When I was growing up in east Tennessee, my mom always bought our family’s groceries from White Stores. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell to those not from Knoxville, TN. White Stores was “it.” In fact, White Stores was the largest independent grocery chain in east Tennessee. To buy groceries anywhere else was almost like being Satanic. All the moms shopped there. Countless teenagers got their first jobs there…bagging groceries, running cash registers, stocking shelves, and other odds and ends. In fact, my brother, Brian, worked there…as did some of my dearest friends, Chris, Tina, and Dwight. Sitting right next to White Stores was Whiteways…where you could get your prescriptions filled. The tandem of White Stores and Whiteways had just about everything a person or family could ever need. One store had the groceries…and the other had the medicine and a nice Brachs candy rack where a couple of quarters could get you a few pieces of heavenly teeth-rotting treasures…ah the memories! Life was simple then…I walked to school…uphill both ways…without shoes. Shew…bout got carried away there for a sec. Hahaha! The chain of White Stores held on until 1989 when the stores were sold…a sad day for many.
I mention White Stores today for a very simple reason. I vividly remember when my mom brought home some of the first generic groceries from White Stores…two white boxes…the small white box had “macaroni and cheese” in black lettering on one side of it…and a box of Corn Flakes…again, a white box with the words “Corn Flakes” on the side…and that was all…no smiling faces, no pictures of any kind…just white boxes with the contents of each box lettered in black. The boxes were shaped just like the brand-named boxes…but that was the only similarity. Nothing fancy at all. The boxes were plain as they could be. These generic items were “kinda like” the brand named items…but they were cheaper. This was a revolutionary moment in grocery shopping. In time, generics became the standard in many other areas apart from just groceries. Generic OTC drugs and prescriptions popped up. It didn’t take long for the plain packaging to take on a little color. Today, names like Equate, Kirkland, Simple Truth, Laura Lynn, and countless other generic names are all a part of American culture. Typically the hook is the same…cheaper…but most often not as good as the real thing. Shoppers get to decide for themselves if saving a little money is worth the sacrifice of taste or effectiveness (and your insurance company gets to decide for you about your prescriptions! lol) Even to this very day, I still think of macaroni and cheese and corn flakes when I hear the word generic.
Today, the word is used in more ways than just shopping preferences. It also denotes, in today’s world, a type of language many people use with little or no thought. Words that are bland, broad, non-specific, non-committal, and without emotion also bear the label of generic. For example, I might say the movie or book was “okay.” From that, it’s not very clear how I really felt about the book or movie. Yes, I saw it…and I didn’t die watching it…so it was “okay.” Not exactly helpful info is it? Generic language enables you to speak…without really saying anything. You can give an opinion…without being opinionated. This type of language helps keep us safe. It keeps people at bay. You say just enough…yet you remain shielded from the other humans.
In many ways, this generic use of words has played havoc in American Christianity. With the now embarrassing label of “post-Christian” attached to the red, white, and blue nation tucked neatly in between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Christians who are laboring to be devout and faithful are finding very little room to put their feet. Abortion, homosexuality, gender identity, child-rearing, and a host of other topical issues of the day are being championed by those who think the church is intolerant and is no longer pertinent or helpful in the discussion. In short, the church has become the bad guy. A new morality is guiding the ship. It’s just a matter of time before this new morality permeates even our most traditional of churches. We have all seen famous “Christians” on Larry King Live and other mainstream media outlets wilt under the pressure when asked about hell or if Jesus Christ is the only way a person can be saved. They try to keep the conversation on a god who loves everybody and their various religions. Many that remain in our pews are now uncertain on how to proceed since roles have been reversed and the church is in the minority…at least in the realm of public thought.
In addition to this, biblical Christianity speaks in terms of truths and absolutes…curse words in our post-millennial world where truth is now subjective. By that, I simply mean truth today is defined by the person speaking. In short, if I speak of something being true…modern America says that its true “for Mark”…but not necessarily anyone else. We no longer have the right to insist on truth as absolute for all. All we can give is our opinion. 1 + 1 is no longer 2…it’s simply 2 to me. Others might think differently.
The result of this pressure is the use of increasingly generic language. Instead of talking about the God who created the world and sent Jesus to die for our sins…the One found in the Bible…we’ve opted for a “god” who is like us and loves everybody. This “god” is whatever you want him or her to be…just fill in the blank…and you have your god. It’s truly okay to talk about this “god”…he’s cool with anything and everything…and he certainly wouldn’t suggest you are wrong about anything…on any level. In fact, you alone are the most important thing in the whole universe to this god you made up. Everyone else on earth must be messed up…but definitely not you. Other words like sin, judgment, love, faith, belief, and a million others all mean something different. Christians have learned if you use these words in the “generic” sense, you won’t offend anyone and you won’t be labeled “one of those Christians” who actually believes what the Bible says. Not only will you meet people like that…there are churches out there who think the same way. Sometimes, it’s pastor-led…sometimes it’s led by the congregation or a few families…but in the end…the church is crippled when the generic language becomes the norm.
Looking back, I can only say I grew very comfortable with my white boxes of macaroni and cheese and corn flakes. Even today, I still buy generics when I can…food, medicines, and anything else. Saving a little feels right…as long as it doesn’t kill me. I must also admit I use my own fair share of generic language. But in my relationship with God and my belief in Jesus as my Savior, I want to stick as closely to His Word(s) as I can. The broad strokes of bland language about god, love, happiness…profit no one. They help no one. In fact, they can only weaken the genuine Christian. But it won’t stop there…the churches will weaken (they are already weakening)…and the world will suffer for it. The Church once had a Word for the world…now we have a bunch of words that don’t really say anything. Some of you might say, “Brother Mark, aren’t you afraid of what people might think if you say the things the Bible says about God, Christ, salvation, sin/sinners, wrath, judgment, etc?” No…I’m actually more concerned what God will say if I don’t. The Church is His mouth-piece. Speak…speak the truth. Don’t opt for the generics…God can afford it…and so can you and I.
Blessings and thanks for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it.
God Bless…and stay well.