Wednesday, November 7, 2012

October 28, 2012 - Reflection by David

There is a current or a theme running through the ancient texts that we heard Linda read just a moment ago. It has to do with language and understanding. Firstly, in the Gospel story from Mark, there is a language barrier, and secondly in Job, it isn't about language so much as it is about meaning.
There is nothing worse than not understanding the other. When I was in Europe a few years ago on my sabbatical, I had a few problems in France but could generally get by with the French that I had. I had one funny exchange when I was boarding a train and had to pay a couple of Euros; I just couldn't make out the young woman's accent in Amien. Fortunately, a fellow traveler, recognizing my inability to translate, whispered to me that she wanted 2 Euros—that's it! When I got to Germany, I found it impenetrable. I knew enough to ask if they could speak German, could say thank you and a one or two other things, but that was it! Someone rattled some German off to me when I arrived in Berlin and I had no clue. I must have looked rather blankly at the person, but she didn't know any English, so we were at an impasse. She kind of pointed at a desk and I realized that this was an information desk. I felt kind of vulnerable and even a bit stupid because I couldn't understand the language. It's very interesting what happens to us when we don't understand something that is going on around us.
But even when the language is understood, there are still some times when we don't understand each other. Acronyms are a big part of our language today, and I am constantly asking what the different acronyms mean. I try not to use them but sometimes fall into the habit, assuming that everyone of course knows what I mean. There is texting language that many have to learn. I've been texting a bit with our children because it is the easiest and quickest way to get a response. But I find I have to ask what certain words mean, like "jelly," which means "jealous." And the short hand takes some getting used to. And then there is jargon; we all have it in whatever fields we are in, medical, technical, religious, spiritual, at home, wherever, we develop ways to speak about our lives with others who have similar experiences and develop a mode of communication that can be quite precise but very exclusive if you don't know what the technical words mean.
In Mark's Gospel, Mark wants to make sure that everyone knows who Timmaeus was so he translates Bartimmaeus as son of Timmaeus. So, the text reads son of Timmaeus son of Timmaeus. Mark translates the Aramaic language, which Jesus spoke. Job, on the other hand, isn't so much about language as it is about understanding God's intention for the world and even for Job's own life. In the end, Job acknowledges that he didn't get it before and is humbled by his ignorance in the face of God's deep compassion and love. Job even says that he sees and hears differently. Either way, both passages point to the importance of being clear and seeing what is meant and what is real. Language and meaning need to be clear and easily understood. Language opens us up to each other's experience of our own humanity.
Remember that Crosby, Stills and Nash song; it may have been a protest song against the Vietnam War or the Cold War or both; the beginning of the song is: "If you smile at me, I will understand/'Cause that is something ever body everywhere does in the same language./I can see by your coat you're from the other side/There's just one thing I got to know/Can you tell me please, who won?" The song's title is Wooden Ships.
A smile is just a smile in any language. And what is peace, but finding a way to communicate together, heart to heart perhaps. I remember a social experiment from some years ago; some researcher somehow got people together who couldn't speak the same language. He gave them some tools, toys and building blocks and so on and watched what happened. After some initial shyness, people reached out to the others; the first thing they communicated was their name. The second thing was where they were from. And then they used some of the toys and building blocks and played together. There were lots of smiles and people learned to communicate with hand gestures and facial expressions—body language. This is reminiscent of the project from a few years ago of bringing Palestinian and Israeli children together to learn to play together; stereotypes were broken down, language barriers crossed and these children learned in their heart of hearts, that they are flesh and blood human beings All. Peace begins with this basic recognition—that we are all flesh and blood. "If you prick us do we not bleed?/if you tickle us do we not laugh?/If you poison us do we not die?" So asked Shylock in the Merchant of Venice as a suggestion that Jews are human beings like everyone else and should not be subject to persecution. Last night, Too Paw talked about basic human rights and that every people in the world has a right to exist and be, in freedom, in peace and in justice. The Karen people have every right to be free!
Jesus' genius was bringing people together, creating relationships of deep and lasting meaning. He did this beyond language, appealing to the hearts of others. Jesus' language was of the heart and his language appealed to the heart of others. He spoke from God's heart and into the heart of humanity. He spoke the language of love, hope, justice and peace, which is a universal language. And it is interesting to see who understood this language.
Timmaeus, a blind man reduced to begging to make ends meet, recognized Jesus. Children recognized Jesus. Women recognized Jesus. Those ostracized because they were seen to be unwell in their souls recognized Jesus. The poor recognized Jesus. The dispossessed recognized Jesus. Those who were struggling to find direction in life recognized Jesus. And they understood. Those who held power over others didn't understand. The arrogant couldn't see. Those who had their own agenda were lost when it came to hearing Jesus' words, words of love and compassion. Those who thought they had it figured out, those who lived with certainty, those who had forgotten what it meant to say thank you or to live with humility and openness had lost the ability to see into the heart of life and breathe deeply the language of love and compassion. But fortunately, as Jesus reminded those around him and reminds us still, it is a universal language that is remembered and recognized deeply in the core of our humanity.
After listening to the many Presbytery reports and the state of our congregations in Kootenay Presbytery last weekend, I was struck by a couple of things. We still use a language that is understood and known to insiders. We make inside jokes and fall back into the use of jargon and church-speak. And so much of our language is about survival and buildings. And that relates to the second thing that struck me last weekend. We are followers of the one proclaimed as the Word of God. As followers of Jesus, one of the ways we discern God's words of love and compassion in the life of the world is through the words that Jesus spoke and the life that Jesus lived. I was left wondering how we as United Church people in the Kootenays and the Boundary country do that. Do we make plain the words and personhood of Jesus in how we live? Do we open our arms wide in a universal gesture of being included? Do we smile and express our hopes and dreams for peace and love in our world and our lives? Do we speak in plain language the Way of Jesus, which is justice, compassion and love? Do we embody the love of God in how we live?
That is the challenge for the 21st century church, to find ways to speak anew the Words of God that we know and love in Christ, words of compassion, words of love, words of hope... words that communicate at their deepest level that we are human beings together, one community, seeking life for all. We are followers of the Word that lived and lives still, the Word that evokes in the core of our beings the hope for abundant life for all, that wakens within us the quest to feel compassion and love for creation and to reach out with open arms to all.
We who have ears to hear, let us listen. We who have eyes to see, let us see!

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