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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Asian Names

You know, the Bible says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It means that we are to love everyone else in the world as we would want them to love us - if we were in their situation. Theologically, even the most casual Christian doesn't seem to have difficulty agreeing with this. In fact, we hear people talking about how they love everyone and look for the best in everyone. (In some cases, I suppose that could be true, but I doubt it.)

The fact of the matter is that many people are hard to love. They tend to be people who don't look like us. In other words, we are often the most challenged to love someone when they seem foreign to us. And let's face it, the world is full of people who seem foreign to us. America's big cities are full of people who live right next door to each other without ever knowing each other. Why do we do that? Do we think it's appropriate behavior for Christ-followers?

This week, our own Texas state representative, Betty Brown, an elected official really stepped in it. Did you see the story? Did you see her follow-up apology? Yes, she stuck her foot in her mouth. She was attending the hearing on voter registration for immigrants. She stated that people of "oriental" descent should consider changing their names to something that Americans could pronounce! Of course, this had nothing to do with making sure each voter is legitimate. But it spoke volumes about the condition of Betty's heart.

Now the problem is, even I could understand where Ms. Brown was coming from. I have people that I work with and I cannot pronounce their names. It is annoying and frustrating. Often they are people whom I respect and admire professionally. But I struggle to correctly pronounce their name. So though I saw the newspapers labeling Ms. Brown as a racist, and I agreed that what she said was incredibly stupid --- I secretly understood where she was coming from.

The problem is that the Tower of Babel was built as a monument to mankind. God was angered by it, destroyed and gave us hundreds of different languages as punishment. No really, that's how it happened! Apparently everyone in the world spoke the same language at the time. But God was angered by the pride of mankind, and wanted to humble us. So He made us speak different languages ... hundreds of them!

Has it worked? Has mankind found the different languages to be a humbling experience? Despite the fact that we teach languages and sell software and hire interpreters and translators --- we have to admit the fact that it is an annoying challenge. We really would like it much better if the whole world spoke one language. And usually we want that language to be ours!

I'm as human as the next guy. I find it frustrating and humbling that I cannot speak the different languages that I encounter. And it seems that I encounter many more of them today than I ever used to. So I really have two challenges. First, I have to humbly submit to the language rules God has given us Himself. There will never be one language. I need to respect that and walk through the humbling experiences it causes obediently. Second, I have to love my neighbor as myself - even when I can't understand him or pronounce his name.

Representative Brown has already apologized for her amazingly selfish and ignorant remark. But we shouldn't dismiss what she said or why she said it. Even the maturest of Christians find foreign languages to be a challenge. The the truth is that God placed this challenge on us Himself. The question is what we, as His obedient followers, will choose to do with that challenge!

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