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Tuesday, 10 February 2015


We are struggling to learn Russian. Everything about it is so foreign. Other languages we’ve learned have had the familiarity of the alphabet at least, but with this we are back at the drawing board, literally, trying to assimilate symbols which convey sound and meaning. 

Then there is the pronunciation. Apparently you can speak most Russian words with minimal lip movement. Sounds come from the throat and that – well, that is proving nearly impossible for me to mimic. It makes me think of the letters which the Japanese have trouble pronouncing, or the tonal variations in Viet which challenge the native English speaker. We have Norwegian friends who have changed their names because the Scots just can’t say their given names in what would be to them a pleasing manner.

Yet we were all born with the same hardware – the same lips, throats, tongues, voice boxes, teeth – all the things which combine to enable us to communicate verbally. So it must be the matrix in which we are raised which limits our ability to hear and mimic sounds. (Hence the reason to start foreign language training early, before our conditioning inhibits our flexibility.) 

The matrix in which we are raised. 

This has an interesting spiritual application, because as a Christian I would identify the matrix in which we all live as the matrix of sin – the defining characteristic of this fallen world. We are born into and are raised in a culture in which God’s truth and goodness are braided together with ideas which do not originate with God. The two become so entwined that it can be difficult to discern which is which. Black and white may be woven together in such a way that the impression is grey.

Is it any wonder, then, that as we are challenged by Jesus’ standards as set in, say, the sermon on the mount, we struggle to apply them to our own lives? We inhabit a culture in which might is right, and yet Jesus declares that the meek will inherit the earth. It is a foreign language, one which is difficult to get your head around, never mind your actions.

But getting your head round it is crucial to success in life, and is therefore much more important than whether or not I ever speak Russian fluently. So just as I practice the sounds and words of Russian every day, of even more importance is it for me to study the Bible and listen to God every day. 

I don’t want to show up at the pearly gates and find that I can’t understand the language which is spoken.  Do you?

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