Tuesday, February 12, 2008

another language?

Do you ever feel like you are speaking another language? Not because of the faces around you, or even because what you're reading is particularly obtuse, but just a strange feeling that maybe you aren't speaking English (or whatever is the language you normally speak)?

I get this feeling sometimes when I'm reading the Bible, especially to groups of people. Sometimes even in worship. Maybe this is because I know several other languages, some of them reasonably well, or maybe it's because I spent so much time in seminary reading the Bible in other languages, or maybe it's just a weird trick of my brain. Sometimes I start reading and partway through I think "am I speaking English or Arabic right now?" It's not that people look confused or anything, it's just a feeling.

I think I sometimes get this feeling when I talk about church to non-churchy people. I'm part of a generation that often finds religion to be like a foreign language (at best...at worst it's more like an AP test in a foreign language you've never studied, like one of those anxiety nightmares common among overachieving students like I once was). It's hard to talk intelligently about religion, church, God, the Bible, or whatever because sometimes it just feels like you speak English and I speak Arabic. I get this feeling a lot in confirmation class too, but at least I expect it there! That's where the youth go to learn the language we use in our community.

Writing this post makes me feel like I'm speaking another language too--I'm not making this at all clear. It feels confusing to think about. I want to be able to talk about things that are important to me, but I'm not sure that I can do that very effectively all the time, or even most of the time, to people who aren't already "insiders." This bothers me, because many of my peers (in age, anyway) are not insiders, at least not in the things I find myself in the thick of (was that a sentence?). Now, granted, I've never been a cultural insider with my peers--I'm a weirdo who doesn't listen to much music, doesn't watch TV, and doesn't like movie theaters...a weirdo who prefers reading and NPR and occasionally some classical music (or maybe some classic 80's rock...). Maybe that's why I feel this language barrier--perhaps I don't share a language with my generation? I'm not sure. But then I think about the things my generation generally seems to want, the things we generally seem to be passionate about, and I think I fit right in. I share some cultural, intellectual, and even theological assumptions with much of my generation. I share values and goals with much of my generation. And sometimes that creates a disconnect between me and other generations and their cultural assumptions, values, theology, etc...

I feel a teensy bit, not a lot but a little, like the teacher in Freedom Writers. She had things she wanted to share but she didn't speak the right language. But she learned...sometimes the hard way. But her students learned to speak her language a little too. I guess I'm not sure how to facilitate two-way learning on that.

Okay, enough rambling. I'm relatively sure of just one thing: this post made no sense. I apologize if it felt like a random foreign language...maybe I'll translate it into another language and re-post it later, just for effect, you know?


  1. I think it made perfect sense. And I totally agree. I feel that way on many days, too!

  2. This post is definitely not in another language, at least not for me. I think about this a lot, especially in my new job, much of which involves hovering between two worlds and speaking both languages. I feel much like when I was in Ukraine, and had to work to remember which language to speak to whom.