My six year old was acting a fool and I was uncomfortable. Earlier that day, my husband received a text from his boss, the associate pastor of a Spanish speaking church, asking him if we would be at service that night. Fairly new to this job and a little insecure that we don’t speak the heart language of so many in the congregation at Lion of Judah, my husband pulled me aside during nap time and asked if I thought we should go. Our family was young then. Our oldest was six, and “the babies” were 3 and 2 and our lives revolved around them- their schedules, their moods, their needs. Every decision to leave the house was a cost/benefit analysis- time with friends vs. lack of sleep or sanity.
“Babes,” I whispered, “The only service that we can go to is the Spanish service- the English one runs into their dinner and if they miss dinner, it’ll take forever to get them all down for bed!”
Stroking the tuft of beard on his chin he replied, “Well, I know Pastor Greg interprets in English during the Spanish service. It’s a bit harder to follow than the English service- disjointed- but I think it’ll be good. You need to meet the pastors I work with and the kids can experience a Spanish worship service.”
I was dubious because, like my kids, I’m resistant to discomfort. I was happy when he got the job directing an inner city mentoring program for the church, but I didn’t think I’d actually have to bump up against the reality that he spends 40+ hours a week in a Latino community, pressing against language barriers, and acutely aware of his “difference”. I knew the worship would be lively and fun, but I also knew it would seem lacking to me because I couldn’t sing my favorite songs in English. It didn’t matter if there were translations on the screen, I just wanted an easy church experience.
Santo, santo, santo Dios Todopoderoso
The worship team lead us in “Revelation Song” in their heart language and I tried so hard to enter in to the worship, but with a toddler on my hip and a cranky six year old with an adorable scowl on his face, and an inability to truly sing along, I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is a waste of time.’
pat, pat, pat the six-year-old was assaulting my leg, “Mama, Mama, Ma-ma!”
“What?!?” I hissed.
“Why can’t they sing in English? I don’t want to be here! I can’t understand a thing they’re saying?” He whined, a bit too loud- but thank you, Lord, the Latina worship leader was proclaiming the truth of God with fervor- and volume!
I paused for a moment, passed the toddler to my husband, and sat down next to him. “Well, talk about it when we get home.”
Staring in my son’s hazel eyes, I saw the potential of the moment. It was as if the Holy Spirit showed me a picture of myself. To Him, I’m that cranky child standing in the midst of His worshipers with an adorable scowl on my face and insensitive questions on my lips. I saw how I could change the story for both of us, from consumers to contributors, from cranky to cheerful, from comfortable to cross- shaped, self-giving love. I had to opportunity to share a bedrock value of this Christian walk we’re on- we’re here to proclaim that Jesus loves all people, so much so, he became human in order to experience our reality- to embody our vulnerabilities, learn our language, uphold our customs. Then in his greatest act of love, he subjected himself to the violence of this world so that every person can find their healing in him.
I sat through the service and struggled. I don’t remember a single point from the message, but I remember the Holy Spirit’s call die to my comfort for the comfort of others.
The next day, on our walk home from school, my son brought up the Spanish service again. “Mama- we don’t have to go to that church again, right? I don’t understand why they just can’t learn English and sing in it?”
“Well, they love Jesus,” I started with a lump in my throat and a choice before me, “and they want to tell him in a language that’s easy for them.”
“But why did we have to sing in Spanish at their church? Why can’t we just sing in English at our church?” He pleaded.
“Well…we love Jesus too, so they invited us to their church and the best way we could be loving to them and to Jesus was to sing in Spanish. Jesus died for everyone, everywhere and he loves it when we celebrate that in our own languages. He loves it even more when we celebrate together. So, that’s what we did. We celebrated Jesus with our new Spanish speaking friends, together- just like he wants.”
In the six years since that walk with my son, we’ve attended that Spanish service a few more times, worshiped in Creole at our friends’ house around the table, and sang Christmas carols in Korean. When we planted New City Church in Boston, we explained to the kids that we wanted a church that looks like heaven so that we can be heaven on earth- multi-ethnic and unified and, for the most part, the kids have been alright.
Sing it On Sunday
Yesterday, when my husband emailed me the worship set list so I could pray over this blog post, I saw, “Revelation Song” and I knew, maybe, just maybe, we’d be singing it Spanish. We’ve been at New City for two months now and in almost every service, we’ve sung at least one song in Spanish. I love it this aspect of our new faith community- my favorite thing to do is when I don’t know the words, is to close my eyes and just listen to those who finally can reach out to Jesus in their heart language love on authentically. It somehow makes me love Jesus a little bit more.
After all these years of praying for and participating in multi-ethinic, multi-cultural churches, I’ve seen how when we sing in a language that’s not our native tongue, we’re practicing Shalom in a powerful way. Entering into a space that is unnatural and uncomfortable for us, like singing in a different language, uniquely poises us to disrupt broken systems and bind up wounds, like Jesus. It’s also an important and humbling reminder that Sunday morning is not all about me or my preferences- it’s about us- the Body of Christ coming together to model the love.
It’s about sliding over and making space for the often-overlooked or oppressed.
It’s about embodying their “other-ness” in the same way Jesus embodied ours.
It’s about encouragement and inclusion and community and wholeness.
It’s reconciliation in a few bars of chorus, melody, harmony, and bridge.
When I worship in a different language it is my emphatic acceptance to an invitation to unity. And blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Right?
Yesterday, as I stood in the back and watched the worship team before taking these pictures, I was deeply grateful that at my church, we’re challenging what Dr. Martin Luther King said about 11 o’clock Sunday morning being the most segregated hour. It doesn’t have to be, and sisters, it starts with us raising our hands to honor differences and opening them in humility. And honestly isn’t that what Jesus meant when he said, “they will know you are my disciples by your love”?
Live It On Monday
Two Scriptures will guide me this week as I think about how I should relate to others and Jesus’ desire for unity in his Body.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Join Me In Prayer:
You are creative and bold and multifaceted and amazing! The fact that this world is full of so many languages, so many cultures, so many perspectives proves this. You have pressed your beauty into each person and it’s our mission to seek it out in everyone we meet. To explore your joy in an upside down exclamation mark, your danger in a rolling “r”, and your rest in a lazy drawl. I confess my desire to be comfortable in my own expression of your glory, to horde it for myself, and revel in it then, demand others to conform to it. I’m sorry. It’s wonderful how I’m drawn to indie worship and acoustic guitar, but it’s not the only way and it’s far from the best way to connect to you. I accept my call to humility, I ask for the same spirit that drove you to earth to embody your beloved, to drive me to embody the worship styles and languages of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask for my heart to be at rest when there is unity and broken when their is segregation. Thank you, Jesus for the gift of community. Jesus, you are preparing for an eternity of creative, bold, multifaceted, amazing worship in many tongues and many styles in your Kingdom- and for that, I am glad.
Seeking Shalom in Spanish, and Japanese, and Korean and yes, English too,