Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Language of Faith

Today was the memorial service for our beloved church sexton. At age 74, Jim was indeed the patriarch of a large loving spreading family. He is survived by wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sisters, cousins, and many many friends. Many of this family, who are not regular members of our church, were understandably in attendance at the service.

While our church is blessed to have an ethnic mix that is not characteristics of many churches--Sunday morning service has been described as the most segregated hour in our nation--we are still a predominantly white church. We have African-American members, and we have Korean members, but still the bulk of our membership is white.

Of course, ethnic background and custom dictates a particular kind of language. The cadences of speech change depending on where you worship. You could walk into various houses of worship during customary worship times, and recognize with a fair degree of certainty where you are. We are Presbyterians--sometimes not kindly referred to as "God's frozen chosen." Ours is largely a liturgical worship style. It is rare--though not unheard of--for someone to say AMEN during a service. Or, should I say, for someone to say AMEN when it is not the end of a prayer.

So today, we heard quite a few AMENs.

What strikes me about this observation is that language to some extent shapes how we think about things. King James I of England knew this--so when he became King of England he commissioned a translation of the Bible. Contrary to popular opinion, the original transcription of Scriptures was not in King James English--but so much has the King James English insinuated itself into our English language consciousness that it is hard to think otherwise.

The story of this translation is fascinating, but not the subject here. You can read it in the wonderful book
God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. One of the outstanding features of the King James version is the glorification of kingship. As you read many passages, over and over again, the emphasis is on kingdom, kingship. (Pretty sneaky of KING James, eh?)

As our closing hymn today, we sang that lovely spiritual "Soon, and Very Soon, We are Going to Meet the King." Which, of course, got me to thinking--how interesting that in our country, a democracy without monarchy, we celebrate the concept of monarchy and enshrine in the text of hymns.

The language of faith has many other peculiar iterations than whether or not we honor kingship. I don't intend to explore all of those aspects now, but think about this, for example: The King James version presumes a three-tiered universe--heaven is above, earth in the middle, and hell below. Of course, we know the earth is round.

Oh the examples are too numerous. And I am still savoring the sweetness of a life remembered and celebrated. It is no stretch to believe that Jim, our sexton, has indeed gone to see the King.


Jayne said...

What a great send off for Jim. I am sure he was smiling down upon it all.

Anvilcloud said...

Well, you know the old saying about the KJ: "If it was good enough for the apostle, Paul, it's good enough for me." :)

NCmountainwoman said...

Our church is very diverse and our services seem more Protestant than most Catholic services. We have a special mass in Spanish and on Fridays the Jewish community turns Sacred Heart Catholic Church into their meeting place. (Because of some concerns of placing the Torah under the crucifix, it is housed in the priest's study rather than the sanctuary.) Our church joins our Jewish community in the Seder.

We often sing "Soon and Very Soon" and no one uses the hymnal...our hands are busy clapping. What a great song to send your friend on his way.

The King James version is the ONLY bible for many mountain folks. It is quoted more frequently in our newspaper's "Letters to the editor" than it is in most churches!

Ruth said...

Soon and very soon was sung at the beginning of Michael Jackson's funeral... I wondered at the king reference there. That's a nice rendition on the YouTube clip.

KGMom said...

AC--yup. And there are people who sincerely believe the Bible was originally "given" in English.

Ruth--I noticed that the same spiritual was used at Michael Jackson's funeral. I came upon the choir singing it on YouTube, but I liked this version better. We actually sang it a little faster than this version.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It always distressed me that the church was segregated by race and social class. It was a nut I could never crack.

I was amused once by a lower class young man who came to our church for a while. He told me once that we all dressed so well (dah) In fact, our church was very casual in its dress) He added, "But my mother told me never to judge people by the way they dress?" He was willing a accept us. We were less willing to accept him. Sadly, I officialted at his funeral as he drown. I also officiated at his sister's funeral which was even harder as she was an abuser of her children.

I am glad your friend was celebrated with his two families together, biological and church. I am sure you will always remember him and enjoy the memories.

troutbirder said...

I found you ten leading causes of death very thought provoking. In spite of the fact I don't have a very high opinion of the former governor of Colorado. Most likely though for his views on public education.