hippie era of free love, drugs and booze. By the time she is writing the segment of the book talking about her so called, “conversion” she is a pill-popping alcoholic who had just aborted her unwanted child by a married man.

Every weekend, when she was hungover, she went to a flea market where she could buy the most wonderful ethnic food. Between eleven and one on Sundays, she could hear gospel music coming from a run down church right across the street where she often stopped by to listen. Once a month she went to the church, however, she always stood at the door and never went inside. No one tried to con her into sitting down or staying. She says, “To me, Jesus made about as much sense as Scientology or dowsing.” It wasn’t till a few months later when she finally allowed herself to take a seat on a folding chair at the entrance.

Seven days after her abortion, as she is bleeding heavily, lying down on bed in the dark, she became aware of someone with her, hunkered down in the corner of her room and she knew it was Jesus. The thought of becoming a Christian appalled her. “I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

From that day on, everywhere she went she felt a little cat was following her, wanting her to pick it up, open the door and let it in. A week later, when she went to church, she was so hungover that she couldn’t even stand up for the songs. But this is what happened afterwards.

…I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels… I opened the door to my houseboat, and stood there a minute, and then hung my head and said, “Fuck it: I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in now.”

Oh my God! Isn’t that the most creative “sinner’s prayer” you have ever heard? Can you imagine walking a sinner through a prayer like that?

“OK, are you ready to accept Christ into your heart now? Then, close your eyes and repeat after me: Fuck it I quit. You can come in now!”

Being so offended by the word “FUCK”, I know many evangelicals would completely miss Anne’s conversion moment. After all, how could a holy God accept such a filthy prayer? Forgetting that, as Søren Kierkegaard calls him, the “Wholly Other” that I know cares more about the woman’s soul than her using a four-letter word while talking to him.

In responding to her own question, “why everyone is not joining the evangelicals”, in her book, “The Fall of the Evangelical Nation”, Christine Wicker says:

Partly that’s because evangelicals use spiritual language that’s no longer heard in common parlance and because like every strong group, they learn to communicate in a sort of verbal shorthand that has depths of meaning to it but sounds like jargon and nonsense to others.

The self-righteous and “out of touch with reality” attitude of so many of us evangelicals that insist on saying, “We have it all figured out. We got the formula! There is only one way to communicate with God and that is, of course, our American Christianese” reminds me of a message Dr. Tony Campolla once gave to a large group of young evangelicals.

He was talking about world hunger, urging the young Christians to get involved with preventing it, when he said something like the following–I am quoting from memory:

Within the next a few minutes, as I am talking to you, X number of children around the world will die of hunger, but the majority of you will not give a shit about it. And you know what angers me even more? That you are more concerned about me using the word “shit” than you are about the thousands of children dying of hunger.”

As I am writing this blog, there are millions of people around the world who, like Anne, acknowledging a vacuum in their lives, are starved to know something that would fill that vacuum, but majority of us, evangelicals, do not know how to communicate with them. Just like the old Romans, we have decided that anyone who doesn’t speak our tongue must be a Barbarian. We are so used to our Christianese language that no longer are we aware that the rest of the world needs to hire interpreters to even understand us.



  1. You give me some good things to think about, my need to be aware of how the culture thinks and talks and then how to share the life of Jesus. Thanks for the thought provoking thoughts


  2. how true!Reminds me of a sermon I heard a couple weeks ago… the theme? “who wants to climb higher on the mountain with Jesus?”… Many enthusiasm “AMENS” echoed from the flock… (I guess they all want to ‘go to the top’ too).Basically, the message was, if you pray more and read your bible and sit and soak in the spirit, you can walk up the mountain of transfiguration with Jesus.A tree planted in good soil by a river… gives fruit in due season.Today’s branches are striving and reaching for the sky when their roots are drying do to lack of true nourishment.


  3. I’m so ashamed that I had to read that, that word…!!!I love you anyway. Good thoughts on how we should be looking past the outside to what matters on the inside of a person. C.S. Lewis said that every person has the possibility of being a glorious angel or a horrible monster. We have to be willing to see the angel, his term, in everyone and look past the monster and meet them where they are. I believe that the world is looking for sanctification, not sanctimoniousness.Josh


  4. That elevator story is funny! (and akward!) I’m going to put Anne Lamotte on my reading list.I notice if I use “unchristian” language with some christians they misunderstand it. So sometimes I use Christianese when I’m around christians just to make my point– but it makes me feel like I’m faking.p.s. I don’t mind if you say “fuck” and “shit”.


  5. Josh, so sorry for invading your innocence and virginity with that word. I know how pure you are 😉Frankly, my point was for us, Christians, to move away from our Christian bubble and become more incarnational in our approach to a fallen world. If the word FUCK offends and prevents us to have a conversation with someone, can you imagine everything that could have prevented God for becoming flesh?


  6. Lydia, Paul said he became all things to all men. You are not a fake if you speak Christinese with Christians. If you don’t do that, you might not be able to communicate with many of them since they don’t understand any other language. I think you will like and identify with the book.


  7. Kaveman, may be the people said amen because they thought the preacher was going to, literally, take them hiking 😉Do you know what that type of teaching is called, Metanarritive. Which basically means, one size fits all. If you do A+B, you will always end up with C and when you end up with F, they will accuse you of lack of faith, not reading your Bible enough, not praying and… They never stop to think maybe God has a different plan for you.


  8. snezi, I am sure I’d miss you too if I knew who you were ;-)May be if you tell me why you know what I am talking about, I’d figure out who you are. In any case, thanks for your comments.


  9. What a wonderful post. Anne Lamott is one of my personal heroes for many reasons. Have you read Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith? Bird by Bird is also an incredible book. She seems like someone that I could talk to endlessly. The thing I love and respect about Anne is that she cuts right through the bullshit, just like George did. I also respect the hell out of you because you do the same, regardless of all the pious little eyes looking over your shoulder, watching your every word. A small dose of reality every once and a while would do these types of people you talked about pretty well. Keep it up Shah. Have a peaceful day.


  10. So, I’ve been on both sides of this. Initially, I was so ingrained in the Christian speak and culture that I didn’t know how or why anyone would live outside of it. Needless to say, there was not a lot of understanding between me and the rest of the world. Eventually, I ended up somewhere I did not expect – on the outside of the church looking in. I wouldn’t say I have lost my ability to communicate with Christians, but I often feel the same “fakeness” another reader mentioned. In the whole process I gained much more than I lost. I feel like I have a better understanding of authenticity and a deeper connection with the world as a whole and standing in it.Christianese is something that, besides sounding ridiculous at times, can easily separate one small sector of society from the rest. For me, changing hasn’t been as much about education in the “non” Christian elements of life, but realizing that we’re all in the same human mess of trying to figure out what the hell do with this thing called life .


  11. Hey! How are you doing? I read you blog and it was great. It’s really encouraging and always thought provoking. It’s really encouraging to know I’m not alone in the way I think and really love reading your blogs.


  12. Amelie, as always it is great to hear from you. You are so well read. I don’t know how many other people know anything about Anne Lamott. I would not have known anything about her, if it wasn’t for a dear friend who gave me her own copy because she thought I needed to read it.Thanks for your kind words. Since my departure from your beloved org, I am not worried about anyone looking over my shoulder. Not that I ever did and hence my departure ;-)If you get a chance, read “the fall of the evangelical nation”.


  13. hey Ms. Brooks, how are you?Thanks for your comments. You know, it is this kind of reality check, “what the hell to do with this thing called life” that scares the crap out of the evangelicals. they just can’t stand not being able to have an answer for everything because, to them, not having answers means not being in control. After all, if you know your Bible, you should know how God is supposed to act in every situation.


  14. Hi Profeshah,I loved the blog. It drove a lot home for me. This summer I stayed in socal to do an internship rather than go home to Idaho. It’s been quite the learning experience. Lately though I have done some serious struggling. I’m apart of a small group of women that meet once a week for accountability, and although I’m seeing myself stretched I’m frustrated on how focused the group is on not “using destructive words face to face or behind someone’s back.” This is something I’ve been working on for a LONG TIME. Multiple people had called me out on it before this small group started, so I had already been practicing. But the other day one of the women totally flaked out on me when I was totally depending on her. So when I went to lunch with my college pastor’s, one of our friend’s and this women, this last Sunday, I was asked privately how I was going to handle the situation that she had put me in. Because of this accountability question, and the way christian culture works i felt forced to answer, “There was a misunderstanding, so I’m just going to have to roll with it.” When really I wanted to say, “So and so flaked out on me and now I’m screwed!” Honestly I’m tired of being wrapped in a pretty little bow, sporting a bible as a name tag. I’m screwed up, my gift wrap is torn, that’s why Christ came to save my filthy being. What makes me or my christian friends think that they are so much better than the “worldly” society? And if by not “using destructive words,” we are treating them as lesser people, we are hugely missing the point, sometime people need to be corrected. When I say “corrected” know that I’m not planning on picketing, and shouting “christianese” with a mega-phone. But having the grace to sit her down and say, “hey when you make such a huge commitment and then you make other plans, have the decency to let people know so that they can make other arrangements.” But instead I just bit my tongue so that I wasn’t seen as the bad guy.


  15. Hey Melissa, so good to hear from you. What is an accountability group? As a Christian, how many people do you have to be accountable to? Why do you have to share your innermost thoughts with bunch of people whom you can’t trust to even fulfill a simple promise? But, that’s not the point of this posting. Unfortunately, we have been taught that using, what they call, “destructive words” would mean we have bitterness or unforgiveness in our hearts. So, either way we are screwed. If you don’t say anything, you feel like a hypocrite and if you say something using a non-christianese language, you aren’t Christ like.


  16. *sigh*… thank you for being REAL. I am so sick of all the fake perfection that has a off putting aura amongst “Christians”….but you my friend are REAL. You get it. You get that life is dirty and messy and that just because are Christians doesn’t mean we have transcended the dung heap, it simply means we dive back in head first!I just feel so passionate about your words… I too wonder why people care more about someone saying the word “shit” then they are about the true world issues… the things that are real, dirty and messy and what life is all about. I know Ive told you this before but I am so jaded by Church and Christians because of these very things. So many time I have wanted to walk away…. but when I examine it, its not from Christ, its from the PEOPLE of Christ. Deep down, I have no other choice though. I could never deny my heart, and it is so sobering to think that it is US christians that give Christ a bad name. How do I deal with the fact that some of the most incredible people I have met live their lives better than most ‘professing’ christians?! If I struggle with that, I can only imagine how someone not of the same faith wrestles with that.All that to say…. thank you for being REAL, thank you for caring enough to not be fake. I am touched by you and so are so many others. I am proud to call you professor, teacher, mentor, fellow Persian-ite and most of all, FRIEND. 🙂


  17. Dear Shy, Thank you for taking the time to my blog. You are very kind in giving me such a high honor in calling me, professor, teacher, mentor, fellow Persian and your friend.Many Christian prefer to worry about the word “shit” than the “true world issues” because it is much easier to attack someone for using vulgarity than to try to find out why a person uses vulgarity. For that, my friend, requires care, dedication and sacrifice. Like the Pharisees of Jesus time, many Christians have become defensive in their approach to this world. “don’t say that, don’t touch that, don’t see that and don’t go to that…” has become their mantra. This is not the Spirit by which Christ was guided. He was offensive in his ministry. He was not afraid of saying it, touching it, seeing it and going it…When I look around I can’t help but notice how much the above Christian attitude has hurt the church. We have caused the very people we are supposed to touch to run away from us. Yet, many of our leaders and spokespeople continue to do business as usual by telling us to worry more about the man on the street using the word “shit” than to care about his soul.


  18. it’s nice to hear people having a conversation about this topic of the self focused nature of so much of christian life. what i really like about the conversion story is that it was between this woman and God… no one confronting her in an elevator like a crazy person got her to reconsider Christ, but the Holy Spirit made himself clear to her. I know I look back with deep regret to things I have said to non believers in an attempt to “convert” them. I would rather say “shit” in an honest conversation than all the fake, self aggrandizing christianise that we think gets people saved.


  19. Hey marionpauline, you sure are an unusual Christian, my kind. Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely correct. It’s all about keeping it real. It’s unfortunate that many Christians have given up being transparent and continue to hide behind their fake appearance.


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