As many of you know, I was raised in the South. My San Diego-native husband tells me that when he met me in high school, I had an endearing North Carolina accent. But after going to college with people from all over the country and living in Delaware, I found that my accent faded. I tended to pick up phrases and patterns of speech from those around me. Of course, one call from my Alabama-native mother, and all bets were off. But about four years ago, my family moved to Long Island with our then two-year-old. Surrounded by Long Islanders, she quickly started pronouncing vowels differently and dropping r’s. I am not sure how much of the dialect I assimilated, but my ears certainly adjusted.
What I came to finally understand about all these dialects is that much more important than the sound of words are the culturally different ways people communicate with one another in different regions of the country. My experience on Long Island was that people were very direct and incisive with their words. Being from the South, this was more of a shock than the dialect. In the South, people are indirect and subtle with their language. Though I was raised to interpret conversations in the South, if I am honest, I found the Long Island way of communicating refreshing. Although I sometimes felt like I was being slapped in the face by the brutal honesty of another person, when I went home, I knew where I stood. That was not always the case in the South. People are almost always polite, but hidden in the politeness are sometimes feeling of resentment or hurt, which cannot be addressed if you do not know how to hear the subtlety.
This Sunday, the Church is celebrating Pentecost. If you remember the story from Acts, those gathered begin speaking in tongues. The miracle was not in the speaking of tongues, but in the understanding of tongues by everyone gathered. Each heard their own language and the message was clearly understood by all. Having recently returned to the South, I find myself wondering in what ways the Church could be speaking more clearly. I am not suggesting that one region of the country has the market on clear speech. What I am suggesting is that as a Church, we are not always great at communicating the power of Christ in our lives. We either get lost in “church speak,” or we try to academically explain matters of the heart, or, out of fear or discomfort, we do not speak at all. As we honor the miracle of the work of the Holy Spirit over two thousand years ago, our invitation at Pentecost is to honor the ways in which the Holy Spirit can continue to enliven the church to speak understandably to a new generation.