“Are the Carpenters a Christian group?”

The question jolted me out of my reverie, in which I had been singing out the song “Top of the World” as I enjoyed the red bursts of fall leaves outside the window.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, they talk about ‘creation’ in the song. And is their group name a reference to Jesus?”

I was taken aback. For me, the words “nature” and “creation” are nearly synonymous. I have spent years wandering through the woods with throngs of children in an effort to give them positive experiences in that “creation.” Each time I hear the tip-tapping of a woodpecker begin in the trees, I search desperately for the red tuft of a pileated woodpecker to point out to those children.

“So…do you never hear people refer to nature as creation?”

“Never.”

This was not the first occasion in recent months that I have carefully sifted through my speech for signs of Christian dialect. For the first time in my life, I am living in a portion of the United States that is not entirely steeped in Christian culture (I mean, I have had days off of school that honor more than one religious group). Before I talk about the fall leaves as “beautiful creation,” I need to stop myself and consider if that will make any sense to my audience.

Just this past spring I was at a rehearsal dinner. This wasn’t any old rehearsal dinner, but a full-day extravaganza of practicing worship songs, getting nails painted, and decorating the venue together. By the time dinner came along I had lost the ability to distinguish between the 800th balloon I had inflated and the room around me. Balloons had become my entire world.

As my friend’s mom made the beautiful announcement of a traditional Russian feast, I actually fell down the stairs rushing to get to the food. I called across the room, from my vantage point sprawled on the stairs to ask if my friend’s mom had brought my favorite rice dish. Upon confirming its presence on the buffet, I yelled out, “THIS is my God moment for the day.”

Since that dinner took place in West Michigan, nobody batted an eye at my dramatic pronouncement. But in many other places, I suspect it would have been met with a bit of confusion.

Now I’m not saying that I need to erase this from my speech, any more than the thousands of cultures that coexist in our country should be expected to assimilate away from their own language. I simply think it’s something to be cognizant of: I speak a dialect. That dialect may not always be readily understood by those around me. While Christianity may be a cultural majority in much of the country, it is still merely a majority amongst other cultural minorities.

Making the world a welcoming space for all systems of belief has become increasingly important to me. What better way to share God’s love than to not steamroller them with your own beliefs.

As many a CRC service closes, we are left with the following blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the image of God making his face shine upon me. It makes me think of the warmth of Aslan’s face and the comfort of the sun on a beautiful day. As a result, I have taken to declaring “The Lord has shined his face upon us” when something particularly beautiful happens in my day.

This could be a confusing way to communicate. Or it could make a listener feel the gentle whisper of sunshine.

Whatever the effect, I’m making an effort to be more aware of it.

1 Comment

  1. Gabrielle Eisma

    Susanna, this piece is fantastic! I may just have to adopt your new phrase.

    Reply

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