Sites of New York

January 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

New York. The City that Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The Melting Pot. The Capitol of the World. The Center of the Universe.

I’ve never been there, but it’s on my bucket list. I want to see first-hand the diversity, the culture, and the people.

Until then, I’ve got the Internet.

Most of you have heard of Humans of New York, the wildly popular photoblog and book created by Brandon Stanton. It’s a captivating collection of portraits and stories. In the video below, Stanton talks about the appeal of his work:

I think, you know, we walk down the street and we see all these people and we kind of wonder about their stories, the celebrations and the victories, and that’s what people are engaging with.

Humans of New York got me thinking. What other of-New-Yorks are there out there?

Here’s what I came up with:

Voices of New York (CUNY)
“The best journalistic work being produced by scores of community and ethnic publications,” curated by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. It currently is featuring such stories as “Diversity in Korean Language Schools,” “Remembering the Earthquake in Haiti,” and “Guyanese Artist Tells an Immigrant’s Story.”

Voices of New York (NYU)
This site, from New York University, is an archive of findings from the Fall 2001 students of the class The Language of America’s Ethnic Minorities. It’s a look at how distinct language groups in New York are being maintained or being lost. From “The Irish,” here are Nicole Feder and Chiene Joy Jones:

Coming off the train in Woodside, we had all kinds of fixed notions of what a typical Irish person would look like and how they would act. While sitting in the subway car Chiene turned to Nicole and said, “I bet he’s Irish, lets ask him if he is going to Woodside.” We played into those stereotypes of pale skin, reddish hair, light eyes, and drinking all the time. Feeling ridiculous for making such speculations, we decided not to ask and eventually reached our destination. While in Woodside we met several people fitting into various categories of the stereotypes. It wasn’t until we walked into an Indian owned Deli that I realized how easy it would be to categorize people. When we asked the owner why he had so many Irish products in his store, he replied, “You should know better than I, you’re Irish. . . .”

The Many Languages of New York City
In 2012, Arun Venugopal of WNYC reported that only 51% of New Yorkers are English-only speakers at home. A graph in the article shows the languages that are spoken. Another set of graphics, from Andy Keirsz at Business Insider last year, shows a map of the most-spoken languages in New York (“Here’s the Most Commonly Spoken Language in Every New York Neighborhood that Isn’t English or Spanish“).

Endangered Languages of New York
The New York based Endangered Language Alliance is “the only organization in the world focused on the immense linguistic diversity of urban areas,” including the 800 spoken in New York, many of which are at risk of extinction.

Bookstores of New York
Last Year cartoonist Bob Eckstein of The New Yorker shared his drawings of his favorite bookstores in the city, along with anecdotes from store keepers. Of Three Lives & Company he writes, “Any time a book is bought, the entire shelf must be reordered, since no books of the same colored spine may be adjacent, lest they appear erroneously as a set.” And just as New York has its endangered languages, so it has its threatened bookstores. “The Endangered Bookstores of New York,” is the title of Eckstein’s followup collection.

Museums of New York
From ny.com, here’s a long, though probably not exhaustive, list of the city’s museums. But if you want THE Museum of New York, you’ll need to go the Museum of the City of New York, where you can see exhibits such as Péter Forgács’ Letters to Afar, an art installation made from home movies filmed by Jewish immigrants who traveled back to Poland in the years preceding the Holocaust.

Loneliness of New York
In a city of 8,336,615 people, you can be “lonely, but never alone.”

Doors of New York
Graphic designer Allan Markan has collected images of doorways in the city and published them in the book Door Jams: Amazing Doors of New York City. You can see samples of his images at his website. They are pretty amazing.

Windows of New York
Another graphic designer, Jose Guizar, has put together his illustrations of windows in the city that have caught his attention. Colorful and creative.

Parades of New York
Here’s a list of NYC parades arranged by month, from MustSeeNewYork. Coming up next on the calendar, The Lunar New Year Parade.

And last, but not least . . .

Streets of New York
I thought this was just a movie, like Gangs of New York, but it’s a pizza, pasta, and sub restaurant. Mmmmmmm. I can already taste those authentic flavors of NYC, located a convenient 2,400 or so miles from Times Square . . . in Arizona and Nevada. (It took me a while to figure out the location. The fact that they serve “the official pizza of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns” was my first clue.)

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Language Learning for a Small World and a Big Introduction

December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

Most commercials make me hit the mute button or click “Skip this Ad.” But some I like so much that I search them out on Youtube for a second, third, and fourth look. Here are two of those.

The first one, from Rosetta Stone Language Learning, begins with this: “Imagine the world if everyone learned just one more language. Imagine the stories we’d share.”

The second one, my favorite of the two, is from the American Heart Association. It opens with the words “Hello, Jack. Hello, Jack. I am your grandfather. I waited so long to meet you”—and ends with a nice surprise. (By the way, from what I can tell, the grandfather is learning his English from a Langenscheidt pocket dictionary.)

Pick a Name, Any Name (Well, Not Any Name)

September 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

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For two years in the late 90s, Peter Hessler taught English in Fuling, China, as part of the Peace Corps. His experiences are the subject of his best-selling River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.

In one passage, he writes about the interesting English names that his students had chosen for themselves, including a girl who was named Keller, after Helen Keller:

This was a common pattern; some of them had taken their names from people they admired, which explained why we had a Barbara (from Barbara Bush), an Armstrong (Neil Armstrong), and an idealistic second-year student called Marx. A few had translated their Chinese names directly—House, Yellow, North. There was one boy whose English name was Lazy. “My name is Lazy,” he said, on the first day of class. “I am very lazy. I do not like to play basketball or football or do many things. My hobbies are sleeping.”

Other names made less sense. There was a Soddy, a Sanlee, a Ker. Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy . . . .

Not all of the “unfortunate” names came from the students themselves. When the students asked for surnames to pair with their English given names, Adam, Hessler’s fellow teacher, gave Nancy the last name Drew. And when Mo asked Hessler for a surname, he became Mo Money.

I have some friends from Taiwan with less than mainstream English names. But who can blame them? Aren’t a lot of American names just a combination of letters, with no real meaning or heritage? And don’t people sometimes take common words and turn them into names for their children? Yes, both are true, but for some reason, some names seem to sound less right than others. Why not Mray? Why not Cabinet?

But who am I to judge? Before I moved to Taipei, I asked a friend from China for a Chinese name. He gave me Ke Lai, based on the sound of Craig. I liked it. And even after my new friends in Taiwan said it wasn’t a great name, I hung on to it, even going so far as to come up with a tortured defense for it. Ke means “overcome” and lai means “come,” so I figured that my name could match up with the first words spoken by the Master in The Analects of Confucius: “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” (overcoming?) and “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (come).

“Okaaaaaay . . . ,” said my my gracious friends, “but maybe it’s not quite right. It doesn’t sound Chinese.”

I didn’t want to give in—it was my name—until I realized that the Chinese for Chrysler is Ke-lai-se-le. I didn’t mind that my name sounded foreign, but sounding like a foreign car company was a little too much.

So how would you help an international friend who’s looking for an English name? Maybe you’d like to point them to the Bible as a good source for names. According to the Social Security Administration, during the first decade of the 2000s, 8 of the top 10 baby-boy names came from the Bible. But the Bible isn’t failsafe. Not every biblical name should be considered a good candidate. Some names have bad backstories (think, Judas and Jezebel), and some just don’t pass the sound test (for example, Shammua and Abishag).

To help out, below is my contribution to the cause. It’s a list of over 170 biblical names that have, over the years, often been used in the US. Following each name is its designation for males or females, its meaning (if it’s known), and some of the more well-known people (or in a few cases, places) in the Bible with that name.

By the way, this list makes up an appendix to Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English. I started in Genesis, and I’ve made it through Revelation, explaining over 150 entries along the way. If you haven’t already, please drop by. You’ll probably be surprised at how often we quote the Bible without even knowing it.

So from Aaron to Zachariah, here we go. (Sorry, Zuriel didn’t quite make the cut.)

Aaron (m), possibly “teacher, lofty, mountain of strength”—Moses’ brother, first high priest

Abigail (f), “father’s joy”—King David’s wife

Abraham (m), “father of a great multitude”—father of the Hebrew people

Adam (m), “earthy, red, human”—the first man

Alexander (m), “defender of man”—member of the Jewish ruling council; man expelled from the church

Amos (m), “carried, burden, weighty”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Amos

Andrew (m), “manly, strong man”—Jesus’ apostle

Anna (f), “grace”—New Testament prophetess

Bartholomew (m), “son of Tolmai”—Jesus’ apostle

Benjamin (m), “son of the right hand”—Jacob’s son

Bethany (f), “house of dates, house of misery”—village east of Jerusalem

Caleb (m), “dog”—one of the Israelite spies sent to bring back a report about Canaan

Candace (f) possibly “one who is contrite”—queen of Ethiopia

Claudia (f) possibly “lame”—follower of Jesus in Rome

Dan (m), “judge, judgment”—son of Jacob

Daniel (m), “judgment of God” —Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Daniel

David (m), “beloved”—king of Israel who wrote many of the Psalms

Deborah (f), “bee”—nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife; prophetess and judge of Israel

Eli (m), “lifting up”—Old Testament high priest

Elisabeth (Elizabeth) (f), “God is her oath”—John the Baptist’s mother

Ethan (m), “enduring, strong”—descendant of Judah; descendant of Levi

Eve (f), possibly “life, giver of life”—first woman

Gabriel (m), “God is my strength, champion of God”—angel

Hannah (f), “grace”—mother of Samuel, the Old Testament prophet

Isaac (m), “laughter”—Abraham’s son

Jacob (m), “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, deceiver“—son of Isaac, father of the Israelites

James (m), “supplanter”—Jesus’ apostle, brother of John; Jesus’ apostle, son of Alphaeus; Jesus’ brother and writer of the Book of James

Jared (m), “descent”—ancestor of Noah

Jason (m), “one who heals”—Thessalonian Christian; Paul’s relative

Jeremiah (m) “raised up by God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (and possibly 1 and 2 Kings); Old Testament priest

Jesse (f/m) possibly “gift, wealthy”—King David’s father

Joel (m), “the Lord is his God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Joel

Joanna (f) “the Lord’s grace”—manager of King Herod’s household and follower of Jesus

John (m), “the Lord’s grace”—”John the Baptist,” prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus and baptized him; Jesus’ apostle and writer of the Gospel of John, Revelation,  and 1, 2, and 3 John; “John Mark,” companion of Paul and Barnabas, writer of the Gospel of Mark

Jonathan (m), “the Lord’s gift”—son of King Saul and friend of David

Jordan (m/f), “descender”—river in Israel

Joseph (m), “increase”—Jacob’s son who was sold as a slave by his brothers and who gained great authority in Egypt; husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother; Jesus’ brother; “Joseph of Arimathea” in whose grave Jesus was buried; one of two Christians presented as possible replacements for Judas as an apostle

Joshua (m), “the Lord saves”—leader of the Israelites after Moses died, writer of the Book of Joshua

Judith (f), “of Judea”—Esau’s wife

Julia (f), “downy, soft hair”—Christian in Rome

Leah (f), possibly “weary”—Jacob’s wife

Lois (f), possibly “better”—grandmother of Timothy, who was Paul’s companion

Luke (m), “light giving”—a physician and Paul’s companion who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts

Lydia (f), possibly “woman of the province of Lydia”—the first European to become a Christian

Mark (Marcus) (m), possibly “polite, shining”—companion of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter and writer of the Gospel of Mark

Martha (f), “lady, bitterness”—sister of Mary and Lazarus

Mary (f), possibly “rebellion”—Jesus’ mother; Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus feet with perfume; “Mary Magdalene,” follower of Jesus who was first to see him after the resurrection

Matthew (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote the Gospel of Matthew

Micah (m), “who is like God?”—Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Micah

Michael (m), “who is like God?”—angel

Miriam (f), possibly “rebellion”—Moses’ sister

Moriah (f)—possibly “chosen by the Lord”—region where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; “Mount Moriah” where Solomon built the temple

Naomi (f), ”lovable, my delight”—mother-in-law of Ruth

Nathan (m), “gift, given”—Old Testament prophet

Nathaniel (Nathanael) (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle

Nicolas (m), “conqueror of the people, victory of the people”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Noah (m), possibly “rest” —man who built the ark and whose family was saved from the flood

Paul (m), “little”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 13 books of the New Testament

Peter (m), “rock, stone”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 1 and 2 Peter

Philip (m), “lover of horses”—Jesus’ apostle; one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Rachel (f), “sheep, ewe”—Jacob’s wife and mother of Joseph and Benjamin

Rebekah (f), possibly “ensnarer”—Isaac’s wife and mother of Jacob and Esau

Ruth (f), possibly “friend”—non-Jewish woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus, subject of Old Testament book named after her

Samuel (m), “heard of God, asked of God”—Old Testament judge and prophet, and possible writer of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel

Sarah (f), “princess”—wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac

Seth (m), “compensation, a substitute”—son of Adam and Eve

Sharon (f), “a plain”—coastal plain in Israel

Simon (m), “he hears, hearing”—original name of Jesus’ apostle Peter; “Simon the Zealot,” Jesus’ apostle; Jesus’ brother; man who carried Jesus’ cross

Stephen (m), “crown”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem, first Christian martyr

Tabitha (f), “gazelle”—Christian woman with a reputation for helping others, she died and Peter brought her back to life

Thomas (m), “twin”—Jesus’ apostle

Timothy (m), “honored by God, honoring God”—companion of Paul, who wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him

Titus (m), “honorable”—companion of Paul, who wrote the Book of Titus to him

Zachariah (Zechariah) (m), “God remembered”—king of Israel; Old Testament prophet; father of John the Baptist

(Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Harper, 2001)

[photo: “This is not my name,” by Jasper Visser, used under a Creative Commons license]

A New Blog: “Putting Words in Our Mouths”

July 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

2250062732_5d9670fba0_zThe Bible has been called the most quoted, most translated, most published, most sold, and most shoplifted book of all time. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of its ideas on Western culture. And, particularly in the translation completed under the direction of King James I of England in 1611, it has had a leading role in shaping the English language and English literature. Alister McGrath, in his book In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, writes,

No other book has so permeated and penetrated the hearts and speech of the English race as has the Bible. . . . The King James Bible, along with the words of William Shakespeare, is regularly singled out as one of the most foundational influences on the development of the modern English language.

I wrote Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English with English learners in mind, to teach them the meanings of commonly used phrases and to familiarize them with the stories and concepts of the Bible. Familiarity with the Bible leads to a better understanding of the art, history, music, politics, and customs of English-speaking peoples. The authors of The Bible Literacy Report II state, “Almost without exception, English professors we surveyed at major American colleges and universities see knowledge of the Bible as a deeply important part of a good education.” The report quotes a professor from Northwestern University who calls the Bible the “most influential text in all of Western culture.”

But this doesn’t mean that all English speakers are aware of or understand the Bible’s influence. In fact, serious English-language students who gain a basic knowledge of the Bible may find themselves ahead of many native speakers.

Today, biblical words and phrases—including idioms—appear in informal conversation, news articles, blogs, television shows, movies, popular songs, and literature. Even the word bible itself has a place in modern English as any “authoritative book on a particular subject.” Bible comes from a Greek word meaning “books.” This is because the Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by at least 40 men over about 1500 years. And on the pages of these books are written many well-known stories, some of which take place on a grand scale or involve huge groups of people—such as Noah and the flood, the 10 plagues of Egypt, and the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land. Therefore, something that is “enourmous or extremely extensive” can be said to be of biblical proportions or on a biblical scale.

I invite you to join me on a journey through the Bible, using common English expressions as our stepping stones.  We’ll start at the best place possible . . . in the beginning.


The format of Putting Words in Our Mouths is simple. Each word or phrase is introduced with its definition and a sample sentence showing how it can be used in conversation. Then an explanation of the word/phrase’s origin follows, along with the biblical passage from which it comes. Where it differs from the more modern translation, I’ve included in brackets the expression in its King James version.

I will be adding expressions as time permits, moving from Genesis to Revelation. You can view all the posts in order by clicking on Browse All Entries in the right-hand column. You can also look for specific topics by using the search field.

(Wachlin, Mary, and Byron R. Johnson, The Bible Literacy Report II: What University Professors Say Incoming Students Need to Know, Bible Literacy Project, 2006)

[photo: “Used Bible,” by Doug 1021, used under a Creative Commons license]

Don’t Know Your Malayalam from your Malay? Try Listening with Your Eyes

June 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

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First, let me introduce you to The Great Language Game. Created by “data scientist” Lars Yencken, this online challenge presents you with a series of audio clips that you try to identify from the list of language names given below each one. The better you do, the further you go, and the lists get longer. It’s a little bit of easy. Of course that’s French and not Mandarin! It’s a little bit of impossible. That’s really the name of a language? And it’s a lot of fun.

Go ahead and give it a try. It doesn’t take long. I’ll wait for you.

I’m thinking I could get a higher score if I could see the people speaking. It would really be great if they were wearing their national dress (think Miss Universe pageant). OK, that’s a bit much, but it might help a little even if I could see just their mouths. Of course, being familiar with the languages at hand is the biggest factor. But it make sense that looking at the way people speak should help us distinguish one language from another. You don’t need to have a PhD to figure that out. Actually, you don’t even have to be in preschool.

Kids See the Darndest Things

Janet Werker, director of the University of British Columbia’s Infant Studies Centre, has long been studying babies’ abilities to recognize different languages. Her research shows that infants as young as seven months old can hear the difference between languages by listening to grammar patterns. Werker was also part of a team, led by one of her students, Whitney Weikum, showing that even-younger babies can see the difference.

The group of researchers showed four-month-olds—from English-speaking households—silent videos of bilingual speakers using English or French or switching between the two. The babies were more interested and watched the videos longer when the speakers alternated languages.

When they tested six-month-old infants, some from monolingual homes and some from English-and-French-speaking homes, the results were the same. But when they showed the videos to eight-month-old babies, only the ones from bilingual homes continued to be able to distinguish the languages.

According to the researchers, this suggests that older “monolingual” babies lose their sensitivity to visual cues in language recognition because they no longer need them. “Bilingual” children, on the other hand, keep their ability longer, because they still need it as they learn two languages.

So if we lose that skill with age, how can those of us getting along in years work on regaining it? Welcome the lip-reading computer.

And Computers See Even More

If I had a computer that could read lips, I’d just sit back and watch it in awe. But five years ago a team of scientists at the University of East Anglia’s School of Computing Sciences couldn’t leave well-enough alone and gave their lip-reading computer the ability to recognize languages. Stephen Cox, one of the team’s leaders, says that their work is “the first scientific confirmation of something we already intuitively suspected—that when people speak different languages, they use different mouth shapes in different sequences.”

The group, using “statistical modeling,” studied the mouth movements of 23 bilingual and trilingual speakers. The result is a technology that can distinguish between a range of languages—from the similar to the widely different—including English, French, German, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian, Polish, and Russian.

So it seems that with practice, and a little technological help, we should be able to see the difference between spoken languages even if we can’t hear them. Why, we might get to the point where our looking-without-listening skills could rival our ability to listen with our eyes closed.

But We Don’t Need Our Eyes to Hear, Right?

Well, maybe it’s time to revisit The Great Language Game for a reminder of how imprecise our listening skills can be. Or if that isn’t sufficiently humbling, take a look at the following video on the “McGurk Effect.” Also called the “McGurk Illusion,” the phenomenon was discovered by accident as Harry McGurk and his lab assistant, John MacDonald, both of the University of Surrey, were studying how infants develop their perception of speech.

It’s bad enough when you need help to identify languages, but simple, basic letter sounds? I give up.

(Whitney Weikum, et al., “Babies Able to Tell through Visual Cues when Speakers Switch Languages,” ScienceDaily, May 25, 2007; “Lip-Reading Computers Can Detect Different Languages,” University of East Anglia, April 22, 2009;”The McGurk Effect: Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices,” Haskins Laboratories)

[photo: “Hear No Evil,” by McBeths Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

Senior Citizens Teach English, Food Photogs Feed the Hungry, and Coca-Cola Makes a Rainbow

May 28, 2014 § 4 Comments

When teenagers teach senior citizens about the internet, cultures are crossed.

When the two groups use the internet to communicate between countries, the culture crossing is even greater . . . and the results are very cool.

The global advertising agency FCB and the Brazilian English school CNA have teamed up for the Speaking Exchange, a campaign that matches English learners in Brazil to retirement-home residents in the US, using video chat.

The idea is based on the premise “Students want to practice English, and elderly people someone to talk to.” CNA calls it “an exchange in which everyone wins.” Using the Speaking Exchange program, students find seniors looking to talk and begin their interaction with guided topics. They progress to free chatting and their conversation is uploaded to a private YouTube channel where it is evaluated by a teacher.

Currently, the Speaking Exchange is in a trial period, but retirement communities can sign up at the program site to be notified when “official activities” begin.

Brazil’s Speaking Exchange is just one example of the creative campaigns produced by FCB, which operates in 90 counties. Here’s another.

Food Photos: Share and Share Alike

Next time you snap a pic of your Caesar salad, you photo may just get “liked” by Chamissidini from Niger. This Chamissidini isn’t a real girl, instead her profile is one of many, created by UNICEF New Zealand and FCB, to represent needy children in the developing world. When food photos are uploaded to Instagram, they’re liked by the UNICEF profiles. And when the photographers look to see who their new fans are, they’re invited to visit foodphotossavelives.org.nz. There they can purchase meals for the hungry and download Instagram-style images of emergency aid items to share . . . and continue the conversation.

And here’s one more.

The Colors of a Country

To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa last month, FCB Johannesburg helped Coca-Cola create an actual rainbow in the capital’s downtown—a skyline-sized symbol of what Desmond Tutu dubbed “the Rainbow Nation.” “In South Africa I’m a person because of other people.” says one resident. “We call it ubundu.”

The Faith of a Bicycle

April 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

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When we first moved to Taipei, we lived across the street from a park. One day, I was approached by three college-age students who asked me in English, “Do you know Jesus?”

“Yes,” I said.

“OK,” they replied. “But do you really know him?” This was a logical question, because while English has the one word for “know,” Chinese has two. The first would be the one in “I know who he is,” while the second means “I know him personally.”

I had the perfect response. Not only was I a Christian, but I was a missionary . . . and I’d been studying Chinese, too. So, I told them, somewhat smugly, in their language, “Yes, I know him. I’m a . . . bicycle.”

I wish I could say that the Chinese words for missionary and bicycle sound just alike, but they don’t. The first is chuan jiao shi, and the second is jiao ta che. I think I must have learned them on the same day, because they are forever confused in my mind. The young people in the park laughed with me and let me correct myself. “Chinese is hard,” they said. I didn’t argue.

Over the years, that encounter became a symbol to me for the good and bad times in Taiwan: Some days I was a missionary. Some days I was just a bicycle.

Flat Tires and Slipped Chains

In an article published by Christianity Today this month, John Wilson interviews British author Francis Spufford about defending the Christian faith in a post-Christian culture. Spufford talks about a chapter in his latest book, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, that gives a summary of the New Testament:

[T]he reason why I have Yeshua, my de-familiarized Christ, saying, “Far more can be mended than you know,” which I think is actually true to the New Testament, is that I want mending. Not flying free, not transformation, but humble, ordinary, everyday, get-you-back-on-your-feet mending, to be at the center of the Christian story.

When the book was being translated into Dutch, the translator sent me an email: “This word mend, I’ve looked it up in the dictionary, and it seems to be the same word you use for repairing bicycles. You must mean something else.”

I wrote back, “No. No. No. I want the bicycle-repair word.” What I absolutely want is to suggest that before it’s anything else, redemption is God mending the bicycle of our souls; God bringing out the puncture repair kit, re-inflating the tires, taking off the rust, making us roadworthy once more. Not so that we can take flight into ecstasy, but so that we can do the next needful mile of our lives.

We all need that kind of mending from God. I guess being a bicycle isn’t so far from being a Christian—and a missionary—after all.

(John Wilson, “Faith for the Post-Christian Heart: A Conversation with Francis Spufford,” Christianity Today, April 3, 2014)

[photo: “Bicycle,” by Marcella, used under a Creative Commons license]

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