“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)
According to intercultural communication expert Galina Elizarova, with English, everything is articulated in a logical way. The English speaker is straightforward and seeks to get the message out in the shortest distance, especially if he or she is an American.
Elizarova notes how lawyer-oriented we are, with all our details and interpretations. Everything has to be spelled out.
Conversely, she explains that Russian, her native tongue is expressed quite differently. Whereas an American textbook teacher’s manual will tell a teacher,for example: “Have the students write a dialogue. Put them into pairs”, a Russian would consider that quite silly.”Why”, a Russian might respond,”of course you put them into pairs. It’s a dialogue.”
While the Americanl communication is more of a straight line, the Russian counterpart is illustrated by more of a broken line. Some things are articulated and some things are implied. The context is relied on to interpret the message.
Before I get on my high horse and criticize the Russian communication methods, I need to heed Elizarova. She notes that Russians believe there way of communicating to be world-class, and cites as evidence the great literature of authors such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
Elizarova says that someone who is not aware of the Russian language may hear a discussion and think it is “like a hell. What are they talking about and how do they manage to understand one another?”.
She cites an example of a terrible miscommunication between an American exchange student and her Russian host mother. It was an episode which left the Russian lady feeling very betrayed and the exchange student, who considered herself quite “Russian”, very confused.
The host mother got sick with a very bad flu. The American girl, age 22, came to the door of her room and asked her if she could go to the disco.
The Russian woman’s reply in her language from her sickbed was,”You may if you can.” The American girl processed this through her grid, which came out with: “ ‘You may’=’I have permission’; ‘if you can’=’I am not sick, so I am able to go’.” Off to the disco she went.
The American girl from her point of view was being very responsible at her age even asking for permission. The Russian woman was really saying,”You can’t go because I am sick and I may need some help, like water or something.”
She expected the American to get the context. The Russian host Mom expected the girl to be mature enough to decipher and decode the message she was sending from between the sheets with a high fever.
I sometimes feel these days that I too am expected to try and decode what God is trying to tell me. However, there is no Star Trek communicator or Google Translate website that will unravel His message.
A friend just posed this joke which applies on his Facebook wall:
For spiritual math nerds:
Jesus was teaching his disciples and said,”The kingdom of heaven is like y=2-6 (x squared minus 6). One of them leans over to his buddy and asks,”What´’s that all about?” The other disciple answered,”Oh, He’s just teaching in parabolas again.
Given that I hated geometry in school, and any kind of math for that matter, you can see through this bit of humor my frustration with God’s communication. However, I know Him well enough I believe to think that He does want me to know His message. God is not in the business of making the finding of His will like some kind of shell game where I have to guess where the object is.
It’s not His fault I find His communication so cloudy. As Richard Niebuhr noted in his work “Christ and Culture”, Jesus is not a part of culture or even “above” culture. He is transcendent. Jesus is in no way subject to or related to our culture; He transforms it.
God’s made his transcendence clear through the prophet Isaiah. He said that His way of thinking and His way of doing things were not ours –not even close (Isaiah 55:8).
Paul echoed this view of God in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”[ (Romans 11:33,34)
Thus, as a Christian I am faced with a God who seems to be speaking Klingon to me. Although I want to follow Jesus, the communication is so high context (out of this world) that I don’t get it.
Larry Crabb in his book “The Silence of Adam” seems to have an answer to my dark dilemma. Crabb says it is my job, not God’s, if I am to be a manly man, to speak into my darkness.
Unmanly men, says Crabb, walk around asking God,”What should I do?.” As the author notes, these men say,”There has to be a code.”
Nope, there isn’t a code or a decoder. Crabb writes,“God knows what we should do. Surely He will tell us…He is telling us what to do, but it’s not a code. He tells us to be men, love Him and then to do whatever we think best.”
To repeat Crabb: It’s our job to speak into the darkness. If we are followers of Christ and are doing our best to seek Him, Jesus whispers in our ear,”You can do it. Go get ‘em tiger.” Jesus isn’t a micromanager.
The problem, says Crabb, is that there is a second underlying question to the “What should I do?” interrogative. It is,”Do I have what it takes?”
Where we men especially fear to step into the darkness is in our relationships, says Crabb. However, he says we have to do so, giving others freedom, “releasing all efforts to control the outcome.”
This is quite a hard teaching for someone like me, the ultimate control freak. While Jesus isn’t a micromanager, I am. As Crabb says, there are no guarantees, however.
What he says unmanly men do is stick to the comfortable, stay with what they know, and avoid risks. What he calls for is for us men to step into the “mystery of relationship” and yet to avoid lighting our own fires as we do.
I recently had an interaction with a lawyer by Email. I believe this woman was getting very frustrated with me because I was trying to cover all the bases and stay away from any kind of risk, or at least keep it to a minimum. (Maybe I should have been a lawyer!) Only when she assured me on a bunch of counts did I give the go ahead to proceed.
I am in a pretty dark place right now. I have no idea what to do.
Oh, I take that back. I think I know what I should do, but I don’t have the resources and it scares me to death. Like I did with the lawyer, I am trying to cover all eventualities and avoid losing face, or worse.
This is where trusting God in the darkness comes in. I am following Him these days I think to the best of my ability. Oh sure, I have my moments, but generally I am hanging on to His every word (although, like I said above, I think I need a decoder).
In my current midnight hour (and I ask, when will the dawn ever come?) I don’t have much choice. Yet, I am hoping I end up like Howard Schulz, who was given this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe when he began to turn Starbucks around after the recession a few years ago:
“When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
“Nice words”, the skeptic in me says. But there is no need for cynicism if the same communication is penned by God.
Even if I don’t decode the message right and the tide sweeps me away(again, there are no guarantees), God is still trustworthy, hey. I am made in His image.
I am His son. He has delegated a whole heckuva lot to me. My word to myself is, “Run with it.”