Speaking of Faith

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:14, Romans 14:13-23, Luke 8:40-56


In linguistics “code switching” refers to the practice of moving among different languages in the same conversation. In a sociological sense, it is also a popular term – particularly among African Americans – for trading one’s comfortable, informal manner of speech for a more formal, homogenized one to facilitate communication and acceptance within the dominant group. Some people view code switching as hypocritical, but most of us unconsciously engage in some form of it. For example, children speak differently to their parents than their peers, employers speak differently to their bosses than their co-workers, and those of us who curse like sailors probably curb that @#$% when addressing our pastors.

According to Paul, code switching (while not his term) could even be a sign of respect. He advised Christians who had no issues with eating meat or drinking wine not to become a stumbling block to their brothers and sisters who considered such things sinful. It wasn’t that Paul found these things sinful, rather that he believed “those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” He asked people to adjust their faith language accordingly.

A person’s vernacular does not define their native intelligence or ability any more than our perception of their piety defines their faith. But here’s the big difference: in the case of code switching for corporate America, the less privileged person is expected to change; Paul was asking the group with more freedom to accommodate the less free. In the world, the first impose on the last. In the Kingdom, the first serve the last.

A faith language has its own grammar. As with any grammar, it is a tool to be used, not a weapon to be wielded. We want to be fluent in it for our own benefit, but we should refrain from correcting (or worse demeaning) other people for failing to meet its exact standards. Let us listen to understand more than to correct, to invite more than to demand. Our God is not about technicalities, but about grace.

Comfort: Even when your “faith grammar” isn’t perfect, God understands.

Challenge: Listen to familiar hymns sung in a language you do not now. Do they say anything new to you?

Prayer: Loving God, may I seek more to understand than to be understood. Amen.

Discussion: People can have complicated relationships with grammar, anything from self-declared grammar police to being intimidated by it entirely. What’s yours?

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