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Language(s) and the Church May 22, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism, Statistics.
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I’m excited to be researching attitudes to languages within the UK Church …and (where appropriate) how to change them.

In 2014 the Church of England gathered a lot of statistics about the diversity of it’s congregations and published a report called “Everyone Counts“.
So far as I look at websites and reports from many different church denominations and agencies it seems that although there is a lot of data gathered, language isn’t something that gets talked about much.

This is despite the fact that over 300 languages are spoken by people living in the UK. This is despite the fact that 17% of children in schools in England come from a home where English is not the first language.

For the general population the spread of languages other than English looks something like this…

…the number of languages and the number of people speaking them vary considerably from place to place.

According to data from an interactive parish map, provided by the Research and Statistics unit of the Church of England, the town I was born in is still 98.3% white and 73.7% defined themselves as Christian in the 2011 census. Another Church of England website Presence and Engagement helps to identify and serve parishes through identifying the proportion of other religions (just enter your postcode).

Neither of these sites currently tells me about languages spoken (P&E has a page on resources in other languages) . Other census data suggests 98% of people said their main language was English and an email revealed at least 16 different languages represented in the town’s schools.

2011 Census reports from the UK Office for National Statistics

In multicultural society, ethnicity, country of birth, and language are very different things which is why I’d like to have been surprised that so few churches and organisations seem to have paid much attention to the languages people speak.

In part, that may be due to the many other things rightly clamouring for attention but perhaps also that if people speak English to a high level of proficiency then language is not perceived to be a barrier. I’m hoping my research and discussions will encourage people to see that language is more than an obstacle.

After many travels around the world I’m now living just half an hour away from where I grew up, in a town which is much more diverse in terms of languages spoken at home (over 80). So far I’ve identified ten spoken by people in the churches, but I’m looking forward to hearing out about more.

Coming soon…
Five ways to use other languages (a bit) in your church.

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The offensiveness of the gospel in the language of the street April 30, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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I used to have a print copy of “Gods Brainwave: The Story of Jesus doing the job his old dad sent him to do”, a retelling of the gospel in the language of the Chiltern Hills, and originally commissioned by the BBC’s Religious Broadcasting department as a series of radio slots and released as an LP in the UK, Canada and Australia in 1970.God's Brainwave

The sleeve notes explain that the producer had wondered “how the New Testament might be broadcast in a form that would be contemporary, startling, compulsive and offensive only in the sense that when the worlds of Jesus really come home they are so often offensive”.

The result was very much a paraphrase, not only using colloquial language to tell the story but also mixing in the ideas of the writer and performer without  the level of checking that would lead anyone to call it an accurate translation.

It was after all intended to be a piece of theatre rather than a piece of theology, and like much of Jesus own preaching it was meant to provoke reaction and discussion.

Other retellings, paraphrases and translations have been released in regional dialects over the years and each has faced the same challenges both of how to use local expressions and forms of speech and of how ‘free’ to be in their interpretation of the scripture.

Theatre or Theology?

The use of theatre is not new and includes periods of history when literacy was low and key stories where remembered and celebrated in ‘mystery plays’.

A similar thing happens in movie versions of scripture, some try and stay close to the script(ure) filling in gaps or abridging things to convey what the producer, director and a team of writers and advisors feel is an accurate retelling, others put a fresh interpretation or simply use the familiar story for their own narrative.

The language of the street or the language of the church?

Meanwhile in Scotland here’s a couple of reviews on Amazon of the 2012 translation of the New Testament in Doric, the Scots dialect spoken in North East Scotland (Not to be confused with Scots Gaelic which has nine versions readily availabe via YouVersion)

“Opened ma een ti reedin’ i’ Bible. Canna be beaten – nithin like it oan i’ market onwye… recommend to a’ Doric spikers I warl’ ower…” – Mattha, Mark, Luke and Jock

“This is nae fer abody. Ye’ll need help tae understaun it. Bit it dis add something tae the text yer used tae. It reminds ye thit the original wis fer ordinary folk. If ye hinnae read the Bible afore in ye have the Doric – this might be a guid place tae start.”- Robert F

Google can’t quite understand it well enough to translate what it says, but for me the key line is, “it reminds you that the original was for ordinary people”.

There is now a North-East Scots Language Board. Dr Thomas McKean said of it in a BBC interview:

“It’s important that young people see themselves – and the language they speak – reflected back at them in public life. Just as children need to see diverse gender and race role models, they need to know that someone who speaks their native language can be a success in any walk of life.”

and added in Doric, “Through wirk wi scuils we’ll mak the tongue mair accessible tae bairns, an through media, tourism an signage we’ll mak Scots mair visible tae aabdy that bides here.”

As part of my MA I’m exploring attitudes to language within the UK church. Standard national language are useful but if you also speak a local language, regional dialect, or one or more languages from your or your parents country of origin its good to be reassured that they not only matter to you, they also matter to God.

Ethnogamification 4 – The epic journey continues April 12, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Ethnogamification.
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Ethnogamification2019bOnce again I’ve been talking with people about games and gamification at a major missions conference, and once again people have been intrigued and interested

…but for the most part still not quite sure where to go with the ideas.

I’m learning to start small.

Play the “Google Ethnogamification” game? You don’t have to follow the links unless they look interesting enough, just know they exist!
Warning: Anyone can use the word so if you mention Ethnogamification on the web you might show up in the search too.

Most of the articles on ethnogamification contain interesting links such as the one about https://yukaichou.com/ and Octalysis. Meanwhile the MOOC that inspired me to explore the concept of Gamification is just starting up again at
coursera.org/learn/gamification . It’s online free to participate, about 29 hours long with flexible deadlines, and teaches you about psychology, marketing, game design and gamification.

#is_this_a_real_Bible March 11, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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I’ve found a site that has over 11,000 different Bibles for sale. They have Bibles in over 30 languages but most of the ones listed are in English in a choice of covers, versions, and sizes, for a range of audiences and special occasions. Can you guess which one I made up?

The busy dad’s Bible Daily Inspiration Even If You Only Have One Minute

NIV Sequin Bible Hot Pink Hearts – Slightly Imperfect – What girl doesn’t like a little sparkle and shine? the Sequin Bible helps you express your style wherever you go.

The Competitor’s Bible 365 devotions written by participants of all sports that to equip athletes for their own walk with God.

KJV Waterproof Bible, Camouflage with worry free confidence that your Bible will withstand the test of time

I may add more later. You could also add some on social media and tag them #isthisarealbible …but there is a point to the post.

The many different editions exist because there is believed to be a market for them, some even exist because there is clearly felt to be a need for them.

I’ve worked for over 20 years in an organisation which helps to translate the Bible into languages where it has (usually) never been written before.
I help Wycliffe provide number on languages that have Bibles, New Testaments, or just portions and stories and I also help explain the number of languages in which work needs to begin. But the beginning is not the end. Often the message accompanying the numbers suggests that people can’t understand the Bible unless it is in their language.
Often that is true but even when people can understand reasonably well in another language there is still a need for something that connects and doesn’t look or sound like it was meant for someone else. While that doesn’t normally mean there is a need for a thousand variations it does mean that you can’t just tick of a language and say nothing else is needed.

Meanwhile it is time to tell you that none of the Bibles above are made up. The products below are real too and found elsewhere in this blog. (can you spot which picture I made a playful addition to?)

  • no, the original artwork did not combine Jesus and Tin Tin



Not just “the Church of English” March 4, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Bible Translation, worship.
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” whilst she loved worshipping with her sisters and brothers in her faltering English she always longed to worship in her own language. We had no resources then to help.” – a fragment from the sermon by the Bishop of Durham at the launch of a new Farsi Communion service.

The Bishop was relating an incident in 1994 at a point when Farsi resources existed and had long been used by the church in Iran but would not have easy to find in the UK.

Since 1994 the number of languages with a complete Bible have doubled to 692 and the number of languages with some portion of scripture has gone from 2100 to 3352. Many of these are available on Bible apps already installed on peoples phones across the world.

Official and unofficial translations of liturgy have also been part of the mission of the church for centuries. Portions of the Church if England’s Book of Common Prayer were translated into at least 200 languages. Many of these have been made available online in recent years.

How many clergy and church members know how to find and share these and other resources?

How much do we see language as a barrier to overcome without also recognising that language is also expression of identity? Even when the English is no longer “faltering” there is something special about connecting with God using the language of your childhood, especially if it is still the language you use most at home.

There are over 300 languages spoken by people living in our country. I believe more should be spoken and sung in praise of God in our churches and am beginning to collect and compile resources and ideas for simple steps in using languages other than English within churches in the UK.

An apple a day… February 28, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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Truth without understanding is like… throwing apples at physicians

An apple a day will keep anyone away, if thrown hard enough

image : pixabay.com/illustrations/wisdom-apple-throw-a-most-day-1501263/

Here is both a fun game and an exercise in interpretation.

What are possible meanings of the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”?

  1. ‘Doctors’ are people who will harm us, but fruit from a particular tree can be used to ward off their magic.
  2. Traditional remedies are better than expensive medicine.
  3. Fruit is good for you and promotes health.
  4. Small changes can have positive effects.
  5. Paying for ‘protection’ is worth it.
  6. An adequate supply of Vitamin C prevents scurvy, fruit sugars provide energy, and the fibre within an application promotes intestinal wellbeing, not to mention the flavenoids

Can you come up with other possible meanings?

I tried this in a group and got a couple of options I’d not thought of such as it being a phrase to promote veganism, anti-vaxers, or development of IOS rather than Android

Do you know what the phrase really means?

How much of the understanding is influenced by your culture?

Do you know where the phrase comes from and whether people would have had other ideas about it at the time?

I’m not providing the answers (or my answers) to those questions. The ‘fun’ bit is to try and answer them …and then perhaps wonder why.

The same game can be played with other ‘wise’ sayings from your own or other cultures, and with verses from the Bible.

Questions for reflection and discussion

…and the ‘game’ itself can be interpreted in a number of ways

Am I suggesting

…that one needs special knowledge to unpack intended meaning?

…that meaning is individual or culture specific?

…that it’s okay to have multiple meanings?

…that a diverse group can draw out fresh perspectives?

…that apples are good for you?

and who decides what I am suggesting? Does the meaning belong to me as author or you reader? Is there one truth, no truth, many truths?

Answers are welcome in the comments. As are further questions.

Happy Mother Language Day (2019) February 21, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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The poster for #MotherLanguageDay shows the word for peace in many languages along with symbol for peace that is known in many more.

Poster available at https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/motherlanguageday

You can search for some quotes about peace in 1280 languages at https://www.bible.com/en-GB/search/bible?q=peace

Here are a couple in just English and Russian.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Послание Иакова 3:18 (SYNO)
Плод же правды в мире сеется у тех, которые хранят мир.

True peace between people doesn’t just involve finding the right words and understanding them (though that helps). It involves the acknowledgement of the pain we have felt and the pain we have caused. It involves a desire for reconciliation and it involves healing and restoration to a level that would sometimes require a miracle.

Fortunately the God of peace, is also a God of healing and of miracles.

Christians and DC Comics delay the Second Coming February 20, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.
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Okay so the headline is a deliberate attempt to get your attention. This is about a controversial comic in which an inaccurate portrayal of Jesus gets to be room-mates with an imaginary superhero …and whether or not that’s really a good idea for a comic.

Not the Real Jesus

Several thousand Christians were outraged and DC comics backed down. Or at least that’s one version of the story. Another version is that DC comics wanted to remove some of the profanity and depiction of a nude Adam in the garden of Eden (requests they were already making before the petition got going) but the writer wanted to stay true to his vision and asked for the rights back.

Different commentators are going to have different views as to whether this is censorship of artistic expression or a victory over a blasphemous presentation of Christ.

Gregory Merz of Citizen Go states:


“Most children grow up reading about iconic DC superheroes like Batman, Superman, or Wonder Women.  It would be a shame to market this false view of Jesus as an equal read to these figures. I wouldn’t want children to read this comic book and believe it as truth. ”


Gregory Merz , quoted in SyFy.com

It would indeed be a shame, but it’s also a shame if they just encounter comic book superheroes and never read anything about Jesus. Does a knowingly flawed portrayal of Jesus point people to look for the real deal or just push them further away?

Mark Russel, who describes himself as more of a fan than a follower of Jesus maintains that his comic is actually pro-Christ:


“Superheroes tend to lean on violence as a solution because it’s what they’re good at. But drop-kicking someone into a volcano or throwing them through a plate-glass window only works for solving a very small percentage of human problems. The other 99.9% of problems require empathy and that’s the superpower that Christ brings to the table.”

Mark Russel, quoted in SyFy.com

Russel also says of his critics:


“They probably (correctly) suspect that it’s not Christ who’s being parodied, but themselves and how they’ve twisted his teachings of mercy for the powerless into a self-serving tool of the powerful.”

This reminds me of a 1979 interview between the Monty Python team and some less than sympathetic opponents of their film “The Life of Brian”, which though set at the time of Jesus was about someone mistaken for the messiah. It was a film that wouldn’t have inspired anyone to real faith but written by men who had not been inspired by the church as they had encountered it.

This is not to meant to suggest Russel has the right approach. There are definitely better portrayals of Christ in comic book form but many struggle to get the balance of making Jesus attractive to a comic book audience without turning him into a musclebound, all American, hero.

Amongst those I’d recommend taking a look at are the Jesus Messiah Comic bookwhich is now available in over 130 languages.

Others have tried a different approach. On one of my first visits to the United States I attended a large mega church where there were armed guards and a bookshop which sold BibleMan action figures.

Bible man has been around since the mid 90’s. The earliest versions definitely look dated and almost a parody in itself so if you want to be gracious start off with a minute from the latest cartoon version.

Then enjoy the epilogue from an episode in the original series…

You may choose to watch the rest of the episode. If you were brought up on Bibleman you may have some nostalgia or it may make you cringe. It contains some truth and some of the bits of a subculture that Mark Russel dislikes. Even in it’s cringeworthyness (is that a word?) teens and twenty-somethings who were bought up on it are apparently sharing gifs of Bibleman to encourage one another.

In the Bible there are people who spoke out against the culture and religion of their own day. Those that did so under God’s direction were called prophets, but not every critic is a prophet.

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