Nash Bog tak velik. How great is our God.
Mein Erlöser, kostbarer Jesus. My loving Saviour, precious Jesus.
Those are songs I sang in high school and university chapel services, in the church buildings of the United States and Australia. But when I sang it in a French and English bilingual service or in German at Husband’s home church in Frankfurt or in Russian in a small room with five people in Kiev, Ukraine, something happened to me.
For our French and English bilingual service, we sang songs in both languages, including the classic “Blessed Be Your Name” translated into French “Béni Soit Ton Nom.” I first heard and sang this song during chapel at university in my third year, March 2004; it was our International Week. There were flags on the stage representing the home countries of the students, and the band stood in front of them, a guy who grew up in Uganda was leading the song. My guess is I’ve sung this song at least once a month in a congregational setting for the past eight years, but yesterday was the first time I sang it in a language other than English. When I saw the words in French, I started singing along.
Sur cette terre de plénitude
Où Tes bienfaits se répandent
Béni soit Ton nom
Et béni soit Ton nom
Quand mon existence est un désert
Quand je parcoure des chemins inconnus
Béni soit Ton nom
It didn’t take long before the tears formed in my eyes, my jaw quivered and my emotions and my spirit went into full-on response mode. I had to stop singing to keep from bursting into tears. This happens to me every Sunday I’m in Germany, singing songs in German. I’m fairly certain I know why singing in a language that is not my own does something to my heart.
It reminds me that I am not the center of the universe, that my way of doing things, my way of seeing things is not right, there are different ways of communication, different ways of talking to God, there are people all over the world who communicate with him in different ways than I do, and this is good. This is right. And my heart is well in these moments because it is reminded of the truth – my way is not the only way.
Something happens to us when we live in a monocultural, monolingual environment. We start to think that our way of living is the only way of living, our way of thinking is the only way of thinking, our human way is the best way. This is a lie – our way of living, however good it may be, is not the only way of living. Our way of thinking, however rational or educated we may be, is not the only way of thinking. Our human way, however well thought out or well prayed out it may be, is not the only way.
This lie does something to us – it turns us against other people who live and believe differently, and it causes a swell of judgment and bitterness to rise up within us. This is what heals inside of me when I sing in a different language, this is what heals when I believe that I am not the centre of the universe, me with my “right” way of doing things, “right” way of thinking, “right” way living.
Speaking a different “language” in church or with a community of like-minded, believing people doesn’t have to mean finding a place where the primary mode of communication is literally in a language not your own. Are you a white person from North America? When was the last time you went to a primarily African American or Hispanic church? Are you an African American or Hispanic in North America? When was the last time you went to a primarily white church? Are you a South Korean and part of a Southeast Asian church or primarily South Korean church? When was the last time you went to a place where you were the odd one out? Are you a Calvinist in your theology? When was the last time you sat down to listen to a non Calvinist? Are you from the emerging church movement? When was the last time you had lunch and an open conversation with a Southern Baptist?
I could go on and on and on with the examples. My point here is a simple one: We do ourselves a huge disservice to spend time only with people who look like us, speak like us, see the world like we do and believe the exact same things that we do. There is something richer for each one of us, and it is red and yellow, black and white, all precious in his sight. Somewhere there is a space for us where we can lay down our theological certainties, reach out to grab another’s hand, tear the bread, drink the wine (or grape juice) and commune.
If you are a Christian and still reading this, can I make a humble suggestion? Go to an African congregation and engage. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Hispanic congregation. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a white church. Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Chinese church. Don’t just sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. Go to a Korean church. Don’t just sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. (And there are so many others, Ethiopian, Russian, Arab, Jewish, find any one of them).
Don’t sit there and judge. Engage. Worship. Sing. Enjoy. And thank God that he made us different, that he understands and hears all languages, that he has no favourites and preferences, and that he loves it when we are together.
This post was edited from the archives. To read the original post, please go here. I’m writing for the 31 days of October as part of Write 31 Days, and this is day 7. If you want to read the whole series, please start here to find all the links.