Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Speaking the Common Language

Ed has a great post about sports as men's common language. He notes how easy it is for him to talk man-to-man about sports...

There are a lot of men who won't give me the time of day when it comes to 'any of that God stuff,' but if I want to discuss the race last Sunday or the best NFL defense ever (the 1985 Bears, if you must know), then these guys will act like my long-lost relatives. It's a comfort thing. It's non-threatening. It becomes a common language.

...and he questions why Christianity cannot also be a common language:

But people shy away from talking about their faith or lack thereof. I think part of it could be the lack of one vital piece of equipment -- a scoreboard. It isn't obvious enough who the 'winners' are. The Christians don't look different enough. We don't intrigue the unbelievers. Our lives don't show the joy we supposedly feel inside. Far too often, there is no proof that we're any better off for showing up in a church building every Sunday morning. We know we're saved, we know we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we know we are to be serving our Master, but our actions make us look like the people who live for material gain and instant pleasure.

Sports is a common language for men. We assume that the other guy has at least a passing interest in sports, but we can't assume that the other person has any kind of interest or even tolerance for Christianity. Christianity isn't a common language because most people rarely see it practiced.


Really, can you argue with that?

I'll expound upon it: not only are the non-Christians baffled by the lack of difference in us, but Christians are baffled, too. We ask ourselves (and discuss with others) these questions all the time: how different must I/can I be? How should I be different? Will the difference alienate unbelievers? Is the difference supposed to be total, all-consuming, and sub-cultural, so that someone can tell I am a Christian by looking at me (in much the same way Westerners can plainly see that someone is a Muslim from the Middle East)? Or is the difference enacted in stealth mode, with the Christian--a foreigner in this land--in disguise as a regular citizen?

I don't have all the answers, beyond a few certainties I do have:

1. We are foreigners. That's going to show up somehow, somewhere in our lives and in our relationships. To use Ed's analogy, Christianity is not the common language because everyone doesn't speak it. I have to remind myself of this often, when I feel like I am from another planet than my non-Christian friend or relative. Our worldviews--our understanding of love, of justice and mercy, of creation, of being--are usually totally different. It's not unlike people from two different countries: we are alike in our humanity, but our patterns of thought, our cultural bases of understanding, our roots are different. And that shows up in the difficulties we'll probably encounter just trying to have a conversation.

2. I know where some of my boundaries lie, that is, where I may NOT behave as a regular citizen, and where I am bound to the laws of my homeland. Citizens of the New Jerusalem do not get drunk every night like half of this college town. Citizens of the New Jerusalem do not put evil things before their eyes to entertain themselves. You get my drift. Many of the things that I don't do because of my citizenship elsewhere separate me culturally (for the sake of this analogy) from people who don't know the Lord. The commandments presented in Scripture for me to love--the ones that are written on my heart by the Holy Spirit--separate me from the world.

3. If someone looking at my life sees NO difference between me and anyone else in the world, I have a problem. I need to search the Scriptures, examine my heart, and ask the Lord why I am not standing out at all. What choices am I making? What do I do with my free time? Is anything stealing my joy? Why? Usually the answers are apparent, and we just don't feel like dealing with them (talking to myself here, guys).

It is really important, though, to realize that we're all originally from the same place, ultimately; we were born in the same Garden. There is a universal language that speaks to everyone because we are made in the image of God: love. Now, I am among the first to remind everyone that Love is not some mushy feeling; it's not 'nice' all the time. Love speaks truth and may wound ("faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" Prov 27:6), but it's for the good of the hearer, not his destruction.

When Ed approaches a skittish man in church and talks with him about the baseball game, I would argue that it's a dialect of the Common Language. Now, as Ed gets to know this guy better, is he going to only talk about sports? No--as their relationship grows, and the man sees Ed's heart and senses his care for him, and as their rapport grows over seemingly insignificant things like baseball, his heart will open up enough to feel safe talking about his questions and beliefs about God. The Common Language is necessary to teach the language of New Jerusalem. It's the foundation of it--you can't learn to speak in the Kingdom of God if you don't know it.