Learning to speak each other’s languages

One of the main features of Pentecost is how marvelous it was that all of these far-flung Jewish people came together, and despite speaking different languages, actually heard and listened to each other. It’s an amazing display of the Spirit moving and uniting people who were conquered and divided up by the warring empires.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to speak to people who speak other languages. And I don’t mean literal languages (although that’s an interesting idea, check out what Andrew Yang has to say about that here), I mean figurative language. Languages that we speak based on our upbringings, our culture, our backgrounds, and so on.

We rarely see reconciliation among the different voices among us. More often, we see people talking past each other and loudness. Political pundits do this all the time on cable news. They aren’t speaking in an edifying way, to affirm and to convince, to honor and to disciple. They scream about their virtues and ideas and can’t even hear themselves!

I grew up in, at this point I’m comfortable saying this, a fundamentalist echo chamber. The rules were clear. We knew what was OK and what wasn’t. The virtues by which we were tested were known and followed. We knew how to act, what to say, what to think, and how to feel. It’s a subcultural problem. And it exists in certain communities more than others.

I didn’t have much of an option growing up in Lebanon County, as far as hanging out with other Egyptians went. So culturally, aside from family gatherings, I didn’t really know what it was like to hang out with people who were like me in that way. But I found others that were like me. In high school, it was a gang of Volkswagen enthusiasts.

Facebook even organizes us by what we like. The benevolent algorithm of Zuckerberg keeps us seeing what we want to see. I think that the cost of that safe environment is not just that our views never get challenged, we don’t learn how to talk to each other or how to empathize.

Honestly, I’m a loud guy myself. I like hooting and hollering with my friends. It’s a good time and it can be fun to be connected to people in that way. It’s part of being a Philadelphia sports fan. It also can help organize movements and creates safe places for those who have been oppressed by loudness from another group.

But I have to admit that when I’m in company that diverse, my loudness is off-putting, at least that’s what I’ve been told.

God moves me to learn and discern how to speak with people who are different than me. Why? Because even though it’s easier to hang out with people that are like me already, I am compelled to want to relate to those who are different than me, at least those who will listen.

When we are loud we actually divide ourselves up into tiny segments. We compete with who is holier than the other. We create factions. It weakens us as a whole. But we can’t just be polite at the expense of the truth. It’s going to get messy soon enough. There will be disagreements, conflict, tension. We are all recovering from our sin addiction. Expect conflict. We are moving toward God and toward the truth—not the central, not the banal median. The Gospel isn’t found in “moderation.” But it’s also not offered best in loud language.

Circle of Hope is committed to revealing Jesus incarnationally. We reveal him in the language of the day, just like he revealed himself to us. We are very gentle about sharing his message. Such gentleness was crucial to me and my faith. Let’s keep listening and learning, quietly moving with Jesus, and being moved by others.

-Jonny Rashid

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