When Adjectives Mess us up

BlogrevolutionAdjective – any member of a class of words that in many
languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by having
comparative and superlative endings, or by functioning as modifiers of
nouns, as good, wise, perfect.  The part of speech that modifies a noun or other substantive by
limiting, qualifying, or specifying and distinguished in English
morphologically by one of several suffixes, such as -able, -ous, -er, and -est, or syntactically by position directly preceding a noun or nominal phrase.

Adjectives, generally speaking, screw us up in the pursuit of faithfulness to Kingdom purposes.  The problem with adjectives is that"by limiting, qualifying, or specifying" types of Christ-followers…in other words, in attempting to describe something unique about a movement, person, or community of people, once an adjective is added, usually harm is done.  You see, adjectives were never meant to become NOUNS…they are mostly words that are used subjectively by the speaker/writer.  But the problem is once an adjective is used, it easily transforms into a noun and it used in an abusive manner.  Try this on for size:

  • When it appears that a person is TOO literalistic in their interpretation/use of scripture, we are tempted to describe them as a "fundamentalist" and then marginalize them
  • When a person lives the flow of their life in the context of a denominational church body, they are morphed into whatever that denomination is…they are a "Lutheran", "Pentecostal", "Baptist", "Anglican", etc.  Then they are pigeon-holed based upon our subjective ideas of the reality of that denomination.
  • When it appears that a person has blown it in some way, instead of focusing on the behavior, calling it what it is as "broken behavior" of a person who is called a saint within biblical texts, we have a tendency to move sin from its place as a descriptor of actions to a labeling of a person as a "sinner".
  • When a person is performing a specific function within the Body of Christ that is, according to the biblical witness itself, simply one of numerous "callings" from the Spirit of God…that person is "pastoring" people effectively as an equally vital part of the overall economy of the work of God.  The problem comes when the "pastor" becomes not a descriptor of action but a noun describing a person…suddenly that descriptor takes on power and separateness…and thus can and has been abused.

Where is all this coming from?  Well, in recent months, I have again felt the sting of being marginalized by a descriptor that was supposed to simply describe something from my past NOT become the basis for a subjective judgment of my character/etc.  Somebody referred to me as a "Lutheran"…now, I have no problem with that descriptor/adjective if it is simply one way of referring to something that has been a part of my life.  In other words, I have been involved in a Lutheran expression of Christianity.  But, as mentioned above, Lutheran is an adjective NOT a noun.  It describes a certain theological and liturgical heritage within the flow of Christendom.  It helps someone who doesn’t know me understand a bit about my background IF they understand what is special about a "Lutheran" understanding of Christ-following.  The problem comes when the person using the adjective uses it as a noun…when their subjectivity (usually negative stereotypes and misunderstandings) becomes more than opinion but something that gives them an opportunity to disconnect from community.  Remember, when adjectives become nouns, they mess us up.  We have all felt the sting of broad generalizations of our lives…"oh, they are only an artist"…"that person is a flake"…"she’s an idiot".  You see, all those descriptors are adjectives describing something that is meant to be seen as transitory, situational and circumstantial.  Can we try to let the adjectives be just what they are meant to be?  Can we put aside the temptation to make a descriptor into a label that gives rise to marginalization and rejection?  You tell me…what do you think?

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