Rod Long,

Listen attentively when the Word speaks

  • September 21, 2023

I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me

1 Corinthians 14: 11

I have lived between languages my whole life and have always been intrigued by their glorious complexity. As a young student of English I grew up academically being told there was one correct grammar, an appropriate accent (which I apparently didn’t have in English or French) and that spelling was locked in stone and correct or incorrect.

As such, I have taken particular joy in finding where this simply hasn’t been true. On a large, perhaps simplistic, scale it has been fun collecting instances of poor expression from all walks of life. A coach claiming that “We are going to turn this team around 360 degrees!” or a commentator saying a public figure “speaks English, Spanish and he’s bilingual too.” These are funny and can be chalked up to us speaking under pressure or without reflection. Little harm’s done.

I am less sympathetic when authority figures judge others with statements that betray an intellectual vulnerability that is more challenging precisely because the speaker has influence. A commentator attacking archeological evidence in favour of religious fundamentalism noted: “The Bible never says anything about dinosaurs. You can’t say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Somebody actually saw Adam and Eve eating apples.” Perhaps it’s best not to dig too deeply about who that witness might be.

When Shaquille O’Neal was asked if he had visited the Parthenon when he was in Greece he answered, “I can’t really remember the names of the clubs we went to.” Britney Spears showed similar cultural awareness when she announced, “I’ve never really wanted to go to Japan. Simply because I don’t like eating fish. And I know that’s very popular in Africa.” She must have been hanging out with Paris Hilton, who corrected one reporter by saying, “No, I didn’t go to England. I went to London.”

Not surprisingly, the Bible spends a lot of time reflecting on language and intentionality, perhaps because the prophets understood how dangerously askew times could be if we weren’t careful in what we said, or how we interpreted what was around us. The Bible, indeed, begins with a call to language: “In the beginning was the Word,” and creation itself is rightly understood as the language of God. In Mark 16:17, we’re told Jesus promises us we will speak “with new tongues,” a comment that reminds us of the special gift that God presents to us — a gift of inclusion. Prayer is a lingua franca that can connect us all if only we will listen.

Often the inability to listen, rather than the ability to speak, is the cause of our distress. When Jesus is asked to “speak plainly” and to tell people if He is indeed the Christ (John 10: 24-25), His reply is emphatic: “I told you and you do not believe.” Conflict, even among families, is often generated by an interpretation of information based on partial understanding, a biased world view or certainty born of stubbornness rather than understanding.

So many judgments are made about our brothers and sisters — of different faiths, of different nationalities, of different values — that are anchored in ignorance or carelessness.It’s not what we are called to do. Jesus asks us to be present. He commands us to care for one another. Do not judge. Do not cast the first stone. Be attentive. Be caring and compassionate. Most importantly, be present. “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36).

We are awash with information: fake news, AI news, biased news. It is understandable that we may go astray or misunderstand even the basics. All the more reason to take heed, to pause to reflect and to follow the one incorruptible script we have. Wherever we are — Africa, London, Japan, Bolivia — how can we go wrong when we follow Jesus’ instructions to the letter: “So pay attention to how you listen” (Luke 8:18).

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.