Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Speaking the Language

You know that thing where you go up behind someone, tap them on the opposite shoulder and make them turn towards, ostensibly, nothing? English doesn’t have a word for that (obviously), but an Indonesian dialect does: Mencolek. You know that obnoxious feeling when you’ve just been schooled in an argument, it’s ended, and you think of the perfect retort? The French call it espirit d’escalier. And of course, though we don’t have words that delineate what we say we believe and what we actually believe, the Japanese do—tattemae and honne, respectively. 

Isn’t language fun? 

This Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, a day celebrating the beginning of the Church (for better or for worse). The neatest part of the story is that when the disciples go out from the Upper Room into the world, they speak the languages of the countless groups of people there. Everyone understands them. Or, at least, they are spoken to in their language. 

In Goldmember, the less than average third offering of the Austin Powers trilogy, the eponymous character and his dad (played by Michael Caine) have a conversation in Cockney English. At first, the subtitles are able to keep up, translating bobbie into policeman and lift into elevator. About six lines of dialogue in, the subtitles just read ??????? as the conversation speeds up, leading to one of the few funny lines in the movie that I won’t type here because it’s grossly inappropriate for a church newsletter. Within the realm of the film, Austin and his dad understood each other where American-English speaking audiences wouldn’t, couldn’t, or understandably didn’t. 

So what if the Holy Spirit guides us as to how to communicate, how to speak of our faith, how to invest in relationships in others—what if it allows us to speak the language of those we’re speaking to, even if we’re both using the same dialect of the same branch of the Indo-European tree? 

Something to think about, surely. Dust off your red clothes and get them pressed for Sunday; I look forward to seeing you then.

Shalom y’all,


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