Homily for April 2021

Know words!

1 Corinthians 14:6-11 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?  It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played?  And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

So it is that pretty much anything the family might say to our cat is completely unintelligible to her. Her name, Dorcas, to which she does not respond and which is itself Greek in origin means: gazelle… in the Bible it refers to a woman who abounded goodness and acts of kindness. I can certainly say that she is a very loving and affectionate animal, even though, were I to speak to her in Greek, I could be no more sure of her understanding a single word, than were anyone to utter to her a few in any other of the world’s estimated 6500 languages. There is however a form of communication that exists between her and we, her adoptive family. When she went missing recently, we knew there was something wrong. Both Polly and I that same morning in greeting her with a cuddle, had sensed that she was in some pain on her back. She had emitted a small wince and run away. Normally she never cries and so this slight noise said it all. Had she been hit, or kicked, attacked by another animal, hit by car? No way of telling! She was a rescue cat and had been deserted when her owners left the house and abandoned her too. We think she was badly mistreated – she does not like to be near us when we are standing or moving around and is frightened when an arm is raised for example. When she eventually returned after two full days and nights away, we were mightily relieved, I can tell you. No words can describe the relief!

Communication has been my job and my life for the past 35 years as a teacher and in my previous position as a sales representative in the textile industry. It has been my passion for years even before I started work and in fact since I first had the opportunity to learn a foreign language from the age of 8 at St Peter’s CofE Primary School … in Rawdon, of course!

This passion has provided me with many wonderful opportunities to learn new languages and to be able to communicate, if on a basic level, with natives of lots of different countries. In addition to those languages I have usually taught: French German, Spanish and to a lesser extent Japanese, I have been able to learn courtesies to employ in any country to which I have travelled and this has proved time and time again to be invaluable in building the right sort of relationship with new colleagues/friends from the outset. So I have addressed visitors from Indonesia in Bahasa Indonesia, introduced myself and my school to senior staff in Ningbo, China in Mandarin and addressed the school staff in Ljubljana and Kamnik in Slovenian. The experience that stands out in my mind is when in 2014 I visited Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. Five hours after arriving at the airport at 03.00, I found myself on a stage talking to the whole school and staff at Bala Vidya Mandir High School. A surreal experience and feeling somewhat like Prince Charles or some other member of the Royal Family, I began “Ungalai santipathil magilchi!” (“Pleased to meet you!”) in Tamil, greeted by a collective gasp from the audience. In another school I was welcomed by a Brass Band and in another garlanded with flowers! Know words!

One of the best feelings I have ever experienced was coming through the arrivals gate at Manchester Airport in October 2014 to be met by a group of parents at the end of our school’s first ever visit to China. Once again nothing can come near to expressing the joint emotions of achievement and gratitude to be almost home. No words!

Whilst other countries in Europe and beyond languish in yet another lockdown, the hope is that ours will soon end, if we can show a collective sense of responsibility and suitably moderated behaviour, even though we may feel like indulging in the opposite. After a long period of remote learning, it has been a joy to return to the classroom. Whilst we may moan about IT and technology, it has truly been a God-send. Without it many institutions simply could not have functioned and the prevalence of Zoom, Facebook and Teams has also opened up new and broader horizons, not least for us in the Church setting. This despite the fact that for me, the IT element of teaching has been not so much a steep learning curve as an infinitely high, sheer cliff, though fortunately I have remained attached to the ropes and carabiners supplied by friends and colleagues which have facilitated the ascent.

The joy of being in front of a classroom of enthusiastic children has been tempered by the difficulties I have experienced in communicating effectively with them. I said “enthusiastic” rather than “smiling”, because I cannot tell you if they have been smiling! I believe it is not just the hearing-impaired who rely upon lip-reading. I think we all do. Or at least we depend on para-linguistic features for effective communication: the movement of the lips, gestures of the hands, arms, “body language”, the subtle changes in the use of facial muscles to produce smiles or frowns for example. Add to this my own hearing difficulties, a classroom which echoes and the obfuscation of at least half the face and it all makes for some sort of torture. You will appreciate therefore that my move out of the classroom in September to a more flexible continuing role in international coordination, with additional school and community liaison duties seems to me highly attractive!

There can be few individuals, groups, companies, institutions, organisations who or which have not been absorbed by the need to communicate via Teams or Zoom or the like. We may complain about the tiredness we feel after several such meetings in a day, though we would have been much the worse without it. This and other new technologies which have allowed us to connect audio-visually at any time, virtually anywhere across the globe (Antarctica has been a little difficult) have made a whole new world of connectivity. As we have found with our recent “Think Big” consultation meeting to discuss possibilities and opportunities to re-furbish the Church (Sanctuary) afforded by the sale last year of the Old Schoolroom, even those without internet access can still attend a Zoom meeting via a standard telephone. Not quite the same experience of course. The encouragement here was that there were far more members present than we would normally have expected to attend a Congregational Meeting in Church after the service on a Sunday. Our aim here was to inform, engage and involve our membership in the discussions about the future of this Church. For this is a historic opportunity for us to extend our mission in the community by encouraging people of many different backgrounds to share our facilities with us.

Not that this means of communicating is without its shortcomings and pitfalls. There are indeed many and there is no real substitute for social and physical contact, something we have all grown to crave over this past year. However, one can point also to the inadequacies of each form of communication: use and abuse seem to travel together hand-in-hand. Whichever form of communication we select, we need to choose our words carefully so as to avoid misunderstanding, hurt, misinformation, untruths, aware of the possible ramifications of the words we use one to another.

Know words!

“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (Proverbs 18:21).

Our words are powerful. What comes out of our mouth can bring life or death to the person hearing it, meaning they can be encouraged and edified, or insulted, ridiculed or crushed in spirit. And, just like the rock thrown into the water, our words can produce a ripple effect that can affect the lives of many people.

Melissa Fletcher – Fuel for the soul

But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.

1 Corinthians 14:19

For now… know more words!

PR Lambert – April 2021