Buckle up and hang on for the ride, because I’m going to tackle that which has confounded me for my first three years in Australia: slang!
Because my wife, Christine, is Australian, I have been introduced to various Australianisms. For example, if I want to say that a child is unhappy with an outcome, I could announce: ‘That child is chucking a tanty’. Or, ‘Look at that little tacker. He’s spat the dummy’. Or, ‘Can you believe that kid? He’s really chucking a wobbly!’
Contextually speaking, I can figure out those sayings—but really, sometimes I scratch my head trying to figure out what cheese has to do with being angry and how such a tasty, dairy morsel became a verb: ‘That really cheesed me off’. Speaking of difficulties with syntax, I was taught in high school never to end a sentence with a preposition, but here it is appropriate to end a sentence with two of them: ‘What are you on about?’
The other day, Skippy, the head groundsman at school, stood in front of me with his dark-blue shirt untucked, straw hat perched precariously on the back of his head, waiting for my response. To complicate matters, Skippy has a thick Australian accent, which is over-emphasised when he talks to me. He likes that confused look that stretches the skin between my eyebrows.
‘How’s ya mother’s ducks?’ he asks.
I know there is a prescribed answer—something about chooks or bacon bits—but it’s one of those moments when I think the popular expression ‘It’s all Greek to me’ is applicable.
Pastors sometimes speak like that to their congregation members. They actually look up Greek words in preparation for their sermons hoping, I think, that simply by pronouncing the unpronounceable, the congregation will think ‘You little ripper, what a bonza pastor!’
But sometimes we get lost in the words—the big ones like redemption, sanctification, justification, eschatology. We find ourselves staring into the theological abyss because we, the church worldwide, have been fed on the small words for far too long. Love and peace, that’s what God and the Christian life are all about. And when we’ve swallowed that spiritual milk, there’s no room left for the meat, the big words that bring us into the abyss of questions and growth in Christ.
When was the last time that you had a faithful debate with someone near you? When was the last time you talked about the deepest enigmas of the Trinity? Have you shied away from it because the slanguage makes you scratch your head and takes you one step closer to feeling spiritually inadequate? Are you afraid? Are you alone?
How about this month, start with one ‘church word’ that has always confused you. Pick one of your friends from church and say, ‘G’day, Mate, howdja like to have a yarn about consubstantiation and its sotieriological meaning to the universal church?’
If that doesn’t work, just ask your neighbour … ‘Can you tell me your story of grace?’
Reid Matthias is pastor of Green Pastures Lutheran Church, Lockrose, Queensland.