Friday, July 03, 2009

Reflection: Multi-Lingual Christian Living

Two summers ago, I had the same dream twice, and it affected me. I dreamed that I was learning to become multilingual in terms of people. I was learning to speak the various "languages" of the people who surround my life. And I wasn't the only one who was trying to do this. Others were doing it as well. They were intentionally trying to learn how to speak my language too. We were all learning how to converse through one another's dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences.

I think this is a huge part of what it means to share in the humanity of one another, and we certainly share in this way as we engage in young adult ministry. We don't necessarily come to a full sharing if we can only hear others through the lens of our own language, even though we certainly bring our own dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences to the table. We cannot share fully if we simply define others in our own terms. I think in order to share in the humanity of one another, we have to be willing to enter the world of another, even if this causes us to leave our own comfort zone.

Perhaps this type of sharing is like moving to foreign country. Commonalities between ourselves and others become treasured. We draw upon our common experiences to communicate. But we also move beyond commonalities and begin to treasure the differences in the others as well. We learn to enter a foreign world. We learn to speak the language of the ones who live there. We know that the best way to do this is to get our noses out of the dictionaries and phrase books and to have an immersion experience. This makes our language learning dependant upon the people who actually speak the language. We can know the phrases from the phrase books all day long, but if we confine ourselves to their use, we'll probably put up a wall between ourselves and others, never moving beyond benign trivialities no matter how grammatically correct our phrases may be. We need to learn the slang. We also know that no matter how long we live there, our experience will never be exactly equivalent with those who grew up in the region, but as we continue to live among them and speak their language, we learn how to converse in their world. And their world becomes a part of us too. We don't claim that their experience is our experience, but through immersion, we adopt their experience toward ourselves. It is now a part of us too. And our world will never be the same now. As we go back to our own country, we will have new ways of understanding life, and our language is enriched because we have known theirs.

How willing are we to enter the world of another? How willing are we to learn to speak the language of another, becoming conversant in the person's dreams, anxieties, hopes, and experiences? Won't this require time and focused attention? Won't we make mistakes and faux pas in the process, at times using the wrong word for the wrong situation? As we do, will we and the other both find that even in our blunders, it is worth sharing our humanity? Do we see the worth of entering that world, not only for ourselves, but for others? Isn't it true that one of the most affirming experiences is for others to find out that their world is worth entering?

As others have learned to speak my language, I have found that to be true. I have been affirmed because I have found out that my world is worth entering. And I don't know about you, but I can't imagine missing out on becoming a world traveler. And there are worlds of discovery - right under our noses in campus ministry!

You know, I'm really glad I had those dreams.