… and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

A recent TV commercial reminded me how we have trivialized certain words. The ad asked the viewer: “Do you suffer from bags under your eyes?” Suffer. From bags!

My wife and I both agreed having bags under your eyes is not suffering. Being hungry every day; that’s suffering. Having to watch your child die of disease; that’s suffering. Enduring pain, physical and emotional; that’s suffering. Living in fear for your life and that of your family; that’s suffering. Calling the way your eyes look “suffering” trivializes the real agony of so many in the world.

“Happy” is another word we have trivialized. I realized that yesterday while reading a blog by one of the publishers of the Common English Bible (CEB). Some had complained to the translators about their (the translators’) decision to render makarios in the Beatitudes as “happy” rather than “blessed.” The upshot of the publisher’s comments was that the CEB committee was not going to allow marketers to define “happy”:  “We might concede that it is possible to trivialize the meaning of happiness in our culture, to mistake happiness for personal self gratification, but the CEB editors are not willing to let a trivial misapplication of the word derail the correct use of the meaning from the Greek” (http://www.commonenglishbible.com/Connect/Blog/ViewBlog/tabid/209/ArticleId/71/Happy.aspx). Others commented that “happy” is a “weak” word in our culture and takes a great deal of “unpacking” to understand properly. Perhaps most telling for what I’m saying today is this comment: “when you use the word ‘happy’ in 2010 USA, people receive the message of personal wishes filled, not heavenly blessing.”

Finally, “Christian” has become a trivial word. It was first applied to disciples as a slur. The Greek word “christianos/oi” means “little Christ(s).” The opponents of the followers of the Way, as believers were first known, joked about the disciples’ efforts to live holy lives. “Look at those little Christs,” the detractors said. But the disciples bore the term as a badge of honor, and adopted it for themselves. They were willing to suffer insult for the sake of Christ, and indeed, turned bad into good, just as God did with Jesus on the cross.

But what does “Christian” typically signify today? Someone who is intolerant, mean-spirited, exclusivistic, even cruel or else a person whose beliefs are irrelevant, who defends the practices and existence of an outdated institution, and who cannot change. No wonder that young adults increasingly reject “Christianity” but like Jesus.

Time to stop the trivialization of faith and recover the element of suffering and sacrifice that characterized the first Christians. Time to love our neighbors as ourselves, though it be costly. Time to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

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