Jumping to Conclusions: Bad Exercise

It was Friday, July 31, 1987, when I heard the news on Brazilian radio. “A major tornado has hit a provincial capital in southern Canada.” I listened carefully, expecting to hear about Toronto, Ontario which is on the same latitude as South Dakota. Imagine my surprise when the announcer said, “Edmonton, a city in southern Canada, suffered major damage with 20 fatalities.”

Edmonton!? Canada’s northernmost provincial capital? The gateway to the North? With its long cold winters, it’s in southern Canada? Jo and I looked at each other and shook our heads, as much in dismay over the grief caused by the tornado, as over the ignorance of the announcer.

But, later, when I looked at a map of North America, I could understand why the reporter considered Edmonton to be in southern Canada. That’s because it is! It is well over 2,500 km from the northern boundary, and only 500 km from the southern border. It’s not just in the southern 50 percent of Canada, it’s in the southern 15 percent!

Eli‘s Worldview Versus Hannah’s Reality
I thought of this incident when I read the story in 1st Samuel 1, of Eli the priest seeing Hannah, the childless woman, moving her lips but not uttering a sound. He glanced at her and knew he’d seen that behaviour before, in drunks. So he rebuked her for being drunk. Wrong! She was anything but drunk. She was fervently praying for a child.

In his worldview, he saw soundlessly moving lips as evidence of drunkenness. In the reality of Hannah’s worldview, she was praying. In the reporter’s worldview, he saw Edmonton as a provincial capital located in the southern fifth of Canada, while Edmontonians see ourselves as the northernmost outpost of civilization.

People constantly tend to misinterpret actions by others who have a different worldview. It happens between adults and children, immigrants and long-time residents, seniors and college graduates, international travelers and local residents, and between the haves and the have-nots in our society.

Canela Women’s Bare Breasts
One day a cargo truck stopped in the Canela village on its way to a Brazilian town. When the young Brazilian men who were catching a ride on the truck saw all the women were topless, hundreds of them, they immediately assumed they were in a village of sluts and began to behave accordingly. They took pictures of each other draping their arms over the shoulders of half naked Canela women while they grinned lewdly into their friends’ camera. As Brazilians, they came from a hyper-sexed society, like our North American culture, which views breasts as sex objects, while on Canela mothers, breasts were thought of as baby feeding organs.

Happy hunter with sloth. Very good eating! And No, they are NOT a protected species.

Happy hunter with sloth. Very good eating! And No, they are NOT a protected species.

Canela Banking System
When we started our 20 plus years of living among the Canela, it seemed like we were living in a village of beggars since our neighbours kept asking for things from us. It was only after we understood the culture better that we realized they were not beggars, but simply practicing trading on the credit system. For generations they had been without refrigeration, or salt to preserve meat. When a hunter brought home fifty pounds of deer meat, he would have plenty left over after feeding his family. So when neighbours would come and ask for some meat, he would gladly give it, knowing he was building up credit with them, to cash in the next time they had excess food. For generations the Canelas had used this incredible mental debt and credit system. No paper, no IOUs, it was all done on mutual understanding and family memory.

We saw them at first as a village of beggars, but we were wrong, the Canelas were operating a sophisticated banking system where debts and credits generally were kept in balance. American bankers could have learned something from them!

Next time you see someone do something that strikes you as crazy, ask yourself, Is this person of a different age, culture, nationality or nationality? If so, try to understand why that action may be perfectly okay in the other person’s worldview.

When was the last time you jumped to a wrong conclusion and said something that showed up your ignorance?

Don’t Leave them Asking, So What? What Now?

“Welcome to our church, pastor,” the elder said as he shook the hand of the twenty-four year-old, newly graduated pastor. “Preaching is not that hard,” he said encouragingly. “You just sit down and study the Bible passage, then stand up and tell the people what it says.”

That was fifty years ago, and I was that pastor. The advice was excellent since back in those days everyone used the venerable, but difficult to understand, King James Version of the Bible. Explanatory preaching was popular because it was necessary.

The KJV was translated 350 years ago into common English by the very best scholars of the day using a highly respected and accurate Greek text. After centuries of heavy use, however, the English language had changed so much, the Bible sounded archaic and obsolete.

One Sunday I preached from 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” I explained it like this: “Someone is holding back Satan’s evil work on earth. One day God will take that someone away.”

Preachers had to explain that the word let, which now means allow, used to mean hinder, the direct opposite. Only lawyers still used the archaic term without let or hindrance in the fine print to say nothing is to hold back an action.

English grammar and usage like sentence length had also changed during those centuries. In the KJV Ephesians chapter one has a doctrine-packed 214 word sentence. Some linguists say it is grammatically part of the next sentence which would make it a 269 word sentence! Explanations needed!

The New Living Translation is more readable using a dozen sentences averaging twenty-two words which matches the average length in today’s books and magazines. Now that people can read the Bible in the language they are used to hearing and reading every day, my elder’s advice, so relevant fifty years ago, no longer is.

An old African pastor who used to preach from a Bible in the national language had just received a Bible newly translated into his own indigenous language. After reading several pages, he asked worriedly, “But what am I going to preach? When my congregation reads this Bible translation they will understand it clearly. What is there left for me to explain?”

The answer: Don’t explain but apply the Word of God to today’s culture, and the congregation’s current situation. That’s what preaching is supposed to be.

Today an elder advising a young pastor would say “Preaching is hard. You will need to study the passage, think about the people in the story, or the people for whom this passage was written, and ask yourself, ‘What did God want them to learn, or say, or think, or do? What is the basic, ‘good for all times and occasions’ principle? How does this apply to my congregation and me today, in our church, homes, schools, and workplaces? Is there an attitude, or thought pattern, or habit, or belief that we need to change in ourselves? What could I and our congregation do right now to start changing?’”

A congregation that hears the answers to these questions is not going to walk out of church thinking, as many did fifty years ago, “I now understand that passage clearly, but so what? How do I apply it? What now?”