“Hey, lets get a pizza over at Debonairs and see if their TV is showing the World Series!” (We don’t have TV. If something big happens, like hurricane Matthew, we race over to the 2-counter food court and ask them to flip the channel to BBC News.) It had been a full day and the house was just too hot to even make a sandwich in the kitchen. Besides, Debonairs has air conditioning! It didn’t take me any time at all to convince my husband this was a good plan. He was languishing (did I mention the heat?); he grew up in a Chicago suburb; his baseball team hadn’t won a World Series in over 100 years (he missed that game) and today the final game would be played. The winner would be the champion. So, just maybe, this one game would make world news. The food court it is.
Three men were chatting away on the wall screen. No green field, no ball players, no cheering fans. Just three men flapping their mouths up and down talking about … well, the management had it on mute but we soon surmised that this was a sports talk show, most likely out of neighboring South Africa. Then, suddenly, we were looking at a Cub’s game. “Look! It is the World Series!” But alas, it was just a 5 second Cubs clip followed by an equally short clip of the Bulls in action, and then five seconds of the Bears running a play. Then we were back to the three chatty men. At least they must be talking about Chicago teams! Then there was a clip of a CEO-looking man break dancing on a soccer field, surrounded by the players watching his demonstration. The stands looked empty. Must have been a private party. Or maybe that’s how the players spend their practice time … and maybe these commentators are discussing the rigorous training and discipline characteristic of the Chicago teams … in comparison to the fun and games that comprise soccer training camp … What??? Well, we couldn’t hear a word and we don’t read lips, so we can make up anything we want, right?
Later, I got to thinking about that. Just that morning I had attempted to train several bench-fulls of men and women in a “simple” way to read the Bible for understanding – understanding that leads to application and a transformed life. Several readers of language Lu were identified. There is a Bible published in the Lu language and they had their Bibles with them. The participants were divided into small groups, with a reader in each group. The reader was instructed to read the two verses, aloud, several times to their listeners. I instructed them to identify one thing those verses tell them that God desires, or wants. I smiled to see them lean in, listen to the word being read, then discuss it. Some had the response I was hoping for. However, most gave one of three responses: 1. the reader stood and just reread the verses with no comment, or, 2. if I repeated the question the group attempted to quote the verse from memory, or 3. someone would make a [possibly] true statement about God that was totally unrelated to the verses read.
Were the readers simply decoding the words, unable to recognize punctuation and use voice inflection that lends to accurate communication? Were the listeners hearing the same way I was “hearing” the chatty men on TV? Most of the people we train have not grown up learning to think critically, rather, they are trained to obey instructions from the top, from the big chiefs (or the pastor) whose role it is to do the thinking. Words are read off the page but it is the job of someone in a “higher position” to give the words meaning and explain the sense of it. And so if pressed to answer the question “what does this verse tell us about God?” the field is open for imaginative interpretation in the event there is no answer-man around.
It’s a hallelujah moment for me whenever a woman, especially a woman, catches on. What freedom there is in being able to read the Bible herself, to know God is speaking directly to her in his word, and to learn from God when she’s alone, not being limited by a lack of available “teachers”. But whether she is a critical thinker or not, only the Holy Spirit can open ears that have been deaf to his word. I can’t make this happen. How freeing this is for me! I present the opportunity to hear the word, the Author makes it come alive. He releases the “mute” button and brings up the volume.
We woke up this morning to the online news: “The Cubs did it!!! They won!” Now I wonder what those chatty men are saying. “Wow, can you believe it? I’ve seen a lot of games, and teams and I’ve seen a lot of cities. But Chicago is the best and has the best! .. Maybe we should move there. Maybe their local station would hire us … I can break dance …”