My work with teenagers often solicits a common response, “OMG! Brian, OMG!” Text speak, the most common language of Millennials, has infiltrated the spoken word, leaving those of us who swoon over reading long form and parsing sentences, at best, confused. This simple acronym is a one size-fits-all response for everything between heavily filtered Instagram pics to pop-up news feeds. Regardless of frivolity or severity, the proclamation is “Oh_my_God!” Utterance of such a phrase during my youth would have elicited sharp looks from my family’s matriarchs. My great-grandfather, an Old Regular Baptist, would have scolded my vain use of the Lord’s name and breaking of the third commandment. Preference was given to stark silence as a response to
the quotidian and the atrocious; God was not invoked outside the confines of church walls. Thus, God was segregated from the majority of creation.
With great respect for my elders, I do not adhere to their ban on invoking God’s name in response to life. News stories about chemical weapons attacks in Syria, ferocious fires in Yosemite, or the local ordinances against feeding the homeless in Moore Square produce a deep first response: “Oh my God.” This invocation is neither idolatry nor vanity, but a simple invitation. It is the only way to start
talking about faith and its intersection in the larger world.
Haruki Murakami, in his autobiographical work, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, eloquently notes the pain and awkwardness associated with long distance running. These moments provide the author escapes into silence that are eventually broken by his ability to craft luscious stories and construct knowledge about life. The writer, an advocate of silence, maintains silence is temporal and must be smashed to birth new ideas and understandings. Uttering “Oh my God” often ushers us into the long and contemplative silence needed for us to wrestle awkwardly with the junction of the current reality and the promised Kin-dom of God (Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz). Our call is to crush the silence and speak words and actions to our faith.
In 1966, Swiss theologian Karl Barth commented in an interview, “the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society; they live in the world. We still need the Bible and the Newspaper.” This fall, Pullen Sunday School has committed to explore the unique point where news stories, Bible stories and faith stories intertwine. Fred Buechner once commented, “It is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally.” Our goal is to be neither more political nor more righteous. Simply, we want to explore a more authentic response to life and to formulate a language of faith. This endeavor will most likely be at times eloquent and awkward; exuberant and excruciating; and docile and vexing.
Regardless of the severity or serenity, a guttural “Oh my God” will always be welcome.