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Can Pastors and all Christians Speak a Non-Christian’s Language?

Devotional THought of the Day:

 20  While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them. 21  In the same way, when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile, outside the Jewish Law, in order to win Gentiles. This does not mean that I don’t obey God’s law; I am really under Christ’s law. 22  Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (TEV)

After all, in my parish, I would reach about a hundred and fifty people in church on Sunday, but thanks to the Internet and a shared passion for something beyond Latin and liturgy, I was able to reach out to many thousands of Star Wars fans. Most of them probably would have never been in contact with a priest otherwise. In a way, just like the people back home in Holland, these Stormtroopers, Jedi, rebel pilots, bounty hunters, and Twi’leks had become my parishioners— very unusual parishioners indeed.   How to Speak Wookiee When I have to prepare a homily, I always try to place myself in the position of those I’ll be talking to. What are the issues they deal with, and how can the Gospel help them in their daily lives? For communication to work, you need to speak the same language. If you want to communicate with a Wookiee, you need to learn how to speak Wookiee. (1)

One of the challenges in training lay people to serve in ministry, and in working with students who are preparing for ministry is the helping them learn to connect to those who speak a different language. No I am not talking about Mandarin or German or Tagolog, I am talking about the fact that Christians have their own language, much of which is, if known, defined differently.

Fr. Roderick – the author of the quote in purple above – gets this.  I highly recommend his book- though protestants might need to “translate” it themselves!  THe section describing a Christian’s conversation to a Wookie is alone worth the price of the book.  There is a whole lot of of good material for helping us understand the people with whom we interact, with whom we live our lives.  The very people to whom God has sent us, that we reflect Christ’s life and His love.  Here is a priest that has learned to communicate with people who speak a different language!  ( and has a great line about not arguing with a wookie!)

It’s not a matter of plotting every conversation, we are talking about our lives with them.  But it is necessary to realize we don’t always speak the same language, and that some of our terms mean different things to them.  Another example helps us understand this.  Robert Schuller was once invited to give a message in a Mid-East Muslim Mosque.  In talking to its leadership – they asked him not to talk about Christianity.  He asked if he could talk about knowing God’s love, as reavealed in Christ, talk about walking and following Christ, and talk about the relationship which brings such hope, a relationship with God the Father.  The answer was affirmative – for they didn’t know that was Christianity.  They defined Chrsitianity as a religion hostile to them, the very word caused great anxiety.  But in describing what Christianity really is from a Christians perspective – there was no issue. From that point on, Robert Schuller talked of following Christ, or the relationship, rather than just “being” a Christian.

This isn’t about dumbing down the Faith, and more than Paul’s words, written in Koine Greek, dumbed down the faith because it was a common language.  It rathers invests the time (which is an act of love) in those people, assuring they can understand what we talk about, because the topic, their relationship with God, is more precious than anything else we could do.  THat we understand this helps us be more patient with them, helps us to understand that the objections they have to what they perceive our faith to be, is not our perception.  It helps us cut through their frustration and often anger, and prevent our desire to become defensive. It helps us realize that we are taling to the very people Christ died for, even though can’t even begn to comprehend that love, that desire of God.

Bottom line – do we want to want to see people join us, being freed from guilt and shame, from the sin they commit and the burdens of sins committed against them?  Do we want them to understand the grace and peace that is beyond our ability to comprehend – or describe, but that we know its from God?  Will we love these brothers and sisters that we can see, on behalf of the God we cannot “see” but whom we perceive?

Then we need to communicate to them.. in their language.

Lord have mercy on us, and empower us to do that which is in accord with Your will, that no one should perish – but all are transformed in Christ.

AMEN.

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17.

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

(1)  Vonhögen, Roderick (2013-09-09). Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer (Kindle Locations 295-303). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.

How to find strength in the face of adversity and trauma?

Discussion/Devotional thought of the day:

There are days when it seems the trials and traumas never end.  For a pastor, perhaps we see this more often than others, but I don’t think so.  There are so many things out there to cause anxiety, from health issues to financial struggles, to friends and family in trauma, to marriages and relationships that struggle and need supernatural help to survive and heal.

As I related yesterday, I’ve had a few myself –  from dieing to surgeries, and to being there for people in the midst of so many issues.   I have found that in the midst of adversity, in the midst of trauma, there is both a sense of peace, and strength that is there that isn’t mine, but it is available to me.  It is one of the reasons I am writing a book about churches in trauma – to remind them of what is already there… for them..

In this mornings devotion, I came across two notes that reveal it a little, once you think them through:

475    You realize you are weak. And so, indeed, you are. In spite of all that—rather, because of it—God has sought you. He always uses inadequate instruments so that the work may be seen to be his. From you he asks only docility.

476    When you really give yourself to God, no difficulty will be able to shake your optimism.  (Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1165-1168). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

I’ve been accused of being too optimistic once or twice, and while I would adjust St Josemaria’s statement a little – I agree with it.  My adjustment would be to say “When you abandon yourself to God” rather than give.   Give makes it sound like you can, like a child “take back” that which you have given.  (and so often we do!)  But to come to the realization that there is no other option, no other hope, then you do let God be God, the Master who promises to and designs your life as a piece of artwork.  (see Eph. 2:10 – the word for workmanship there is the word we get poetry from!)

I am not talking about conversion here – at least not in the evangelical sense.  For there, conversion has little to do with us, God simply reveals Himself and His love, through those who come to us with His word.  Wesley may have called this a “second infilling of grace”, Robert Schuller calls this positive thinking (knowing that we are God’s brings about incredible strength in times of need – that’s the hallmark of most of his writing) , the prophet/leader Joshua would ask it this way “choose you this day whom you serve”.  The apostle Paul talks about being confident that “all things work for good for those that love God.”   Luther would talk about such as a First Commandment issue – don’t have other God’s – but call upon Him in prayer and praise.  When you abandon yourself into God’s hands, and are confident that is the thing to do- you simply know and trust in Him.

What is mistaken for optimism – is simply a matter of confidence in God.  Trusting Him, having faith in Him, knowing Him.

That is where the other point of St. Josemaria comes into play.  When we realize we are weak – when we realize we have no real option but to abandon ourselves to God, then we begin to realize that God has plans, He has designs on our life, and those designs bring us to places we would have never imagined, to work with people we would never anticipate, and see them respond to the work of God in our lives.  Not because we can do great things – but in the midst of the storms, in the midst of what should promote incredible anxiety, in the middle of it all… we know God is with us.

Having mercy, pouring out His love and comfort, assuring us of our place with Him……there is our strength, and knowing that, we can be incredibly bold – in being His people.

So know He is God, and you are His chosen people.  And let Him do His thing… being God – He’s significantly better at being God than you are!

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