Friday, September 21, 2012

Religion is Cliche

“God responds to faith, not Cliché’s” –Larry Ollison
My senior year, I took a great English class at St. Olaf- “creative non-fiction writing”. I remember going into the class unenthused; as I had wanted to take creative fiction writing instead. However, this class turned out to be the perfect misfortune as I learned so much about my writing. I think I could study and work on creative non-fiction for the rest of my life given the option.
One of the major take-aways from this class was a lesson on Cliché’s. "It is lazy and ineffective to use Cliché’s in your speech and writing!" My professor proclaimed. We then proceeded into an exercise of coming up with creative new ways to say: “Tears streamed down her face.” It was tough! There were some really creative and refreshing answers however such as: "Drops ballooned in her eyes" or "Her eyelashes dripped at every blink." This lesson opened a whole new world of writing and listening to me. It forced me to strive to say things in a unique and meaningful way, rather than revert to the easy but overused expression of something.
For those who don’t know what a cliché is exactly, here is the Wiki definition:
A cliché or cliche (UK /ˈklʃ/ or US /klɪˈʃ/) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (
I challenge you for one day count/tally all the clichés you see and hear, whether in your own speech or others.
I have become increasingly aware that this same lesson in many ways should be brought to the church and religious individuals. As sports, hobbies and different fields of study- Christianity has its own jargon and language.  There is nothing wrong with this, as a ‘jargon’ usually communicates unique meanings in a given field that other words cannot. However, I think a jargon can go too far when a) its users are not aware of how foreign it sounds to others and b) the jargon isolates and pushes away those outside of the community.
Here are some jargon/clichés from other major faith groups that are held by believers to get at the root of God’s/Allah’s/Buddha’s nature:
Shalom- Peace
Mazel Tov- “good destiny”
"Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem." - In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Insha'llah- If Allah wills
Life is Illusion
Karma- it is fate
Do these speak to you? Do they make you uncomfortable? Do you see how each one points deeply to the meaning of God in those religions?
I did some research on the web, when going to several Christian websites, here is some of the language I encountered:
The Spirit Moved in Me
Jesus is the one
Lord have mercy
He is coming back and it won’t be long
Jesus is alive now, and He has saved me.
Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and His spirit lives in me
God is Love
I have Jesus in my heart
We are all saved
keep the faith
 I’ll pray for you
 just give it to God
 Trust in the Lord
 God loves you
God has a plan
Do certain ones speak to you more than others? Do you regularly use any of these/know people who do? How many of these do you recognize from your upbringing/past?
These sayings hold a lot of truth in them, which I think makes their regular use even more intimidating. Imagine this situation. Tommy is walking down the street, and is curious about Christianity. He walks into a church and begins to dialogue with one of the members about Christian faith. The member is very excited to share his faith with Tommy, and in his enthusiasm exclaims: “you see, We are all saved In him! For Jesus died for your sins and mine, and now we are free of the devil and God has triumphed! This brings joy to my heart.”
If I were Tommy, I think this would make me very uncomfortable. One the one hand I might recognize the member’s sincere enthusiasm, but on the other it would be as if he/she was speaking a foreign language to me.
Some churches are starting to pick up on this alienating nature of 'religion' -and I think it has something to do with the use of clichés. Below is an advertisement for a church nearby that I drive by on my way home from work every day. Why would this church appeal to people? Why does this work as an advertisement?
I think it is partially because "religion" these days signifies to people a structure and a group they cannot relate to. It means being muddled in a conversation people do not understand, rather than becoming better connected to the source- God.
I guess my main point is that if we really want to share our spirituality with others, I think it is important to do so responsibly and compassionately. And one way we do so irresponsibly is through our go-to phrases and clichés. As evident with this blog, I believe conversations about faith are very important, and can contribute so much to others. Sharing faith can bring genuine peace, healing, guidance, joy and thankfulness to people. It allows people to experience relief, community and purpose. And I think a lot of well-intentioned believers go out to share these gifts with others. But then unknowingly they alienate others through their dialogue, and come away feeling misunderstood. Faith is so much about community, and how we express ourselves to even those within our faith communities is so important.
We must speak to those in our lives in a language they understand if we want to truly share God and faith with them. We must root our dialogue in personal experience and original language. If we don’t, we risk becoming nothing more than a club- an in and out group that isolates us from humanity and even from other Christians. We risk suffocating the message of the truths of a faith we hold dear.
My challenge for this week is this: Try writing down a faith statement in 50 words or less for yourself that you can share. Eliminate all cliché’s, and make your diction as accessible as possible. It would be wonderful if people would post what they come up with as comments to this post; as I know I and others would greatly benefit from your genuine expression of your beliefs.
      “The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old cliches that come so easily to hand while working, which can suffocate the little flower that does not come, ever, the way one expects.”
- Henri Matisse


  1. I realize that I look forward now with expectation to your blog at the end of each week, Kelsie!
    The subject of language is very important to me. When I was first introduced to the evangelical world, I was put off tremendously by the common language that was part of this sub-culture. I truly didn't know what being "saved" meant, and "having Jesus in my heart" seemed like a rehash of childish language that I sang in Sunday School eons ago.
    The church struggles with this issue, trying to make the Christian faith relevant to modern ears. Sometimes they overdo their accomdations to modern culture and come across like a middle aged mom trying to dress like a teenager in order to connect with her kids.
    To me, the Twelve Steps of AA have taken the spiritual journey and de-jargoned it. If you read the steps, they are the spiritual journey in plain, down to earth language. They apply to all faiths, and to people who have no faith as well. They are a lifeline to rescue people who are truly drowning in addiction. And they are a lifeline to all of us, if we care to consider them. Actually, we are all addicted ... an addiction to self. We are selfish by nature and rush blindly ahead, without considering God or others in our headlong pursuit of success and happiness. The goal of the spiritual journey is to attain the humility to realize that we are not in control, but that there is a higher power outside of ourselves that we can trust. Try reading the steps, plugging in "addiction to self" when appropriate. They are void of cliches and Christian-ese, yet were written by Christians who were interested in literally saving the lives of those addicted and afflicted in their midst.
    Isn't it great how I wiggled out of the 50 word assignment you presented?! Instead I am pointing to the 12 steps as my best example of plain spoken words of life giving truth that all can understand.

  2. This is cracking me up, because it is such a great challenge, because I have replied to this post and deleted it four times . . .because, as you know me, and as I accept myself . .. there is NO WAY I could say anything in just 50 words!!! Words are my strength, my weakness, my love, my passion, and brevity, succinctness, anything with a word limit, let's just be honest . . .impossible!!!

    But I'll share my dad's powerful words to me, at the core of my leap of faith: IF GOD IS ANYTHING AT ALL, THEN HE IS EVERYTHING. For me, in my adolescent years, this was the birthplace of faith. I still dance with doubt, but I always come back to this.