Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lost in Translation

I was in a coffee shop the other day and heard two young men talking. Before I had heard a single Christian reference they made, I could already tell by the language they were speaking (the particular mannerisms and metaphors), to say nothing of the almost-hip way they dressed, that they were Evangelicals, and had somewhat of an idea of what sort of interdenominational/emergent church they probably attended. It brought back four-year-old memories from my senior year of college.

In college I was part of an Evangelical Christian fellowship that was particularly concerned with finding ways to “reach” the broader campus community with the Gospel. Because I had decided against the Bible colleges where my high school friends attended in favor of the largest liberal arts university in the state for the sole purpose of learning to love a wide range of people different from me, this was a compelling mission. Because I was a somewhat of an eclectic girl with a wide range of interests and influences, it was easy for me to get sucked into being the figurehead of various incarnations of this mission.

Since my family moved to Europe after my first year in college, they suggested I could help lead their outreach to international students. Since I was an artsy kid with an eyebrow ring and boy-short hair, they suggested I could help lead their outreach to the hippie/artsy crowd. Since I was attending an African-American political organization in efforts to understand some of my friends better (where I got sucked into being a leader as well), they suggested I could help lead their side-missions of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnicity.

On my last day of leadership as a burned-out senior, our time of worship was cut short by an announcement that the university had double-booked the room where we were meeting and we would have to leave to allow the next group to come in. The lights popped on and the startled 250 Christians looked disorientedly around as if they had been roused from sleep a half-hour before their alarm was to go off. I was certainly surprised as well, and stood back to take the scene in.

The young nicely-dressed Evangelicals began to evacuate the room as if it were on fire, and were replaced by a large assortment of people of various ages and races and classes who were gathering to watch some pro-environment anti-war film. The room smelled different as the hippies arrived.

“Maybe God had orchestrated things this way,” I heard one of my friends say as she evacuated. “Maybe one of those people had needed to hear the words of songs we were singing when they arrived. Maybe the mix-up allowed us to reach people without realizing it.”

Because of my aforementioned connection with the international/artsy/multiethnic crowd that my Christian fellowship had wanted to “reach,” I lingered in the lobby to talk to the collage of people who were arriving as my friends left the building. The organizers of the event apologized to me for the mix-up, and suggested that our groups had much in common. Our group was concerned with loving God and theirs with loving the poor, they suggested; did I think some of my friends would linger to watch the film with them? I did not, so I made my answer ambiguous.

As the heavy-metal sounds of their film began to play in my right ear, my left ear picked up the acoustic sounds of some familiar worship songs outside the building, where my friends had gathered to finish the evening of worship on the steps. On our last time of worship for the year, I could imagine the leaders asserting, we would not need to the technology of the speakers and overhead equipment; we could worship outdoors with two guitars and the whole campus walking by to watch. We could be a witness in our faithfulness to worship.

As I stood in the lobby hearing the sound of one culture in one ear and the other culture in the other, I felt like I was standing between worlds that spoke different languages and did not realize their inability to communicate.

“Did you see what’s going on outside?” one woman in dreadlocks asked her friend in cammoes.

“No, what is is?”

“There’s a group out there on the steps playing... folk songs or whatever. It’s like... ‘movement music’ or something. I’ve never seen anything like it!”

1 comment:

Cliff said...

Very, very interesting...

Your rationale for your school of choice is similar to my own.

I like how the hippies tried to reach out to the evangelicals.