faith as language learning

I’ve often been frustrated at my inability to speak conversational Spanish, despite four years of it in high school and a minor in it in college.  Everyone always tells me, “Steve, you just need that immersion experience in a Spanish-speaking country, ya know?”

I recently heard about the Transnational College of Lex, a fascinating community created in Tokyo in 1984 to research the unique relationships between human beings and languages. Based on initial and ongoing study, LEX Language Project Clubs, where individuals and families are immersed in a community where several languages are spoken at once, were formed. No books. No grammar lessons. No teachers. No tests. Just people interacting and learning naturally. Based on their success in bringing people together in community to learn multiple languages, LEX Language Clubs have popped up in cities all over the world, including Boston. Read this brief description of why the clubs work:

LEX Language Project, organized by LEX America, offers opportunities for multicultural and multilingual exploration to all people.

LEX encourages people to participate with family and friends, because when an entire family gets involved in the LEX language activities, the natural, total immersion environment that is best for acquiring languages is established. Family and community involvement in this program is essential to its success. Only in the richness of human relationships can real learning occur.

Languages are Like Music: Begin by Humming the Tune

At clubs we often say, “sing the sounds.” This is more than just a metaphor. At first we try to sing the big wave of language, the rhythm and melody which constitute the “Chinese-ness” of Chinese, or the “French-ness” of French.

Babies love music. At LEX gatherings, even babies who can’t walk yet will sway to the sounds of a song. Infants don’t learn their native language by breaking the language down into little pieces of grammar and vocabulary or by looking in a dictionary, thus children or adults do not need to learn other languages that way.

Without understanding the meaning of another language, people can begin to speak all the words, as if in a song. There are no mistakes, only exploration. If one does not even know where the separations between words are, the “past tense” or “plural form” or “articles” are all hidden inside of the whole, and it is impossible to be confused by them.

As my friend was telling me about this, I began to think about faith. I wonder if faith formation is more like learning a language through immersion and relationship than learning by being taught, mastering the do’s and don’ts of grammar, taking tests, reading books, etc. I began to think about the traditional ways that people of faith pass it on — studies, lectures, book and Scripture assignments, etc. Many faith traditions place a premium on the mastery of propositional truths and proofs, and these virtues shine through in the dominate methods of proselytizing.

There seems to be a renewed emphasis, however, on faith as a way of life. For Christians, we believe the way of Jesus is the very best way to experience abundant “life before death.” We believe we have been saved into a way of life that reflects — though imperfectly — our original humanity and goodness. We are learning how to be human again, how to reflect the glory of our Creator.

In this way, faith formation is a lot like learning a language. I dream of a world in which vibrant communities of faith popped up all over the world with the purpose of creating a space in which to be immersed in the gospel way of life. I dream of faith communities whose “tune” is so beautiful and lifestyle so attractive, outsiders are compelled to begin “humming along.”

We’ve got to stop trying so hard to make people see things our way.

We’ve got to stop forcing the sheet music down people’s throats before they’ve learned to hum along.

We’ve got to start living like communities who have something to say with our lives, and stop talking so much.

Can we do that?

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lynn Holt on February 13, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Well said and inspiring.

    Reply

  2. Posted by allison on February 13, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    I had much rather have fellowship based on doctrinal agreement than feelings and human relationships. I think it is much deeper.

    Reply

  3. Posted by smhjr on February 14, 2008 at 2:32 am

    That’s funny, Allison — I didn’t say a thing about fellowship being based on human feelings or relationships. I am simply saying that faith — the kind of faith that is actually lived out, not just believed in one’s head — is probably formed and rooted most securely in the context of immersion into a community that is practicing that life.

    Reply

  4. Allison,

    you’re being facetious aren’t you???

    Steve,

    what a great post. have you seen the nooma video called “rythm”? it’s very similar to what you’re saying here.

    it seems like you’re talking about a very Celtic approach as well. you know Belong, Behave, Believe. instead of the other way around…

    good stuff bro!
    keep it up…

    Reply

  5. Posted by smhjr on February 14, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Miller – Thanks, man. Here’s the link, by the way, to a good clip from the Nooma video titled “Rhythm.” Thanks for mentioning that … appropriate indeed.

    Reply

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