I love my adult Sunday school class. It is a collection of people with all kinds of backgrounds, orientations if you will. I have a twenty-year-old and the age goes up from there [maybe to mid seventies, no one is telling, you know the age thing].
This past Sunday, we focused on Isaiah 53 and the author of our book quoted Isaiah 53 with the pronoun “whom” in verse one and in verse two, the Scripture used the pronoun “he.” Now, you may not believe this from my writing, but I do have a couple of degrees in English. I was always a grammar nerd from the 7th grade thanks to a wonderful teacher name Miss Anna Belle Sherer. I loved her use of diagramming and when she introduced that to me, English began to make sense. I could break sentences down and eventually learn to control English to say what I wanted to say [without breaking grammar rules].
I began my Sunday school lesson this past Sunday with a discussion of who is “whom” and who is “he”; the idea being that in reading the Bible [or any writing] you can’t just plunge into a passage without knowing the antecedent for the pronoun [the word the pronoun refers to]. The antecedent tells who the “whom” is and who the “he” is. I don’t know that this little grammar lesson made much impact but it made me think about pronouns and today’s post will be dedicated to those little word substitutes.
Pastor Labberton* spends three pages discussing the pronouns we, us and they and he mentions I and me along the way.
Do we pay attention to the power of these words? What do they mean? How do they bring people together or tear people apart? He has and I have already spent some posts explaining the phrases “this side of things” and “that side of things.” This side denotes the people who have enough means to live a comfortable life. That side denotes those people who don’t have a comfortable life because they are struggling to live [aka “they are poor”]. Those are phrases, not pronouns or “substitutes for nouns”.
But how do little words separate people? How do little words separate the “haves” from the “have-nots.” Labberton states “I forms the basic building block of we. . . .the assumption is that I is the core and we is the product produced by the free choices that lead us into common, shared associations.” I can yield to the power of “we” but it is sometimes hard to put what you feel you need to do above what others feel “we” all need to do. Social groups thrive on the idea of we. Family thrives on the idea of we. Ethnic groups thrive on the idea of we. Of course some of this group identity is good; I feel the idea of a family bonding together is fantastic and if a little word like “we” helps that, that is great.
What is the downside of we? The downside is when people value their own opportunities and don’t desire to share them with others. When people emphasize belonging to the “in group” and want to exclude others. When people are proud of the money or power they have and want to run with other people of means and power and everyone in the group desires to exclude those with less money and power.
Suddenly people with sufficient means to live can feel they don’t want to help others. It is not the “cool thing” to do. Others in their social group don’t do it so let’s not do anything that would challenge the norm.
Then the last pronoun “they” comes in handy. Labberton says “they is a word that can push away…It draws a boundary, a perimeter, a distinction, a separation, a distance. They is a kind of anti-identity, an anti-definition of I or we.”
Now I have put all my dear readers to sleep. We have plunged too far into this discussion of the little words we, us and they.
Let’s be realistic, we use them all the time [I just did, didn’t I?]. Labberton does not want us to feel guilty about using pronouns; he just wants us to pay attention to how we use them. My comments are from his chapter “Paying Attention to Paying Attention.”
The truth is, we often don’t pay attention, do we?
As a people, Christians don’t mean to exclude those with need [maybe some do, but many are open to helping]. The problem crops up when we find ourselves confronted with opportunities to help our neighbors and “I” don’t want to do it. It is too uncomfortable for “me” to assist others. Christians sometimes socialize with other Christians and if “I” want to help my neighbor and others don’t want to do that, “we” won’t.
It is an easy jump to they: Who are they? What do they want? They don’t seem genuine to me. Do you think they are just using the system? They don’t really need our help.
One can easily see the distance that the word “they” creates.
This side of things…
That side of things…
“They” are on “that side of things”…and the fact of the matter is “they” need our help.
*Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor