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a more radical welcome November 11, 2019

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There is an old English idiom about sending someone to Coventry, which basically means to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist. In contrast Coventry Cathedral has a great welcome notice. It’s about welcoming all kinds of people including those who might not always feel they are accepted in church. This has been shared on multiple facebook pages and church noticeboards, and inspired our friend and former pastor, Steve Latham to suggest that the “scandalous extremism of the gospel ” should challenge the church to be even more radical.

The original list includes “those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, questioning, well-heeled or down at heel.” It does include those who are “just got out of prison” along with the “just browsing” and “just woken up” and sneaks in “those who are in recovery or still addicted” along with “tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters.”

Steve, asks would your church put up a welcome signs like this:

“We welcome murderers and thieves, racists and rapists. We welcome human traffickers, white supremacists, and pornographers; even bankers and hedge fund managers. We welcome the child abuser as well as the abused, the drug pusher besides the addict; the unreconstructed male chauvinist, along with the TERF.”

Steve goes on to ask, “What church would actually want that kind of people attending? The safeguarding issues alone would be horrendous.”
Read Steve’s full post here.

As part of my MA research I visited many church websites and spotted that nearly all had a prominent link to their safeguarding policy (definitely something to be commended as long as it’s taken seriously), but that very few had links to an online Bible such as Bible.com or Bible.is (which between them have scripture and other resources in over 1600 languages).

Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised at a plug for helping those marginalised, through no fault of their own, by language. That’s been my job and my passion for the last 23 years. But there are others who are marginalised in society by a past (or present) that has put them on the wrong side of the law, people who know that they have fallen. Stephen Dailly (we know a few Stephen), has written a book from his experience of working with released prisoners. It’s a book that isn’t blind to challenges for the congregation as well as the released prisoners. You can read a sample of the book on Amazon which may be enough to prompt you to buy a copy and pray that at least one church in your community (maybe your own) will be radical enough and well prepared enough to really welcome anyone.

Giving voice to the voiceless? May 24, 2019

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Theresa May has just delivered her resignation speech. Several quotes caught my ear and then my eye (full text now online).

Regardless as to how well you feel she or others in power have used their platform to “give a voice to the voiceless” or to “fight the burning injustices that still scar our society”, pray that current and future leaders in the UK and around the globe would see this as part of their role.

It’s not just their role. Whatever platform you have, be it the pulpit, the classroom, lecture hall, office, or even the internet use it well.

May went on to talk about funding for mental health, support for survivors domestic abuse, the Race Disparity Audit, gender pay reporting, and the inquiry into Grenfell Tower.

I googled for the Race Disparity Audit and it’s worth reading (not just for my MA).

As she ended the speech she stated:

“this country is a Union. Not just a family of four nations. But a union of people – all of us. Whatever our background, the colour of our skin, or who we love. We stand together. And together we have a great future.”

As I explore attitudes to language(s) in the church it is clear that there is much to do (and learn about) in so many other areas and that politics and public opinion comes into it all.

We will definitely have different opinions on what the present looks like and what the future should look like, which is why I’m glad she didn’t claim in this speech to be the voice of the voiceless.

We each have a platform and it’s good to remember that whenever we have opportunity to speak we can also use that opportunity to listen.

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

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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.

#is_this_a_real_Bible March 11, 2019

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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

An apple a day… February 28, 2019

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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

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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

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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.

2019 Year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages January 29, 2019

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The UN is celebrating 2019 as both the International year of Indigenous languages and the International year of the Periodic Table (and if that wasn’t enough it is also apparently the International year of Moderation).

I wondered if anyone has thought of combining the celebrations and marking “the year of the Periodic Table in Indigenous Languages”. I just googled and apparently I’m the first. I’m not sure it will catch on but it illustrates a challenge which I’ll get to after the song…

Published by AsapScience Feb 6 2018,
8,658,369 views by Jan 29, 2019

Tom Lehrer was the first to write and perform the elements song a mere 60 years ago but he messed with the order and sang Aluminum instead of Aluminium. This new version of the song gets it right (to British ears) and adds elements that hadn’t been discovered in Harvard in 1959.

(The last line of Lehrer’s version rhymes “Harvard” and “discovered”.

…And here’s where we get to the language bit.

Even between British English and American English there are differences in what we call one of the elements. Should it be called “aluminum” or “aluminium”?

The French and Germans agree that it is called aluminium but in Spanish and Italian it is apparently called “alluminio”. In other words, there are other words to describe the elements just as there are other words to describe the names of countries and languages.

If you are so inclined you can check out the Periodic table in English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and Klingon at https://sciencenotes.org/periodic-tables-different-languages/

The Bible mentions gold, silver, iron, lead and sulphur in the Old and New Testaments and tin on the Old Testament. So at least five elements can be found written in over 2000 languages and ‘tin’ in nearly 700. I haven’t checked how much the names vary or whether words used referred to elements or alloys. (also note I learned Chemistry before 1992 and didn’t know until today that many people now spell sulphur as sulfur in English).

You can check out the names and various classifications of 7,097 known living languages at ethnologue.com (Update coming in February in time for the annual International Mother Language Day).

The Ethnologue includes a lot of alternate names for each language but still can’t quite manage to list all the possible names, and ways of writing them.

A similar problem exists when it comes to people trying to find Bibles in other languages. It can be hard to find what you are looking for in an alphabetical list of 1,278 languages at YouVersion’s Bible.com especially when that list includes names written in over 20 different alphabets. For people like me who compare various lists the inclusion of standard three letter ISO codes function a bit like the unique atomic weights in the Periodic table allowing us to know when we are talking about the same thing even if they have different names.

Faith Comes By Hearing also has a list of over 1,200 languages. I’ve been able to compare lists and see that while there is a large overlap, between them they have have text and/or recordings of Scripture in over 1600 languages.

In addition to these two huge distributors of online scriptures there are at least 1-200 available through other sites, apps and sources. Many (but still not all) are linked to from find.bible which exists to help people do just that. By the end of the list of scriptures available digitally will be even longer.

Now that’s something to sing about!

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