Norwegians love candles. We love fireplaces, woolen socks and sheepskin rugs. Don’t judge. You would, too, if you had the Arctic circle as your next-door neighbor and spent months with little or no sun in the freezing temperatures. OK, so maybe it’s not exactly my next-door neighbor… and maybe I live in the warmest part of Norway, but still… We do love our candles. And wood stoves. Not to mention hygge. You don’t know the word? Oh, that’s alright, who are we to judge? Besides, it’s so 2016, when hygge was named the ‘Word of the year’ in Britain, only beaten by Brexit. You’ll be interested to know that hygge beat mic drop. Of course, it did. Any day of the week.
Hygge is defined as ‘a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. I bet you’d like that, right? Scandinavians do. It warms our souls and makes us feel surrounded. Comforted. Loved.
So, we drag our customs all over the world. The candles. The need for harmony. Our passionate love for conviviality and well-being. Every so often, we are reminded that our hygge may be interpreted differently. When Thomas and I lived in Barcelona, Spain, we were expecting guests and lit some candles in our living room. Only a few. No more than seven. Distributed all over the room. For hygge. Our friends stopped abruptly when they saw the candles and said compassionately, «Oh no! Who died?» Turns out that candles didn’t bring much hygge in Catholic Spain… but it seemed to add some familiar comfort.
The content of words
Truth is, hygge doesn’t mean anything to people unfamiliar with a Scandinavian language. Even when explained, it may be hard for people outside of the Nordic countries to understand the full meaning of the word. Why this need for comfort? And why would we even think of using candles to achieve it? Why would anyone in their right mind use woolen socks, don’t they care about the itching?
Unless you’ve experienced a Norwegian winter, you won’t get it. We need our candles. And our fireplaces. Don’t even think about criticizing our socks.
When you walk a mile in someone’s woolen socks, you realize why they walk like they do. You get to know them. Maybe you’ll even understand the content of their words.
The difficulties of Christianese
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we as Christians communicate our faith. How can we talk about Jesus in a way that invites people into a relationship with him, rather than leaving them wondering which psychiatric ward to call? Is our faith even slightly relevant to their daily life and questions?
I wonder how much of our Christian sub-culture we bring into the conversation, believing that such cultural terms are true expressions of our faith. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with these terms, I’m questioning how we use them. Do ordinary people need to attend an Alpha course or go to Bible school to appreciate the gospel? Did Jesus require such measures to be taken, or did he just treat them as friends, enjoying a conversation over a good meal?
What is culture and what is faith?
Our faith is expressed through the way we live. We should never assume that people can’t relate to Jesus just because they don’t understand our language. It is our job to communicate the character of Christ, making sure that they don’t stumble in our feeble attempts to appear knowledgeable or sanctimonious.
Refrain from using terms that you have to explain. Don’t ever speak of your earthly tent. Seriously. Just don’t. I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning. I now know from personal experience that prisoners don’t appreciate being invited to cell groups. In case you wondered. You might want to hold out on the conversation about missional life. They’ll think you’re sending them to China. Or Uzbekistan. Or I hear that Madagascar is nice this time of year.
How do you explain grace to someone? Or favor? What does it mean to be blessed? How can people who do not know God relate to glory?
I challenge you not to use any Christian terms that you can’t explain in 5 seconds.
The best is for you to avoid such terms altogether when speaking with people who are not yet Christians. Don’t ever make people feel stupid. If you have to use a Christianese term, such as grace, make sure that you can explain it in 5 seconds. If not, leave it. Don’t elevate yourself at someone else’s expense.
I’m not saying that these words are meaningless or that they have no value. I’m forever grateful for grace. I love the glory of God and I’m blessed to know his favor. That does not mean that I have to throw such words around like confetti.
I believe that my words can either lead people to Christ or away from him.
I want my words to invite people into a personal relationship with Jesus. Pure and simple. That’s why I lay down my own preferences. When speaking with people who still don’t know him, I want to make sure that I translate his love into a language that’s understood and embraced. We don’t have to dilute the gospel to communicate to those who do not yet believe. All we want to do, is to show them the way to Jesus. Don’t cheat people out of the experience of getting to know him for themselves.
Just let them know that they are welcome home.