Can’t You Understand Me?

Year B, Pentecost Sunday, Lectionary reading for May 23, 2021: Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost is one of my favourite days of the liturgical year. I can’t help but imagine the excitement of the scene; the joyful chaos of all those people suddenly understanding each other! I have lived in and traveled to many countries, and without exception, the language barrier is the hardest part. I remember buying a bottle of pop in Korea and really wanting a straw, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the right word. Finally, I had it! “Une paille, chusayo!” Except I asked for the straw in French and said please in Korean. Sigh.

I lean towards believing in biblical miracles like this one, but even if you don’t, there is so much power in this story. Fifty days after the resurrection, still struggling to find direction, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples and they can communicate! God removed a tremendous obstacle from the path of their evangelism. They could ask for the straw and say please in the right languages!

Even if the disciples weren’t actually speaking languages from Mesopotamia and Cappadocia and every other nation under heaven, somehow they understood and were understood. Something bridged the difference between the disciples and all the other Jews in Jerusalem. They could communicate and spread the teachings of Jesus and the good news of the resurrection, without the usual barriers.

I look at all the languages of the world as more evidence that God loves diversity. But while diversity makes life beautiful and exciting, sometimes it also makes it messy and difficult. Sadly, many people have a tendency to assume that people who don’t speak English fluently are less intelligent. Immigrants are often judged by how quickly they acquire the language of their new home, and meet with frustration rather than patience when they are learning.

Do we really need to learn multiple languages to understand each other? It would help! But God gave us a universal language; one we were all born with. Kindness, empathy, compassion, patience: even when we speak different languages, these character traits help us understand each other. This lovely book by Karen Katz states toward the end:

All around the world, children want to go to school, to walk in their towns and cities, to play outside, and to share food with their families. They want to do all these things and feel safe. No matter how we say it, we all want peace.

Karen Katz

Even if the disciples didn’t spontaneously start speaking other languages, the Holy Spirit filled them and showed them that all people want the same things, no matter where they are from and what language they speak. The same goes for us. When we slow down and take the time to get to know the people in our communities and around the world, it becomes clear that no matter the language we speak, we all want the same things: faith, hope, love, and peace.

Can You Say Peace? is meant to be read on World Peace Day, September 21, so you might need to adjust how you read the first page, but I hope your little congregants will enjoy this trip around the world! The book teaches 11 different ways to say peace, and lists even more at the end. Maybe people in your ministry will know even more! Even if everyone speaks the same language in your ministry, this book helps remind us all that God’s children around the world may speak differently, look different, and behave differently, but we all want peace.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What language do you speak at home? Do you speak any other languages?
  • Have you even tried to talk to someone who doesn’t speak your language? What was it like?
  • How can you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Have you visited any places where people speak a different language? What was it like?
  • What are some things other than peace that you think every child needs?
  • Choose one word for peace and encourage the children to practice it and see if they can remember it for next week!

Katz, Karen. Can You Say Peace? Square Fish, 2016.

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Stand Up and Say Something!

Year B, Palm/Passion Sunday; Lectionary reading for March 28, 2021

Last week I confessed I buy Peter Reynolds’s books as soon as they are released when I featured a book he illustrated. This week, I’d like to introduce you to a book he both wrote and illustrated, Say Something.

When we hear the word ‘prophet,’ we tend to equate it with fortune telling, and yes, the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures did their fair share of predicting the future. However, their role was far more significant than gazing into a crystal ball and warning the Israelites of calamities to come.

Prophets like Isaiah were more like divinely appointed critics than fortune tellers. Isaiah’s role was to steer Israel’s leaders and the people towards God, and that meant pointing out all the ways in which they had failed to live up to God’s expectations. In this brief passage, Isaiah tells the Israelites that no matter how they might despise and torture him, he will hold fast to God’s message.

Essentially, a prophet is one who challenges those in power and stands up for what they believe is right. Challenging the status quo or speaking truth to power isn’t reserved for ancient men who heard directly from God. The children in our ministries should know that they, too, can speak up when they see injustices in their communities.

Peter Reynolds reminds children (and their families!) that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. This book encourages readers to express their creativity, advocate for peace, and fight injustice. While this book fits well with today’s scripture, you might also set it aside for the next time there are protest marches in your community or on the news, to help the children in your care understand what is happening.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How would you feel if you saw someone bigger and stronger than you do something terrible, like hurting a little kid? What would you do?
  • What are some problems you see in your community?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • What ideas do you have that could improve our community?
  • What would you put on a sign if you could tell the entire world something?

Reynolds, Peter. Say Something. Scholastic Canada, 2019

Friendly reminder that if you click on the book images, you can buy the book through Amazon and I earn a small commission to support the website. Or use your library, that’s great too.