There's a favourite story of mine about friends who arrived in Vancouver, late at night from New Zealand. They were jetlagged and groggy, arriving at their hotel after a 15 hour flight - with limited tolerance and looking forward to crashing into bed.
They walked up to the front desk of their hotel, with suitcases in tow, and approached the staff concierge:
"Hi, we would like to check in."
"Sure", said the friendly staff member. "What sort of chicken would you like?" promptly pulling out a map. "We have Teriyaki down the road; Sushi two blocks away; and good Chicken Chow Mein about five minutes walk."
My friend looked at him kind of perplexed, but didn't understand the reason for the miscommunication. Her irritation was compounded by the fatigue, and she blurted out in a grump: "NO, we would like to CHICKEN*!"
*(sure, she actually said 'check in' again, but of course didn't think the problem was with her, and so the concierge still thought she said 'chicken' - prompting further confusion).
It's something every New Zealander goes through when overseas...that dreaded accent. For far too long, people didn't think my name was Matt, but rather Mitt, Met, Nick or Net. (Net?! Really?! Is there anyone out there even called Net?)
But then it also happened vice versa. I asked a work colleague in Canada if she was going to the supermarket sometime, because I wanted to add some items to the list. Her reply: "Only if I can get my butt in gear" was spoken so quickly that I thought she had said "Only if I can get my batman gear".
I was dumbfounded. Why did someone need their batman gear to go to the supermarket?! What is a grown up even doing owning batman gear?! Have I just uncovered a dark little secret about her?!
Hilarity ensued after we cleared the air, but before then I was in shock as to what I might have found out about her personal life.
At times it's humourous, other times it's frustrating. Frustrating because you think you're talking the same language, but then you realise there are heaps of barriers to effective communication - and without this you open yourself up for being misheard, mistranslated or misunderstood.
And yet, the more Christians I meet, the more I realise we think we're speaking the same language - and yet we're misunderstanding what the other is actually saying. We're all part of the same body - all performing different functions - and yet if we remain isolated within our denominations or circles of people who think the same as us, then we can easily be blinded by others' communication. How refreshing - and frustrating (!) - it can be to talk to people who are equally passionate about the gospel, yet see it lived out completely differently.
Recently I got involved with a denomination that is completely foreign to me. The way they did things slowly seemed confusing, and it began to grate away at me. It started to cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing God at work in the situation: Where was the sustainability? The discipleship? The hope? I couldn't see any of it because we spoke a different 'language' and I didn't take the time to hear what they were saying. I was like the hotel concierge insisting on helping my friends find the best chicken nearby.
It led me down a dangerous path to thinking that the part of the body I was used to was the better part - rather than just one part of the whole. How sobering, how humbling, how confronting it was to recognise my naivety, my foolishness, my arrogance.
It's hard to recognise until we have stumbled into the thick of it, but I've come to see that we all need to play our own parts in the wider body well - the best with the talents God has given us - but also without discarding or writing off other parts of the same body. After all, the eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you"; or the head cannot say to the feet, "I do not need you."
If you ever find yourself surrounded by people with a completely different theology and it all seems too hard, that's fine - it probably will be at first.
But may we all be given the grace to listen to one another and hear what each other is trying to say. Because when you're super tired and in a foreign land and all you want is a bed to crash in - the last thing you want is someone offering you chicken.
Matt Browning is a story teller and lover of ideas. He is currently setting up a social enterprise for youth unemployment in Rotorua - taking youth who are dropping out of high school or coming out of youth prison, and hiring them full time so that they can get the experience needed to be hired in the future.
Matt Browning's previous articles can be viewed at