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HamHave you ever been misunderstood? This is a silly question. Of course you have. We all have. The nature of language is such that even those who are (supposedly) speaking the same one, often receive an unintended message. I think communication breakdowns occur not just for language problems, but even more often simply because we are not listening to one another. This is unfortunate.

However, many misunderstandings do occur for very understandable reasons. It is not uncommon for two individuals or groups to miscommunicate when acting cross-culturally and/or cross-linguistically. In August, I experienced this and it proved to be a rather light-hearted and memorable moment of the trip.

I was with about forty Serbians, leading them through a day-long training called “Building the House of Worship: Toward Becoming a More Active Worshiper”. We were more than half-way through the training and things had been progressing nicely. My translator was doing an excellent job translating my words on the spot – as I spoke them.

My workshop uses the metaphor of a house with the different parts of it representing different aspects of worship. The Foundation is ‘what the Bible says about worship’. The Upper Room represents each participant’s own ‘definition of worship’. The Roof represents the two main categories into which our worship actions fall: ‘Missional Action (i.e. serving others) and Ritual Action (singing, etc.)’. There are other concepts corresponding with the Attic, Dining Room, Living Room, Kitchen, and Front Porch.

The Attic is one of my favorite rooms of the House of Worship. It represents all the various historical forms that have been used by Christians for worship since the dawn of the Church. As with each of the house-parts, I was introducing the Attic by verbally drawing out the metaphor. This introduction always helps connect it with what we learn in that segment. The dialogue went something like this:

Eric: In the U.S. many houses have attics. Do you all have attics in your houses?

Group: Yes.

Eric: That’s what I thought. What is it that Serbians keep in their attics?

(The answer I was fishing for was something about “old stuff that we don’t use very often and have mostly forgotten about, but was at one time useful and important to us”)

Group: (loudly, in unison) Ham!

Eric: (turning to translator) What? Are you sure? You must have mistranslated that. Did they understand my question?

Translator: No… they definitely said, “Ham”.

As it turns out, Serbians LOVE to cure their own meat by hanging it in their attics.

My brain didn’t fire too many synapses before I realized that the idea of aged meat, hanging from the rafters in the dark part of someone’s house is not a very good metaphor for Gregorian Chant, Lectio Divina, or any of the other dusty old worship forms.

(Upon further reflection, I have subsequently realized that I CAN work with ham. I should have simply said that the important thing about the Attic is that we can all “meat” with God is such a broad variety of ways.)

(Ok. Maybe it’s good I didn’t say that.)

Within a minute or two we were all laughing at this miscommunication. It was a good reminder that though those of us in that room shared so many similarities – for instance our love of God and desire to worship him well – we also came from very different backgrounds with unique traditions and cultural practices, not to mention languages.

Actually, this is exactly the point I was trying to make in the first place. God has created each human being with the capacity to develop his or her own unique approaches to worshiping him. Though these forms don’t always ‘translate’ across cultures, sometimes we are inspired by those different from us who approach God in fresh ways – ways that can potentially breathe new life into our daily and weekly worship routines.

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Someone recently asked me if I was interested in the NWLC. I wasn’t sure what that was so I Googled it.

Was he wanting me to join this? I suppose I could stand to learn more about women’s rights.

Or, was I being invited to this? Umm. I really hope not.

Finally, I came upon this. Certainly makes more sense. But, I probably won’t be attending. It’s right before I go to Europe and besides… it’s in KANSAS.

I think there should be a copyright on acronyms. Once one is created, no one else can use it.