Language Lessons (August 2016)

“If you talk to a [person] in a language [they] understand, that goes to [their] head. If you talk to [them] in [their] language, that goes to [their] heart.”                                              – Nelson Mandela 

I love learning other languages. Ok, it’s probably closer to the truth to say that I love starting to learn other languages.  Growing up in South Florida, I took Spanish in high school and college, and despite the opportunity to immerse myself, I am not even close to being bilingual.  I took Greek in college and Hebrew in seminary. And while I can remember a few words, most of the time I have to look things up.

After coming to Ronald UMC, I caught the language bug again and wanted to learn some Tagalog.  So, in addition to the many gracious folks who are willing to tutor me on Sundays and the rest of the week, I’m practicing at home with a variety of online resources.

I’ve amused more than one of my tutors as I’ve worked out certain pronunciations.  For example, Pastor Allan Ocampo invited to a gathering of Filipino pastors, jokingly adopting me as “Pinoy” (related to or of Filipino descent.)  When I repeated my new identity, I put the stress on the wrong syllable effectively calling myself a “penoy,” (a hard boiled duck egg.)  Much laughter ensued.

As I practice at home with online language programs, I’ve realized that aside from getting the stress on the right syllable, I have the hardest time memorizing the pronouns. It’s challenging enough getting the singular, plural and polite first, second and third person pronouns from the “ang” root (I-ako, you-ka, he/she-siya, we-tayo, ya’ll-kayo and they-sila.)  But then there are the equivalent possessive pronouns from the “ng” root (my/mine-ko, your-yours-mo, his/hers-niya, ours-namin, ya’lls-ninyo, and their/theirs-nila.)

So, I’d like to start a movement to end the use of possessive pronouns.  Not because I’m having trouble learning them in Tagalog. In fact, I’d like to end their use in all languages…when we’re talking about church buildings, congregations, ministries, missions, pastors, etc.

I don’t know if it’s unique to the United States, but after 20 years serving local churches, I’ve come to believe that our language shapes how we think and behave.  As Christians in America, we are also bombarded with messages of consumerism, individual rights, and ownership.  So, when we (pastors and lay people alike) talk about our church, my congregation, our ministries and my pastor…, we can easily start to behave as if I/we ‘own’ or ‘have special rights’ to them.10708-stock-photo-religion-faith-europe-name-plate-church-pew

Though the practice of buying pews and placing nameplates is long gone. We still joke (hopefully) about someone sitting in “my” pew.  Pastors have been heard complaining that “my congregation won’t ________ (i.e.“do what I want them to do.”)  Some long time members may have even said, “my pastor pays too much attention to those “other people” (i.e. “not me.”)

The problem with possessive thinking is that it is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught.  He called his disciples (and therefore us) to deny themselves, take up their cross, lay down their life, sell all they have, welcome the stranger, love their enemy, and so on.  In other words, for the sake of others, relinquish ownership of everything, including one’s life to God.

As followers of Jesus, each of us have been called to be stewards of all that God entrusts to us.  Jesus tells several parables about stewards, but there is a big difference between being the steward and the owner.  As stewards each of us is called to use all that we have and all that we are to bring good news to the poor, heal the broken-hearted and live according to the economy and ethics of God’s kingdom.

Honestly, I don’t know that eliminating possessive pronouns from our “church” vocabulary will make us live more faithful lives, but it’s worth a shot. So, I’m going to try to not say things like “these folks are in my congregation,” or “let’s meet at my church.” When I slip up, feel free to remind me.

Instead, I’ll keep trying to say things like, “I’ve been appointed to lead the people at Ronald United Methodist Church,” or “I’m called to love and serve the people in the community of Shoreline” or “We’re running out of room in the church for the people who keep coming to share the building that God has entrusted us to share.”

Of course, those are just my/ko thoughts.  I welcome hearing yours/mo.

Sumainyo nawa ang biyaya/Grace be with you,

– Pastor Kelly