As we possibly consider a ‘staycation’ or ‘vacation’ this Summer, I wonder how we see ourselves. The English are often known for grasping the finest intricacies of the foreign language, by speaking ‘s l o w e r and louder’ – ‘that should do it we think’… Well our own language is a mixture of the spoken word from many other countries, perhaps ‘they’ll grasp our meaning’ from that?
Many cities today have a multitude of languages. Here’s a depiction of the 140 languages that could be experienced in Toronto!
Apologies for any polyglots who can traverse the geographical boundaries without worry, as they slip from one language to another. I once had a friend who could keep a three conversations going in French, Germany and Italian at the same time!
For many of us in Church we speak a foreign language every Sunday. Our hymns predominately originate from past centuries and are full of terms which carry so much meaning, meaning that again started back then.
Hence such terms as forgiveness, sin, redemption, sanctification and salvation are ones that perhaps most people couldn’t quickly define, simply and easily.
A quick test: how would you describe each of these terms in a sentence to someone outside of church?
How did you do?
Yes, those hymns are beautiful, melodic and the sound, in a cathedral and church especially with a gifted choir, can bring people to a standstill; I wonder whether that was the point that the original hymn writers were desiring? Even modern hymns can include phraseology that can make people shudder at the type of God we might worship.
Were the hymn writers wanting people to easily grasp the meaning of those words so that they could put them into practice, day in, day out?
Today, sin is quickly presumed to be overly negative, condemnatory, damning. Did that start with Augustine’s quote of “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? (from Opera Omnia, Vol II. Col. 962, letter 211, not Scripture as often is alluded).
When Jesus said to the women : “sin no more” it did not sound that it she was being drawn from the brink of hell but let’s move on towards loving God and other people. Recently a theologian described sin as no more than the breakdown of the peace between God and ourselves – a possible fracture in that relationship. Here I sense the love that exists between us and God.
Oops I have introduced hell there. Do we believe that hell is that furnace deep below? I can imagine some places that could be described as hell here on earth; moreover, for some, their mental being might be described as hell. Are we looking to damn people in our language or help them to understand a loving God?
Paul spoke to the Athenians and Ephesians (Acts 17/19) in a language that they understood. He changed his words so that his arguments were in context, he related to the listener. Paul moved from speaking on his terms to those of his listeners. How might we do that today? When people ask you why you believe, what do we say?
Is it free of religious terms?, because they aren’t possibly religious.
Is it accessible so all can engage and possibly ask more questions?
As a Street Pastor and Street Angel, we were trained to answer only the given question. At 3am there was no need to dive into theology or explain the atonement – though possibly we were asked this once… However, at that sort of time, and given the experiences of those we were helping the answers had to be understandable, quick to process. Perhaps that is the answer for today’s society, just like our tech gadgetry, we need easily processable answers… That doesn’t mean watering it down, just making it relatable, contextually valid.
As we celebrate a new church awakening, as we ponder where we might go on holiday this year, I wonder what new language we might speak to others about God this year?