House Rules for Language
I am replete with recent examples for a post on the language within a household. Some positive and some not so positive. My house so my rules, I will just lay everything on the table. First example, during a recent hockey game I muttered (read "shouted") at a hockey player (read "Sidney Crosby") an informal question (read "what the hell?!?"). Kenzie had just walked back into the living room and repeated me while looking quizzical at the television. There was a room of laughter and a little heat as fingers started pointing at me. My wife and I were then blessed with another oppurtunity to hear this wonderful little phrase come out of Kenzie's mouth. As Kenzie watched Judah fall off the slide she let the phrase rip yet again. Though this image will stick well, perhaps a positive example will serve my purpose better.
I recently caught wind of Judah's peculiar language development. As number two who happens to not yet be two, he is always three steps behind Kenzie. Yet Judah desires to tag along for everything. If Kenzie asks for milk, or to help with cooking, Judah will lug his way in and ask "can I help too?" or "can I have milk also?" It struck me as odd because Kenzie does not use this type of language anywhere near as often as Judah. Then it struck me again, Judah had never known being a me-only child. Everything he knew about life in our house was "Kenzie and me." Because of this he had developed a language style that fit his circumstances more organically. Kenzie hardly ever speaks in "too" and "also." Even when she asks for something after Judah these words are rare. With Judah though they are common. The order of his birth (e.g. the state of the family) had affected his language.
These two examples, plus the growing sports vocabulary of my children, made me stop and think about the language of a household. The words and phrases that are commonly spoken or sung in a house will be repeated. Children will take on their environment. We all inherently know to watch what we say around children. They are bound to repeat it eventually. Or so the theory goes. So how often does the language of our children reflect a godly household?
We should ask what songs our children sing. What songs come to mind easily and roll of their tongue? Alaina and I were really good with Kenzie to teach the psalms. They were made an integral part of family worship. Kenzie was already mastering Taylor Swift and Brandi Carlile. We were not concerned with getting "christian music" in front of her as much as we were concerned with getting the psalms. With Judah we have been less instructive in the psalm department. Instead we have focused almost exclusively on the short and familiar songs of our church's liturgy. With multiple variants of the sanctus, doxology, trisagion, etc. it was clear that we wanted to instill this in our kids. Ultimately, we would like to get back to the psalms. But "church music" (quite distinct from "christian music") is a priority.
After a couple month it is not uncommon to see Judah wandering around aimlessly singing a Taylor Swift song. His wandering while singing a liturgical tune is becoming more common. Like Kenzie he will be shocked and full of glee to recognize a song during service. It is church language that he is learning and he will be encouraged to worship by merely knowing the words.
Upon becoming intentional with our parenting, Alaina and I became bent on using Scripture to teach memorization and language. The reality is that your kids are learning language in every environment. They want to know what each item in the kitchen is and what it does. They want to know the name of each TV show and song. They are created to naturally learn in every environment. For us, it was important for Scripture to be one of the many environments that taught language and memory.
Kenzie and Judah love to run around reenacting their favorite movies. Kenzie fuels these imaginative times with direct quotes from the movies. She has seen them often enough to utilize them in this way. In contrast to this, our family goal of memorizing Psalm 23 over the course of the year is small. Yet, we wanted to start somewhere with the kids. Even thought we read through the Bible during family worship there is no memorization. We cannot repeat the stories with the same frequency as their favorite movies. Both general familiarity with the Bible and memorization are important. So memorization of select passages has to suffice.
For Kenzie the process has potentially been too slow. She might even be bored. But we have been impressed with how Judah has taken to memorization. It boosts his confidence, increases his direct interaction with family worship, and is developing his enunciation. It also is instilling a household language that utilizes Scripture.
Theology through Catechism
Theological language has always burdened me. I have told many people that if they placed me with a doctor performing a diagnosis on a patient I would not understand a thing. Not because I lack intelligence but because I do not know the language. Put that same doctor in a theological discussion on my couch and I imagine he might feel the same way. Not because he is dumb but because he is ignorant to the language of the subject. My concern for the church is not that they lack theological knowledge but theological language.
This lack of language impedes healthy, lively, and sanctifying conversation. The church with healthy language will be able to root out heresy and make progress in theological understanding with ferocity. The reformers knew this. And so they crafted catechisms. Catechisms that use big theological words and expect kids to learn them. Why? To teach a specific language. In God's house there is a special language to talk about Him and His word. This does not mean that the gospel cannot be spoken in plain language (I do endorse the deconstruction of churchy language in presentation of the gospel). It simply means that deep Biblical study demands a special education and language. This is presumed when one is studying any special field. The Scripture, theology, and God are no different.
Convinced of this for our children and ourselves, Alaina and I decided upon the Heidelberg Catechism. I like the original wording and content better than the Westminster Shorter Catechism. There is also a new translation that is simply awesome (available on it's own or as part of a family devotion guide). We are not going straight through question by question. Neither are we learning the full answer to each question. Instead, I am skipping through to highlight and emphasize the important topics and pieces of Christian language. We focus on the questions about the fall, justification, the Trinity, why Jesus is called "Christ" and "Lord," the term "Christian," Christ's resurrection and ascension, and now we are on the sacraments.
Having these "stock answers" allows us to discuss what the words mean. We are able to ask Kenzie more abstract questions and answer with these stock answers. Sometimes Kenzie asks questions and we recall these answers. All of the builds into us a heart to think Biblically.
Kenzie has not only grown familiar with this language but has begun to talk to Judah about it. Not always. Perhaps not even often. But when it fits her fancy she can be overheard quoting catechisms or talking about Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. This is not a sign of my daughter's regeneration. It is not a sign that she is elect unto salvation. It is merely a sign of the language of our house. There are words and phrases uniquely defined in our house because they represent bigger thinks within our Christian home. The bread at the Lord's table on Sunday morning is the "body of Christ." The wine is "the blood of Christ." "Son of God" is synonymous with "Jesus." God exists in "three persons" but is only "one God."
The world cannot teach our children these things. Neither will 1-2 hours each week at church. We have to be intentional. Alaina and I are not looking to make Kenzie or Judah into a professional theologian. We simply want to be able to talk about church and the Christian life in our home. This requires them to be familiar with Christian language. They are daily learning things about the bathroom, kitchen, park, and grocery store. Why should they not daily learn new things about Christianity?
I think honesty demands that the church look at the language of their house. How well does the church understand Biblical definitions? How comfortable are people giving accurate answers? This is not a question of how deep the church is ready to go but how clearly they communicate the simple things.
If our language does not reflect Christ, the Scriptures, or the church in some manner then we may not really be living Christianity in our homes. We certainly are proficient at professing it but we have struggled to bring it into our homes. And this is what was striking to me. My daughter learned to say "What the hell?" because of my passion of Penguins hockey. My son says "too" and "also" from the natural environment of the home. In neither case did I spend an ounce of effort in instruction.
Why isn't developing Christian language in the house as easy? In part because we are reversing the effects of the fall. We are estranged from God and in denying Him have lost our ability to talk about Him. But I also think there may be an undercurrent of fear that this type of obstruction will obscure our hearts with legalism and "head knowledge." Put frankly, we cannot have "heart knowledge" or true experience of God without head knowledge. Our God seeks to be understood and known. He is a person and subject of attention. He is not an invisible force that washes over us and we passively experience. That many tilt this way is proof that neopaganism has in many places conquered evangelicalism more efficiently than it has conquered Roman Catholicism.