Monday, December 5, 2011

Babbling Bossey

Pumpkin pie & Apple Cobbler
USA culture "spoken" through food.
"Robyn, how do you say this again, 'Aaron's berd?'"

This is just one of the many funny "language" conversations we have here at Bossey.  My "know-it-all" complex isn't humbled much when the English speaking Bossey courses ask non-native English speakers to read, write, and speak in English.  I've proofread a lot of papers and over stressed the pronunciation of TONS of words.

All languages have funny sounds and phrases, but any language sounds like babbling gibberish when you stress every letter and syllable.  Even though Bossey is an English speaking school, the sharing of language and cultures happens on all sides.  The other day we had orange cherries for lunch, and as I was oohhing and aaahhing over how much I loved this new fruit, Nomfang said "oh, we call these angel fruit, or fruit of the angels."

Is this what you do with chopsticks?
She pronounced "angel fruit" in Chinese and I, with so much enthusiasm, echoed this word ... only Nomfang was speechless with laughter.  Cangfu "translated" for me.  I apparently said "holy cow."

As in the holy animal, not the 90's-tastic Bart Simpson throw-back.

Arm flapping is the "universal" language
for chicken
"Poulet, s'il vous plait."
Yeah, we have a pretty good time with language.  The other day at our bbq someone asked for chicken ... only the Indian accent when speaking french poulet wasn't discernible.  We ended up flapping our arms like a chicken and squawking "poulet s'il vous plait, poulet s'il vous plait."  Our words didn't make sense, but our actions spoke volumes.

Before coming here I had always read the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11) as a way of making sense for our different languages.  The story begins by saying

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (Gn 11:1-3)

Coming together with one language seems like such a blessing, like such an easy way to communicate with one another.  We have had many language challenges, and have laughed at ourselves most of the time; but where we struggle to communicate is not the language of words; but rather the language of culture, theology, and community living.  While we laugh and openly make verbal mistakes, the stumbling blocks on our different ways of living usually have less laugher and more wonder ... who is this person?  

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Gn 11:3-4)

Why do they live this way? Holding hands in public is a sin?  Alcohol is okay for Christians?

Reformers.  Radicals.  Visionaries.
Then & Now
Why do they believe this way?  Homosexuality is a sin and a crime?  Feminism can be Christian?

With every cultural assumption, we stumble upon a brick lying before them.  With every challenge we feel we place another brick around ourselves, protecting what is known, what is comfortable, what is "right."
Agate stones placed together to create a window.
A new window in Zwingli's, Swiss Reformer, church.

We may have a "common language" but we're all living in separate towers of our own cultural making.  Some live out a theology of preservation - I cannot associate with "that" because it's a slippery slope toward sin.

Others live out a theology of evangelism - my way is "right" and I want to include you behind my walls.

Most of us go somewhere in between, coming out from behind our walls at times, only to retreat behind them again; hurt, angry, ashamed, confused.  

The people of this original Tower of Babel blamed God for this confusion. 

Another window in Zwingli's church entitled:
"Who is Christ"
With so many faces, so many tables
Christ's face
Christ table
is everywhere.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Gn 11:5-8)

Other's blamed the pride of the people, trying to be Godlike.

No matter the blame.  
No matter the tower we build.
We're confused, scattered, and don't understand one another.

We're gathered here because we believe we've been brought together by God, not scattered apart.  But despite this believe, we're more confused then ever and there are more towers reaching "heavens" of our own making.

In this season of Advent we are all feeling course work fatigued and homesick weary.  We still laugh at the verbal mistakes and are finding ways to come out from behind our walls.  In the northern climate of Europe the days get dark quickly and we're all awaiting a light to shine, prayerfully hoping for a crack of brilliance to shine through.  

In this season of waiting in the midst of a community of ecumenism, I think the wisdom of the Trinity, rather than the Tower, quietly speaks wisdom.  Adorned in every Orthodox church is the icon of the Trinity, three figures of God, seated around a table to host one another.  
Trinity Icon in the Bossey Chapel

We as students are finding ways to host one another beyond our walls so our towers become tables, and our relationships become the welcoming of God in one another.

God has scattered us throughout the earth, but we are not alone.
God has given us creative power to build meaning, culture, and life;
and God has done this by hosting us within our spaces so we might

bring good news to the oppressed,
                                                          to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,  
 and release to the prisoners; 
(Is 61:1)
We are often times held captive by the prisons of our own making, and in relationship with one another can be set free.


  1. Hi Robyn, very nice article about Bossey special and particular spirituality !!!
    After the Bossey experience, we might say: "We will never be the same" (Mihail - Romania)

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