One of my pastimes is working through crossword puzzles. I usually have a few on the go at any given time. I like the mental gymnastics that are required to gradually get through filling out the squares. The challenge to the puzzles, of course, is that there can often be multiple ways to read and interpret the clues, there can be obscure or unusual words, there can be so many nuances that it’s tough to figure it all out.
When I start such a puzzle, I skim through the list of clues, and start filling in the easiest ones. From there, I use the existing letters to manoeuver through the connected clues, and do my best. Some puzzles can be done in one sitting, some can take days – whatever my frame of mind is will influence how I interpret those nuanced clues.
One of my recent puzzles had what I thought was going to be a VERY easy answer to start off with. The clue to 14 Down read “where to find bishops.” ‘Great!’ thought I, ‘an easy one!’ I figured there were a limited amount of places one might expect to find (plural) bishops. 10 letters meant it wasn’t as easy as “church” but “cathedrals” could work. So in it went. In pen. (I should know better.)
The top word across fit well with the C, and I was pretty sure of the word intersecting (well) with the A, so I *knew* I was on the right track. However, the more I kept working on it, the harder it got. Clues weren’t working, my crossword dictionary wasn’t able to help, I was getting more and more frustrated. So I left it for a few days, expecting a break to clear my mind to right thinking again.
When I returned, however, I found it more and more frustrating. I tried and re-tried every word – except where to find Bishops.
It was on my fourth attempt – a last-ditch effort before I gave up on the puzzle – that I was willing to re-examine ALL my answers. I tried building the crossword up from the other angle. And, not surprisingly, it worked when I was willing to view it differently.
My lens had been so focused on ‘knowing’ the answer that I wasn’t open to the possibility of alternatives. I was so stuck in my Christian thinking and perspective that it was reflected in my language and assumptions. And it affected everything else. In this case, it meant that it was distracting me from the rest of the puzzle.
So I wondered: how often do we fall into churchspeak – when we know what we mean – to the extent that it baffles other people so much that they miss the point of the message? In recent months I’ve had a (Christian, non-Anglican) friend boldly ask me about my use of acronyms: What is CoGS? What’s a BAS? BCP?; he’s learned the subtle yet distinct pronunciation that makes the Primate (++Fred) different from a primate (monkey); though the overall structure of leadership, which varies between dioceses, remains a bit of a mystery (to him AND to me!)
I am not suggesting that we should give up our Christian or Anglican lens. However, I am wondering if we have become insular within our own communities because of our nuances. For example, someone coming to a church for the first time may not know that the green Book of Alternative Services in front of them is the BAS to which the officiant is inviting them to refer; a gentle introduction to the whole community about the book offers the newcomer a chance to follow along, and to know what a BAS is the next time they come.
I think there are many ways in which we can become aware of the language we use, and how it can be a puzzle to some folks. Our liturgies are full of language and traditions that many may not know or understand, and I think we need to recognize how these may seem to others. I suggest that we do not need to change what we are doing or dumb things down, but rather that we gradually and gracefully invite people into our midst and educate them (informally and formally) to our ways and practices. That way, one hopes, the experience will be positive and welcoming, rather than baffling and exclusionary that may have them leave in frustration. Our challenge therefore is to adapt our perspectives to try and see the world as others do, just as much as we are inviting them to see it as we ourselves do.
And 14 Down, 10 letters, where to find bishops? CHESSBOARD.