Category Archives: Language

I’mMigration

I grew up as a majority citizen… white, suburban, Christian, sporty enough, bookish enough… I was a woman but surrounded by women who proved that opportunities were open to me.  I grew up thinking, “Can I do this? I can try!” instead of facing obstacles of “-ism”s.

I live now as an immigrant: a minority in race, citizenship, religion, education, and so many other categories.  To be sure, I am an expat, which means that I am an immigrant by choice, that I have a nation I could easily return to, and that I have a safety net of resources (savings, health insurance, and a fabulous sending agency that has already thought of every contingency).

So many immigrants lack those assurances.  The realities they face are amplified by their lack of choices.  The lost, last, and least – leaving their own country to migrate, or worse, flee; and they arrive in other countries where they again face lack of opportunity, where they are forced again to be the lost, last, and least.

A friend of mine once told me about immigrating to Italy from the USA.  When her family got there, her husband was working.  She was encouraged to learn Italian – in fact, her community had free language classes with free childcare, because the community understood that it would be otherwise impossible for her to learn Italian.  The USA, on the other hand, demands that people learn English (a wretchedly hard language to master) while working 100 hours a week as single parents, expecting people to organize and fund their own classes and to take that time away from their families.

I’ve learned some of the language here, but it’s remarkably difficult.  Because it’s the national language, there are actually fewer resources for learning the language, becuase it’s assumed that you already know it.  I want to honor this place and its people by learning the language… even with passion and hope, it’s not happening anytime soon.

We are in limbo with visas as well, not allowed to do anything that appears to be taking a job from a local person, and under suspicion because of living at the Seminary, which is clearly Christian.  Christians in Sabah aren’t under threat of violence; but a minority faith is enough to put many roadblocks to visa approval.  Like many immigrants around the world, we are doing our best to follow our host nation’s policies.  But those policies are shifting, and we are not lawyers; it’s hard to know if we’re doing things the right way.  We have to trust our advisers here and have a back up plan.  That’s a difficult, stressful way to live.

Being an immigrant has reminded me to care for other immigrants.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service does amazing work within the USA, helping immigrants live better lives and contribute more quickly to their communities.  (And the contributions immigrants make are significant!)

I would ask that you pray for all immigrants: for those who go to a new place to serve, or for more opportunity; for refugees who flee with only the hope of staying alive, then find themselves in a new place with no resources; for missionaries like us who are finding immigration documents to be very challenging.  Notice the immigrants in your community and make room for them.  Pray for greater international responsibility and cooperation.  Pray, and pray, and pray.  It is often in prayer that God directs us to the concrete things we can do to care for others in our midst and around the world.

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.

Aside

Pinging.  Grinding.  Screeching.  Knocking.  There are a lot of words that American mechanics know.  They’re also used to people that come in and say, “My car is making a noise,” but when asked to describe it, can’t even begin to … Continue reading

My sermon for Sunday … on the everyday words “But” & “And”

(I get to preach at an English-speaking congregation this week. Since none of the members follow my blog (I think!), I figure I can post it here for folks who might not make it to a Church on Sunday, or who might be otherwise interested.  Add in your own emphasis when you see But/And.  Peace!)

Today I want to talk about an everyday word.  B-U-T — but.  It’s a word we often use without thinking – *but* because it’s so useful, it gives us a lot of information.

But is often a word that tells you a disappointment is coming.

Parent to child: “ I love you, but this behaviour has got to stop!”

At kids bedtime:  “It’s been a fun day, but now it’s time to sleep.”

Job review: “You generally did well, but we need you to …

News:  “Authorities have searched for the missing flight, but found nothing.”

In the home:  “I want to cook your favourite meal, but I don’t have the ingredients.”

In being disciples: “You are the salt of the earth – but if the salt loses its flavour, it is good for nothing.” (Mtt. 5:13)

“But” is a word that makes us react.  Think of two kids playing with dolls or cars, and one child takes the best toy.  The other one says, “But I wanted that one!”  The one holding the toy will, almost always, hold that toy tighter and prepare for an argument or even a fight.

Why does this happen?  Because our brains are what scientists call “anticipation machines.”  Our brains are like supercomputers – machines that are programmed to figure out what is coming next.  We need to anticipate – ready ourselves for – whatever is coming next, whether it’s paying attention to where our feet are walking, or knowing that hunger means we should make food, or that if someone is going to take my toy away, I need to protect it.

It’s the same for adults – our brains are anticipation machines.  And when we hear  that one word “But” we close down – we get ready to react.  Think of a job review: when they say, “your effort was good, but the results were poor” – you are not calmly going to agree to that.  Your heart starts beating fast, because you are preparing to defend yourself.  As soon as you hear “but” you are immediately thinking in your head of how to defend yourself, and how to change their mind.  Most people stop listening after “but” because they are already in their own head.  We hear “but” and assume we know where the conversation is going, so our thoughts leap ahead to trying to take control and turn the conversation toward better news.  We assume, because we are trying to anticipate what’s coming next, and figure out what that means for us.

One author describes it this way:  “[We long to be connected with one another, and we do so by] appreciating what people say.  You do not have to agree with them, but appreciate what they are saying.  One very good way to do this is to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “But” can be a destructive word; it implies you have heard what is said *but* you have some objections that discount it.  “And” is innocent.  It simply adds to and expands what is being said already.  [The author closes with this:]  Words have great power.”  (O’Conner/Seymour NLP page 22)

So we have these two words:  But and And.  But is a word that prepares us for disappointment.  It’s a word that separates us from others.  But builds a wall so that it is harder to connect, harder to trust, harder to be in a positive relationship.  Listen for it this week, and you will hear it.

So what does this have to do with Church, with faith, with our Christian walk?  Well, our brains are anticipation machines.  When we think about God, or about the big questions in life, we use a lot of different kinds of information to help process our thoughts.  Think of the Bible.  One of our greatest questions comes from those first chapters of Genesis.  God created, *and* it was good.  God made Adam, and then made Eve.  God gave them a garden where they could live in peace and joy and connection with God.  And it was all good.  But God put a tree in the center of the garden (see? Limits, preparing for disappointment).  God said, you can eat of that, and that, and that, but not this.

And what happened?  The snake entered and said, “But why should there be limits? Why should you not eat, and be like God?”  And so they ate, and then when God came to them, they started saying “But she gave me the fruit… But the snake told me to… But, but.”  As soon as the people did wrong, they began saying, “but… but” – words that blame, and separate, and showed that Adam and Eve no longer trusted God to love and protect them.

We so often ask, “why is there sin in the world?  Why did God put that tree there?  Why did God give us freewill/”  The question is, at its simplest, a problem: we see that God loves us, but God lets there be pain and suffering.  God can save us from this but God doesn’t do it.  God is good, but God allows evil.  We know that God is so many good things – yes.  But we also know an immense amount of sorrow.  We are like Adam and Eve – so close to knowing and trusting God, but there are obstacles to our faith that we can’t overcome.

Another Bible story:  the exodus.  It follows this question as well.  Imagine: the people are freed from slavery.  They had cried out to God, and God heard them.   Listen for the “and” words here – words that lead to God’s amazing acts.  Exodus 3:23-24 says:  “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  The Message translation says, “God remembered, and God understood.”  In this, the word “and” builds up – takes all the broken separate pieces and puts them together to form the basis for an incredible act of love.  God’s great “and” led to Moses and the burning bush and the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.  God answered evil with a great “and.”  Even the name of God has “and” in it – “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.”  Listen again:  the God of Abraham (remember God’s promises to Abraham?) and the God of Isaac (remember how God led him?) and the God of Jacob (remember God’s faithfulness?).  Promises kept and guidance given and faithfulness you can trust in – this is what God gave out of love for his people.  And God said to the Israelites, wait and see the land that I’ve prepared for you to live in.  Another “and.”

But.  A word of doubt and resistance and anxiety and fear.  But the people went into the wilderness and were thirsty.  And God sent water from a rock.  But they were hungry.  And God sent manna and quail.  But they were lost.  And God sent a pillar of cloud and fire.  But they didn’t know how to live without Pharoah’s rules.  And God gave the 10 Commandments.  But the people wanted to have a god that they could touch and see, so they built a golden calf.  … You see how the story goes on:  God gives the people an “and” – “and this is why you can trust me”  and each time, they reply with “but” – “but there’s more we need; but we are frail; but we are so afraid; but we don’t know how to trust you, God.”

Our lives as humans are not easy.  We control so little; we fear so much.  We yearn for closeness with God, while we forget how and why we should trust God.  One of my favourite songs says, “I use one hand to pull you close, but the other to push you away.  If I had two hands, doing the same thing, lifted high, I could lift you high.”  That was the story for Adam and Eve,  for the Israelites, and for us.  And – [pull to heart] But – [push away].

Do you see this in your life?  I see it in my life.  I have a friend with whom I can be really honest about my struggles or times when I can’t figure out where to put my energies, when I feel kind of lost.  I tell her all the things I’m thinking about, and trying to do, and how things can be really hard.  And she often asks me, “Have you talked to God about it?”  And I think, “well, no, I haven’t.”  You know why?  Because I think, “But I should be able to do this” or “but God’ s already given me so much”    or – this is a good one –  “but God is busy.”  It’s that push/pull – God is good and loves us all; but God seems so far away.  We remember God’s goodness – and we forget God’s goodness.

I was thinking of how all of this fits into these weeks before Easter.   We are preparing ourselves for Good Friday, for that Saturday when the disciples lost all hope.  We are preparing for those days when we say “God is all powerful … but God in Christ was put to death on a cross.”  In these weeks, we look at our own hearts, and we understand that we can adore Christ while at the same time we crucify him again.

We are like Simon Peter in today’s Bible reading from Matthew 16: 13-25:

“13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

In a moment of blinding wisdom, Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, as the fulfilment of all of God’s promises.  He saw Jesus as the And.  Remember in the Exodus, when God’s people cried out because of their oppression?  And God heard them; And God acted; And God sent Moses to free them, to lead them, to give them a new Law which would give their lives meaning.  Moses saw God acting again And again.  Jesus was to be the new Moses – one sent from God who would free people from their sin, lead them to life in the Kingdom of God, and give them a new law that would be written on their hearts, to give life meaning, today and in eternal life.  Jesus did for God’s children what Moses did – though he did it in a new and unexpected way, and he did it not just for the Israelites, but for all of God’s creation.

And Peter suddenly sees this: that Jesus will bring humanity into a new freedom – that Jesus is the Messiah.  He says, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  He thinks, “You are the “And” the one who will give us new stories to tell about God’s greatness, God’s faithfulness. You are the And that will put the nations together to worship God alone.  You are the holy One, sent from God, an answer to our prayers.”

Now Peter and the disciples were expecting a Messiah who would be a military leader, who would overthrow the government and whip the world into shape.  Peter wanted to tell the story someday that would sound like this:  “We cried out to God about Roman oppression, and God sent us a sword to cut off the head of the emperor; and God gave us a new king to rule Greece and Rome and Samaria; and make us rich and secure and then we will finally be a strong nation again.”  Those were the “And”s that people were expecting.

But.

But is a word that prepares for disappointment, yes?  But separates us from what we are expecting.  But puts doubt into our hearts.

Jesus said to Peter, yes, I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But in verse 21, he goes on: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Jesus says, “but I will not be the military leader you want; nor will I be the kind of king you seek.”

And Peter, hearing Jesus say “but …” reacts.  His brain, that had been anticipating such joy and glory, is horrified.  Peter, who had just listened so closely to Jesus and understood so much, now has his brain shut down.  “But no!” he says – “never, Lord!  This shall never happen to you!”

And this is the truth of our faith:  That God gave the world an And – a great, unifying And, one that would heal and put together and overcome obstacles – But the world couldn’t recognize it.  But we couldn’t see Jesus, or the Kingdom of God.  But we were afraid and did not trust God’s plan.

Strangely enough, the fear and doubt that people felt made it so they could not stand up for Jesus.  From the disciples sleeping during Jesus’ agony in the garden, to Peter denying Jesus, to the religious leaders manipulating the Law, to the people shouting for Barabbas to be freed.  People’s fear was what drove them, not their connection to God.  They were afraid of Rome, afraid of soldiers or economic ruin, afraid of standing up to each other.

And so Jesus’ predictions came to pass: he was made to suffer, and die.

And to be raised to life on the third day.

Because when God hears our cries, God responds.  God sent the And into the world, like a lamb among wolves, and the Lamb lived.  And the people were saved.  And God’s promises remained firm.

Now, because our brains are anticipation machines, we can hear this story and we can learn to anticipate God’s actions.  We can say, God has acted in the past, and the past gives us clues to look for God in our midst.  Instead of thinking, “But God is so far away” perhaps we can think, “God was faithful in the past – I have heard the stories and believe them, so I will look for God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  I can look for all of that in my life.  I can look for that today.  And I expect to see it.”  Our brains will look for what we anticipate – what we expect to see.  So if we hear these stories and believe them, then we will look *and* see that God is good, that God is acting today.

But – a word of caution.  As we open ourselves to seeing God’s will, we will also see where God’s will is not done.  We will ache for the pain in the world.  Jesus gave his disciples this and:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, we will become part of Jesus’ “and” as we deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him.  Seeing the pain of the world, being a witness to places where God’s promises seem to have failed, is agony.  We are witnesses to not only Christ’s agony on the cross, but the crying out of God’s children today.  As we open to God, we open to others, and we realize that we must be the “and” that looks past the walls so often built.  The walls that separate people and races and tribes; the economic walls that leave some to be hungry; the walls in families where we find it hard to forgive our spouse, our parents, or our children.  We need to be the “and.”  “When we say, “But I cannot forgive that” we let the walls stand.  Replace it with the and – “I am hurt, and I think you are too; and we can find a way forward.”  “But I am so frustrated with that government party” may become “I am so frustrated; and I must speak out about the issues that matter to me.”  When we say “But they are so different from us “ we can change it to “They are different and that is a gift from God – diversity that makes us all richer and more creative.”  Turn the “but” into an “and” and you may see God enter into situations that before had seemed impossible.

Our brains are a gift from God, but they don’t run well on auto-pilot.  Today, notice how your brain is an amazing anticipation machine.  See where that helps you; and also see where you jump to conclusions or make quick assumptions that mislead you.  Today notice what you anticipate.

And tomorrow, listen for where you hear the word “but.”  Listen for whether it builds up or tears down.  Listen to your own words, as well, and see if you can replace “but” with “and.”  Remember what the author said, “try to eliminate the word “but” from your vocabulary.  Replace it with “and.”  “but” can be a destructive word…. “and” is innocent.  … Words have great power.”

Words do have great power; and we give thanks to God that God speaks a word into every situation.  God spoke Jesus, the new Moses,  the Living Word, into the world, and that changed everything.  No one anticipated that a baby born in a manger and a man executed on a cross would have great power to change and save lives – and yet it came to be.  This week, may your words have great power :  power to open your eyes, power to see God at work, and power to witness to the love of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

A Theory and a Theology

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

Greetings, friends.  I have been away from this blog for awhile – family visitors to Malaysia, intensive language study in Kuala Lumpur, getting life back on track with the start of the Western school year.  Also, the heat has wiped me out – somehow it took a year for it to affect me?  Who knows.

The good news is that I am finding more time now for writing, research, reflection, and conversation about the idea I’ve had for 3 years now for a book.

The premise of the book is the different ways we use the words “but” and “and.”  We treat them as interchangeable, but (ha – but! Watch how you use it!) if we look at the meaning behind the words, we learn about behaviour, attitude, and communication.

When Caedmon was about a year old, he hated to be put to bed.  He would cry for hours.  I read every book, asked every mom, tried things for weeks at a time.  One book on discipline talked about “and” and “but” and this got me thinking.  One night, as I put Cade down after our bedtime routine, I began to say my usual – “I love you, but it’s time for sleep.”  I stopped myself just in time, and instead I said, “I love you, and that’s why I’m helping get you to your bed and your sleep.  Good night” – and, for the first time, his fists let go of my shirt, he went calmly into his crib, and off to dreamland.

I’ve learned that there is a field of psychology called “NLP” – neuro-linguistic programming – that looks at how the words we use (linguistic) actually program how the neurons in our brain will handle information.  For many people, “But” triggers the neurons for “problem! separation! get defensive!”  “And” on the other hand is a word that links things together.  NLP is a really intriguing field for me, in large part because of how it has helped me in my own attitude, relationships, and life.

So I am studying the theory of NLP – though the leaders in this field will tell you that the theories – the patterns that they have named and shared – are not enough, that it is a practical field.  I agree!  And as a Christian woman,  a mom, a missionary, when I take in information, I don’t stop at theory.  I often don’t stop at practice.  I want also to look for theology – for what this tells us about God.

Where does God use “but” and “and”?  How do we hear messages from God – with our Neurons (mental chemistry & structures for thinking), or with our Language (remembering that Christ is “the Word of God”), or with the ways we Program our life according to patterns?  I have been having a great time exploring how NLP can relate to the Christian faith, to our understanding and devotion to God, and to how we actually live our daily life.

So – from theories to theology – I will share some of my reflections on this blog and invite your contributions as well!

More of the little things…

Malaysia was a British protectorate/colony and so kept things like language and driving on the left side of the road.  We are still learning to use these…. an important one is to not say “pants” unless we mean “underpants” – instead we try to remember to say trousers.  The kids love it when I say, “your pants are so good looking!”

British vs. American English!

British vs. American
English!

Gallery

Cooking with New Friends

This gallery contains 1 photos.

 

Day 7 of 20 *Questions*: Are [vegans] better people?

Again, fill in the brackets with your own word.  Early risers, ultra-marathoners, from-scratch bakers, people without a sweet tooth, and people who lift their hands while singing at Church would be my go-to ones.  There is nothing wrong with any of the above categories, yet I often feel like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not in their club.  Each of these sounds really, really good to me, I’m just not sure how to get there, and so my energy goes into judging how far better they must be than me – rather than maybe taking a step or two in their direction. 

So the question is, are [they] better people?  In theory, no.  In practice, I’m tempted to say yes, but wait! The root of the question is, “who is judging?”  Is it your favourite magazine that’s judging?  Is it your teenage self?  Is it that person you’ve never really connected with, who only sees your surface?

What if it is God who judges?  (See Romans 8:31-39 –Oremus Bible Browser )  Ultimately we know it is God who judges – but whose judgment matters more to you today?  Your fashion or health magazine is certainly hoping that you aren’t hearing a voice that says you’re fine just as you are – that’s bad for business.  Your teenage self is so insecure, s/he probably shouldn’t be driving your thoughts and emotions.  That person who knows only a little of you?  They only know a little of you.  Don’t be afraid of their judging; get to know them (they’re wondering if you judge them, too) or let them go.

Ultimately, and today, it is God who judges – God, who created, who sent Christ to gather and redeem, who forgives, who offers both to accept us as we are and to open doors to who God made us to be.

I have a tattoo on my right calf (yes, I have a tattoo… stay with me here…) of the Chinese characters for “Beautiful Friend.”  A beautiful friend is there with us, and if they judge us, it is with love and hope and compassion.  My tattoo reminds me that God is my Beautiful Friend.  It also reminds me of the human beautiful friends who have shown me what life is all about.  And it reminds me that what I want, more than being an early riser or ultra-marathoner, is to be a Beautiful Friend to others.  Not so that I can count myself as “better” but so that I know my voice counts toward the good in this all-too-judgmental world.

"beautiful friend"Mandarin: Mei You

“beautiful friend”
Mandarin: Mei You

Malaysian Silent Night (Malam Kudus)

As I sit here at my desk, in my apartment on the seminary grounds, I hear the strains of “Silent Night” drifting up to my ears. Except it has … drums. And voices are mic’ed (have microphones). And though it’s cool outside, it’s 85 degrees (30 Celsius). And they are singing in Malays. It is not a standard “Silent Night” rendition, at least not for me.

But you know the story of how the original “Silent Night” came to be, yes? A Church in Germany was preparing for their usual Christmas organ – yes, with bells and whistles, literally – when the organ stopped working. It was broken, and so at first glance, the celebration was, too. But the pastor asked a friend who was good with guitar to write something that would inspire worship on one of the holiest nights of the year. And so out of the context of brokenness came a wonderful gift – a gift to many generations, a gift to many cultures, a gift that seems to reach into every place in our world.

What made Silent Night so wondrous was that it was perfect for that moment. It met people’s needs – needs they didn’t even know they had, until the bells and whistles broke. And there was something about that song in that moment that meets us in our moments, in our context. It works with full choirs and hesitant solos; it works as a praise song with drums and mics, and as a lullabye. It has been translated into almost every language, played by almost every instrument, put in almost every hymnal and songbook. The moment tonight when I recognized the strains of Silent Night, in Bahasa Melayu and with a steady drum beat, was a perfect moment, when all was right and things matched together beautifully.

So often, when things break or when they’re unfamiliar to us, our minds want to close a door. It is so hard to tell our brains not to panic, not to flinch, not to turn away. That was how the original Stille Nacht (Silent Night, in German) came to be. And it is how Christians across centuries and across cultures can come together to be the Church, because as long as Jesus is the center, we don’t have to panic! He gives us time to come together, he gives us hope that we can open up our rituals and our celebrations and our hearts, he gives us places and moments to be the Church in and for the world. That is why we have the bells and whistles – because we want to rejoice, loudly and with one voice! Yet we have this foundation, that when we have a chorus of languages and need new ways to play our praises, God is there, making a way for all creation to welcome the gift of Jesus.

Love and hope and peace, from our God, to you and yours.

Thanksgiving and the Counting of blessings

It is hard to believe it is Thanksgiving week already.  Where is the snow?  Where is the chill in the air?  We have a big Christmas tree up in town, but it’s got palm trees and cerulean waters behind it.

As the month of November has gone by, most of my friends on Facebook seem to be joining in an annual event:  daily posting one thing they’re thankful for.  Our Church bulletin this week had the quote:  “The one place that Satan holds no sway is in a grateful heart.”  It has also been said that “despair and gratitude cannot coexist; one will drive out the other.”  Gratitude is indeed a powerful way of living.

As we continue our studies in the Malay language, we begin to look away from standard textbooks and into hymnals and Scripture for new words to learn.  This week we worked on

“God                bless                you” –

“TUHAN   memberkati   kamu.”

[The Lord]   [verb – bless]      [you].

I asked our tutor what a person would call just one blessing – how the verb changes into a noun.  “Berkat” is the word for a blessing (see it in “memberkati”?).  Now comes the intriguing part – in Malay, as in Mandarin, one does not just say a noun – one specifies how many exactly.  You know singular or plural (or how many) because there is a counting word that goes before the noun.  For example,

A Malaysian = seorang Malaysia   (se = one, orang = person)

I buy apples = Saya beli dua biji epol.  (I buy two [fruit-counting-word] apples.)

So I asked our tutor what counting word would go before “berkat”  (blessing).  She said, “This is irregular – you do not count your blessings.”  We had to laugh – after years of hearing, “Count your blessings” and seeing my friends daily counting their blessings, it was comical to imagine a life where you don’t count your blessings.

But it also makes good sense – you can count many things.  In Malay, there are counting words for people, animals, fruits, big things, long things, thin things, pieces of things, cloth things.  All of these can be counted.  But you cannot count your blessings.  They are as innumerable as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach.  God is so good; it would be foolhardy to think that we could assign an amount to God’s love.

And so this Thanksgiving – go ahead and try to count your blessings – it’s easier in English!  But remember this truth:  you can’t keep track of the good that God is doing in your life and in all creation.  We give thanks because God keeps giving love and life… and reasons to laugh and be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, and to all –

TUHAN  memberkati  kamu!

Studying Bahasa Melayu in Kota Kinabalu

Eric works daily with his tutor, Beatrice Ha, who is fluent in several languages.