The UCC is for Sissies

Words matter.  Words matter to me.  Words matter to me a lot.

I’ve been known, once or twice, to raise a flag of concern over someone’s choice of words.  To some it may seem that my own tribe, The United Church of Christ, is exempt from my eagle eye and worrisome (sensitive) critique.  Well, rest easy, I’ve got one for ya.

The United Church of Christ is committed to an intentional and radical hospitality that welcomes a beautiful rainbow of people to The Table.  But everyone is capable of falling short, of failing to pay attention and missing the mark of the ideals and values to which they aspire. Me too y’all – me too.

So, there is this Lenten devotional produced by the UCC. It is called Spring Cleaning.  It is written by the Still Speaking Writer’s Group, a fine group of faithful folks who offer our denomination inspiration and thought-provoking words throughout the year.

Eleven authors contributed to the Lenten devotional.

My smart and truly open pastor bought a box full to share with our funky little, urban congregation.

The second Wednesday of Lent I finally picked up mine.

And I was deeply disappointed when I read the reflection for for Ash Wednesday.

Within the first two sentences of Martin Copenhaver’s Ash Wednesday reflection, a phrase just broke my heart.  Martin wielded it so proudly, so casually – but still it troubled me.  I would like to think that it is simply unthinking carelessness but I feel called none-the-less to lift up my concern.

Here are the opening lines of the Ash Wednesday entry:

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I hope you go to worship today. In our congregation  we call it “Worship not for Sissies” because we take part in ancient rituals that help us delve deeply into the mysteries of our faith.

“Worship not for sissies” is simply an unacceptable phrase, laden with hetero-normative judgement and projected stereotypes. It is not cute, it is not catchy  and it has no place in a spiritual devotional. It is a throwback to an age out of which I pray we have evolved, are evolving.

Now if you didn’t know this, I tend to project concern into the feelings of others.  I worry. Deeply. What a potentially sad thing for a young man to read, perhaps called a sissy in school or on the ball field, or maybe still in the gym today, because he has been created by our God as less macho than our society still tells him is acceptable. What if he has come, looking to us, trusting us for a tender and accepting word, a healing community and is hurt once again within the first few pages of his tentative Lenten journey by the kind of  language he could find in millions of homophobic churches and “Christian” publications. I am surprised that not a single person writing, reviewing or editing caught or understood this phrase as potentially harmful. Surely as people of the page and Christians of extravagant welcome we can do better than unwittingly perpetuating spiritual abuse with careless choices of words.

Words matter to me a lot.  Words matter to me.  Words matter.

ALL worship, especially Ash Wednesday is for “sissies” … and bullies, macho dudes, shrinking violets, bull dykes, pansies, jerks, softies, jocks, nerds, wimps, jar heads, weenies, nimrods, prudes, sluts, goodie-goodies, slime-bags, limp-wrists and homophobes.    Wake up.  Think before you speak.  Breathe before you write and for Christs’ sake, don’t press send before you pray (or ask a keen, compassionate eye to take a peek).



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174 responses to “The UCC is for Sissies”

  1. I think the author meant “cowardly or timid”. But, you are right, that’s not what he said. What he said was laden with other connotations. A coward lingers in the shadows, refusing to live by even their own principles. I am a pastoral counselor who on many occasions have told my colleagues that “counseling is not for the timid”.

  2. Well said Kimberly. I agree that after all this time we still have a problem with language. As a person involved with the call for full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the life of the UCC, have you noticed how much of our language and liturgy reinforces “Ableism?” UCCDM and the Widening the Welcome movement is making strides, but it is a slow process. In every sermon and with every congregation I meet, one of the first topics I discuss is “Person-first language.” From there, we move on to talk about litugies which call us to “run” to God, “See” God more clearly, etc. I too long for the day when our tribe gets it right.
    Peace and blessings for you and on your much needed writings!

  3. Amen and amen! I agree that our words have meaning and import. That is the reason for the whole inclusive language movement. I am a queer UCC minister, who is very proud of the welcome my denomination attempts. However, as your writing points out, sometimes we need correction. For a church that says, “No matter who you are, or where you are on your journey, you’re welcome here,” NONE of our messages should involve “except” or “unless”. If we wish to be a people of radical welcome, we need to define (and publicly express) who IS welcome, not who is not welcome. In the example quoted, perhaps something more akin to, “Worship for those willing to struggle with their faith,” rather than, “Worship not for those afraid of hard conversations (i.e., non-offensive intent of “sissies”)” In other words, tell me why I WANT to be there. Don’t tell me why I don’t.

  4. Whether or not we are offended by something involves a choice on our part. One thing which should factor into that choice is whether harm was intended in a thing. It is tempting to interpret meanings into things which folks did not intend in order to indulge our need to feel offended. Resisting this urge is part of realizing that the world does not revolve around ourselves.

    In the case of the pamphlet saying, “Worship not for Sissies” – do you think the person intended to say, “Worship not for [derogatory word against homosexuals]”. Or perhaps he meant, “Not for the faint of heart”. Which seems more likely?

    If you think it is the latter, perhaps you could give the person the benefit of the doubt. It would be the Christian thing to do.

    • You are right Steve, and I do believe that is what the author intended. But what we intend can not always be understood if we do not choose our words carefully. It is also the Christian thing to do to point out where a sister or brother can more fully live into the call of Christ with our thoughts, words and deeds. It is also the Christian thing to do to be aware of how our words, people of The Word, impact others. Folks who are just returning to Christianity (after wounding by and through words), of which there are many in the UCC, might need particularly tender care by people whose profession and call it is to share a pastoral word.

      So, offense is a choice, yes, and I am all not watering down our language so we can no longer speak in any euphemism at all. But in this context, in this church, I stand by my gut feeling and my later reflection – the UCC and her worship is for sissies and that word is not for a Lenten devotional.

  5. For me the one of the hardest parts of following Jesus is guarding my tongue. I have never had a problem with people whose skin is a different colour , that’s how Canadians spell color eh, than mine or someone who loves someone of same sex but I can be very unkind to people who differ from me in other ways. Which has led me to a weird though, a parable of sorts. If Jesus was planning a family dinner he wouldn’t sit me next to you or Ash or even my wife who is favourite person. He not interested in he thinks I might get along or whose company I might enjoy. He sit me next to Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck and expect me to treat them with the same kind of respect I would treat the best of my friends. This is a hard teaching teaching. We are all called to sit at God’s table and you don’t get to choose who you sit with.

    • James you are so very right but I have to say that the image of Jesus sitting between Ann and Glenn made me throw up a little 😉

      But really, what you speak is the truth, a truth harder to live than to speak eh?

  6. Hey, it’s your birthday and you gave me a present: a blog topic for today! Thank you, shug and I hope you have a happy birthday. Love ya, mean it.

    • Crap, maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “shug” commenting on a post like this. Please take it as the endearment I meant and not as a sexist remark.