I am getting to know a wonderfully-alive Dutch man weâ€™ll call Aert. Aert is a middle-aged school teacher who lives in the northern province of The Netherlands called Friesland.
In a recent conversation using Skypeâ€”the Internet-based technology that turns your computer into a phone to make free calls around the worldâ€”I learned something from Aert that really caught my attention. When Aert talks with Dutch friends about church and religion, he communicates in Dutch or Frisian. Butâ€”in a nuanced contrastâ€”to discuss matters of faith and spirituality, he needs to talk in English.
It turns out that Aert has all the language he needs to discuss how the church is a religion. But in his native land which is well into a phase of history that some call post-Christendom, it turns out he needs to flip into English to discuss the more dynamic concepts of spirituality and faith. Why? These latter terms are things he has been learning about from conversations with American Mennonites and it either doesnâ€™t translate well into his native languages, or itâ€™s so uncomfortable forcing his native languages into this â€œnewâ€ territory that he canâ€™t bring himself to do it.
Iâ€™ve been thinking about what this may mean for me in my little Mennonite world here in Pennsylvania. What impact might this learning have about how Mennonite leaders are trying to have a discussion about being missional or intercultural? We can discuss about community and peaceâ€”even when we donâ€™t practice them very well, but try talking about missional or intercultural (or especially antiracism) and folks respond like weâ€™re talking different languagesâ€”and perhaps we are.
All of this makes me want to learn more languages, and it also inspires me to learn how to live what I speak. I have a long way to goâ€¦.