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“Get yourself a stack of 3 X 5 cards, and come see me.” Dr. Wright was my favorite college professor, by far. We formed a friendship born in the classroom and developed at the baseball stadium, where I played and he cheered. While he taught and I ran the bases, somehow we became “equals.” So when he asked me to help hone his Spanish speaking skills by conversing with him exclusively in my native language and I gleefully agreed, he sat in motion an event that has molded my life to this day.
The business of cards
I sat in his office as he opened a Webster’s Dictionary and pointed to the word trepidation. Although faintly situated in my brain, its meaning, spelling and proper usage was a mystery to me. So he instructed that I write the word and spell out its meaning on one of the cards and then proceeded to discuss how to properly use it in conversation. He then urged me to put it in my pocket, read it several times and use the word throughout the day, whenever applicable. To that he added a list of thirty words he had carefully chosen and gave them to me to use individually during the following month. After that, “I would be on my own,” meaning that if this learning system was appetizing, then it would be my responsibility to seek out preferred words, “without trepidation” to properly use during daily interactions.
So this unusual ritual became a staple of my junior college life and continued until graduation the following year. In the process, the accumulation of approximately 700 words made a marked difference as to my speaking and writing style and has been directly responsible for whatever success achieved during a lifetime. All because a pudgy professor and an overrated athlete decided to perfect a second tongue for the sake of proper usage. While Spanish is a romantic language, full of passion and gender directed, the one you are reading now has been “neutered” and its most commonly used noun is “time,” something not that critical to Hispanics like myself. Yet being able to correctly speak and write both of these dissimilar tongues has been the deciding force that has allowed me to flourish both here and abroad.
Are Christians expected to be bilingual?
Interesting question, given that after spending three decades in churches of differing denominations and tongues, the idea of Christianity as a “second language” has not hit the radar for me. Shouldn’t we speak in a manner recognizable to fellow Christians and should we not encourage others to learn our “language” much like Dr. Wright did with me eons ago? This does not imply a “Tower of Babel approach” where the goal is to remain autonomous; instead, it would be for us to “speak” in such a way that others are attracted to learn about us and join the Christ fellowship.
So maybe, just maybe, I should get back in the “card business” in order to properly use my tongue for His glory. How about writing on a card today the words civility and respect, add Scripture readings that apply and actually treat everyone around me in that manner pursuant to the Word? Tomorrow it would be truthfulness and honesty. Maybe to be followed by such words as authenticity, humility, edifying speech, being prudent, courage and civility, wise and informed speech, kindness and dignity. And, most of all, not to be just hearers (lookers) of the Word, but doers, which would mean behaving according to the written card. You see, words are not neutral, for they reflect good or evil. We are called to be good and that state must be reflected in our speech. This is a serious card game where there are consequences both for holding and for folding.
A lethal weapon
I must say without trepidation that despite my law enforcement background, the lethal weapon of choice has been the tongue. My words have hurt countless innocent individuals throughout my lifetime and have created barriers in the furtherance of His kingdom. A hard lesson indeed, for we don’t have second chances to create first impressions. Our Savior’s half-brother did not mince words about my plight when he wrote in the book of James Chapter 3, verses 8-10, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of daily poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord the Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Yes, looks like I need to shuffle the cards again.
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