Blitz Welcome Kick-Off

“Blitz” is the German word for lightning.

The German armed forces pioneered a military strategy they called “Blitzkrieg” — or “Lightning War” — in the late-1930s and early 1940s, and a variation of this strategy was employed in their highly-successful campaign to conquer much of Europe (though their conquests were relatively short-lived).

Since the term became popular in the English language during the Second World War, variations on the word “Blitz” have been used for all sorts of “attacks” (often metaphorical) involving speed and intensity.

One particularly popular usage that has remained a part of the English language is in American football, where “Blitzing” or a “Blitz” is used by the defense to sack the opposing team’s quarterback — often creating spectacular collisions.

I was a gangly, geeky kid who enjoyed etymology, sports statistics, and World War II history, when I started college at Bowling Green State University. My social skills were rather underdeveloped — as is often the case with teenagers who love etymology, sports statistics, and WW2 history — but I somehow managed to get involved with a Christian community full of hockey players and pranksters. They were fun, but they were also intellectual and authentic. They were idealistic and serious about the Bible, studying the book as if it was something new and revolutionary. And soon the Bible felt new and revolutionary to me, too. We also joined together to share the Good News of the Bible with others on campus.

August is a special time of year for making new friends on a college campus. So our church organized a lot of special activities to connect with new students and establish new rhythms and relationships that would help others to pursue Jesus like we were pursuing Jesus. We helped people move into their dorm rooms. We passed out free bottles of water (or H2O) featuring our church’s logo and website. We gave out coupons for free pizza to anyone who would fill out an interest survey for us.

And with my affinity for etymology, sports statistics, and WW2 history, it was only a matter of time before I started calling this intense flurry of activity at the beginning of the new ministry season our “Fall Blitz” or “Blitz Week.” Others may have played a role in pioneering the use of this terminology concurrently (it may be pure vanity that I claim any part in the origin story!). But in any event, it didn’t take long before the language caught on. And to this day, many of the church’s in our network talk lovingly and strategically about our Collegiate ministry “Blitz” season. I’m proud of this legacy.

Over time, however, I’ve become uncomfortable with the terminology that I helped to establish.

Some of the reason for my discomfort involves the passage of time. American thought has shifted over the last couple of decades, and it’s become unfashionable for Christians to appropriate war imagery. No one sings the old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” anymore. Christian schools whose sports teams used to be called “Crusaders” have become “Cru”s. Even the Salvation Army has backed away from its militaristic traditions, such as leaders wearing uniforms and adopting titles of rank, to emphasize charity work instead. Suffice to say, I wonder if “Blitz” language and imagery is out of touch with our times.

Another part of my discomfort with Blitz terminology is cultural. While living overseas, I met a lot of different Christians from a lot of different cultures — and I learned that a majority of Jesus-followers around the world are actually pacifists. Whereas many American “Evangelicals” have come to identify strongly with the Republican political party and strong support for gun ownership rights and the U.S. Military, believers in other parts of the world vote for politicians who espouse demilitarization and cautious diplomacy instead of aggressive posturing and armed conflict. They’re doves, not hawks. Even the Germans, who originally devised the “Blitzkrieg” language and imagery, typically shy away from such ways of talking and thinking these days! Doesn’t it make sense to wonder if we should do the same?

Last but not least, I have theological reasons for my discomfort with “Blitz” terminology. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m convinced that Christians are called to lead with love. Jesus lived this, and he taught this. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). And this love was not limited to fellow believers. He said, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44). In dealing with “others” and “outsiders,” Jesus consistently refused to speak in oppositional language. In fact, he said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Even if one were to divorce oneself from the military associations with the “Blitz” terminology, the sports associations are still violent and oppositional. So again, I wonder if “Blitz” language and imagery is out of touch with the heart of Christ.

At Kent State University, the official language for beginning-of-the-year activities has been “Welcome Weekend” or (our slight adaptation) “Welcome Week” — and I’ve found that to be a healthy alternative. It emphasizes making new friends. It feels warm and neighborly. There’s a pleasing element of alliteration, with softer sounds from the “W”s. The only drawback in switching from “Blitz Week” to “Welcome Week” is that it can be interpreted as a more passive posture, as opposed to an active posture. But I haven’t found this to be the case with our Staff or students.

Now: Kent State is making things a bit trickier for us this year, as they’ve adjusted the Fall Semester schedule to include a Fall Break and thus start classes on a Thursday. Consequently, all their beginning-of-the-year events now fall from Sunday through Wednesday (instead of a Thursday through Sunday), and they’ve officially rebranded their “Welcome Weekend” to “KSU Kick-Off.” I get it. I think it’s a good move for the University schedule.

Since the University is now adopting football imagery for its beginning-of-the-year activities, we may eventually decide to follow suit and choose for “Blitz” terminology again. Language is constantly evolving, from one generation to the next — so “Blitz” may mean something entirely different for young people in the 1940s, versus young people in the 1990s, versus young people in 2018. More than anything, I want the emerging generation of leaders to seriously weigh these matters in their own minds.

But for now, at least, I want to at least question the use of “Blitz” terminology and champion our “Welcome Week” terminology, as a student of etymology, sports, history, and culture.

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