Your World Is Too Small

Less than 10% of the world’s population speaks English as their primary language.  Less than 5% of the world lives in the United States.  Less than 2% of the world is Baptist.  Less than 1/100 of 1% of the world is a member of a CBF church.  I have spent most of my life in a good but tiny corner of the world.

A Malaysian saying argues that too many live with limited vision, “like frogs under coconut shells.”  Perhaps if, as J.B. Philips put it, “Your God is too small,” it is because our world is too small.  St. Augustine wrote, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Six months ago Carol and I went where 99% of the population is happy to speak Spanish in a country that is not the United States.  While serving as the Interim Pastor of Santiago Community Church, during a party at the manse (Anglican for parsonage) I said, “Carol is the only Baptist I have seen in several months.”

A Taiwanese woman replied, “I’m a Baptist.”

Sophia and Carol are the only Baptists I saw for several months.  The church we served had people from 23 nationalities and 18 denominations.

Carol and I hiked along the Pacific and in the Andes.  We saw sea lions, penguins, and a blow hole.  We ate pepinos, pastel de choclo, and Super Ocho candy bars.

We celebrated Chilean Independence Week and the country’s newest holiday, “Protestant Day.”  We were entertained by the Andes Highlanders dance team and a jazz tango trio.  At a Muslim Iftar I met a diplomat from Iraq whose wife left him in Paris—which he does not consider the most romantic city in the world.

Carol and I went salsa dancing, horseback riding, and to the 56th anniversary of a fire station that has a swimming pool.  We saw the world’s largest swimming pool—which is really big.  I visited two of Pablo Neruda’s three houses and read 2/3 of a book of his poetry without understanding why he won the Nobel Prize.

We enjoyed being in a country with pictures of Nobel Prize winning poets (Gabriela Mistral) on their money instead of Indian fighters (Andrew Jackson).  I was, for the first time, mistaken for an Australian.  When asked to bring something exotic from her home country, Carol took Dr Pepper.

We drank coffee with the Archbishop of Canterbury and learned to greet people with a holy kiss just like Paul said we should.  We shared church with people who climbed Kiliminjaro, ran with the bulls of Pamplona, and hitchhiked to South America from Wisconsin.  I led a Bible study that included a 27-year-old who has been to 41 countries and bull riding camp.  I worshipped with people who were shocked to meet someone who has only lived in one country.

We shared church with courageous people who became Christians as adults and had their lives changed.  God reinvented them.  My experience is that people who have seen the world tend to have a bigger view of God.  People who know only those like themselves begin to think God is like them.

Thomas Aquinas said, “I have seen thingsthatmake my writings like straw.”

Most preachers do not have to see much for that to be true for their preaching, so seeing the world helps.  The more we understand about how big God’s world is, the more we recognize that some things we ignore matter and some things we give a lot of attention to do not matter much.  When I studied the Pentecost story (different nations coming together in the Spirit) with young adults from Chile, Finland, Germany, El Salvador, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Jamaica, I was reminded that the church is about the Spirit bigger than we realize.

Ministers are tempted to focus on the success of the institution but the world need God.  We need to preach to ultimate concerns—love, joy and peace.  Churches need to speak of God who is bigger than we have been led to believe.

The kingdom of God does not extend as far as we can see.  The kingdom is far bigger.  When the trumpet sounds for the party to end all parties we are not going to recognize many of the people there.  Come that great homecoming parade, the processional will be filled with those who have nothing in common but the grace of God that invites us home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Movies in English with Subtitles in Spanish: Películas en Inglés con Subtítulos en Español

Carol and I have gone to see seven movies in the last five months—seven times our normal rate of movie-going—for several reasons:

1. The movie theater with twelve screens is two blocks from our home in Santiago.

2. They have two for the price of one days.

3. We do not mind seeing movies after they have been out for a couple of months.

4. Cable TV in Chile is almost completely Spanish and the accents on BBC News get old faster than you would think.

5. The movies are in English with subtitles in Spanish.

Actually, the first four do not matter much. It is all about #5. The movies are in English, so the tables are turned.

We have been living in a country where 99% of the population speaks Spanish. I am solidly in the 1%.

After I had worked on my Spanish for a few weeks, we were at an outdoor market pretending to know something about the fish at which we were looking. I clearly asked, “Cuanto cuesta?” (which means, “How much?”) and got the response, “What part of the States are you from?” I was not wearing an American flag pin, a USA T-shirt, or a backwards baseball cap. What’s the problem?

After two months I mustered up the courage to go to a Subway Sandwich Shop. I answered every question, but came home with a sandwich that was not at all like what I wanted.

A few weeks ago I felt like I was making progress. I was having a fine conversation in Spanish with the church caretaker about the weather and our families only to be interrupted by the church administrator saying, “You do know she’s asking you to move your car.”

But when we are at the movies, I’m Einstein. I understand everything the actors are saying. I laugh two seconds before anyone else. A couple of times I have been the only one laughing—which indicates poor work by the translator. (Sometimes the crowd laughs and I don’t know why, but this is rare.)

I am the one who knows that the subtitles tone down the swear words. Matthew McConaughey did not say “Cielos!”/“Heavens!” when his spaceship crashed in Interstellar. If the film is not that good (Jersey Boys) I focus on the subtitles and learn a little Spanish.

If the theater would provide a translator I could share my knowledge as a U.S. citizen. I could explain that Interstellar is accurate. Our space program is close to sending spaceships through worm holes to other galaxies. All of our grandmothers look like Jane Fonda in This is Where I Leave You. Our teenagers are as smart as the ones in Fault in Our Stars. Our marriages are pretty much like the one in Gone Girl. Men in the United States often leave women like Keira Knightly for no good reason similar to Begin Again.

Most of my attempts at being bilingual have not gone well. I hiked in the Andes with seven-year-old Armando to have him help me with my Spanish, but he insisted on sharing his knowledge of Spiderman. I performed a wedding in English before a congregation in which 2/3 of the crowd spoke no English. Carol and I then shared a table at the reception with three couples who do not speak English and had already listened to me for too long. You don’t really believe that only 9% of the world speaks English until you can’t tell the repairman that you didn’t pour water on the carpet and the leak must be coming from somewhere.

Not knowing the language has been good for me. I have learned to treasure the moments beyond language. Carol and I went to a classical concert and tried to follow the conductor’s introduction. I believe he said, “Our solo violinist is really good. She played with her first rabbit when she was six years old. She and her four brothers played duets. She obtained her driver’s license from the Julliard School in New York.”

I was lost until the orchestra began to play. They played Mozart with a sadness that made you want to cry without knowing why. They played Bach with anger and hope. They played Vivaldi with joy deeper than any description of joy; as though Vivaldi had just seen the Peanuts characters dance for the first time.

The music helped us experience something bigger and better than what can be described. Sometimes the church speaks a language that many do not understand. We need to offer moments beyond language, and point to God who defies explanation. We have to open our hearts to a hope beyond words.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off