comprenden or entienden?

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I remember remarking to a friend years ago that I didn’t know how to talk regarding LGBTQ+ issues and concerns. This friend just chuckled and said, “you know how to talk.” But I explained further that I often didn’t understand the various terms, I said things awkwardly, and I feared offending people in my ignorance. Basically, I was afraid to open my mouth.

I wrote in my last post about attending gatherings at the Marin Foundation in Chicago about nine years ago. I remember my first night there like it was yesterday. I had called in advance to get the details of the meeting and specifically asked if I could participate but not be required to talk to share anything. I was assured that I could be “a fly on the wall,” and I drove on over. Each Monday, there was a specific topic chosen to be discussed, and that night’s topic was “Intersex People.” Even if I had thought about talking, this topic stunned me into silence!

I sat, listened, and took notes for 2 hours or more. Then the meeting was dismissed, and I stood up to escape. The female moderator of the group, a young woman in her late twenties, came up and introduced herself as the person on the other end of the phone when I had called. She asked if it would be OK if we talked a few minutes before I left, and then she asked why I had come. Surprisingly to both of us, I cried for the next ten minutes while trying to explain my presence.

I shared that I wanted to understand.

I shared that I worked at a summer camp, and we had had campers “come out” during their stay, and I wanted to be able to lead them well.

I shared that I was beginning to see that my lack of effort toward understanding was unloving.

We talked long after the meeting and ended with her inviting me to dinner.

At the first of many meals together, she shared that she was a lesbian and had come out to the camp director while serving at a Christian summer camp. Shortly after that, she was relieved of her duties and put on a flight home to parents that she had yet to come out to. Our many meetings that year brought some healing to her, as she saw someone from a Christian camping background wanting to love well. It also taught  me how to talk evenly and freely, to learn to use accurate language to express myself, and to listen, listen, and then listen some more.

I’ve never served overseas or in a country that uses a language different from my own. But I have traveled to Korea and China for short stints. I remember being in China, trying to order breakfast where no one spoke English. Even the pictures of the food were confusing to me. And trying to pay for what I’d eaten was laughable. But once my bilingual friends joined me, eating became much simpler.

Language matters.

Language matters on several levels that  are worth teasing out:

First, language matters for clear communication. I want to clearly understand what someone is saying (by knowing their terminology), and I want them to clearly understand what I am saying.

Second, language morphs over time, and I want to speak precisely in the terminology relevant for today's audience.

Finally, my effort in using language well conveys love to people. This is the most compelling reason for me by far.

So let’s walk through the above.

First, I want to be clear and understand others clearly. I volunteer at a local high school and spend a lot of time talking to teens. Playing Uno at lunch often the guys will say, “Miss Susan, that’s so OP.” I assumed that OP meant “on point” (look it up). But after several weeks, the context didn’t seem to match. So I asked the guys if indeed OP meant “on point.” They laughed hard. ”NO, miss! It means ‘over powered.’ You are so funny.”

We had been completely missing each other’s meaning. They use other phrases as well, and now I just immediately ask so that I understand. Several of them are also Mexican, and sometimes they text me in Spanish, but then the very next text is the English translation with a smiley face. They want me to understand, and I want to understand!

It’s the same with sexuality. I often hear Christians complain about the fluidity of language and all the initials associated with LGBTQ+. It takes effort to know what each initial means. It takes effort to understand that using the word “queer” in today’s culture is different than fifteen years ago. In a conversation a few years ago, I used the phrase gender fluidity correctly in a sentence. The young adult that I was talking to literally stopped and stared at me, and then said,

“Thank you for knowing what that means.”

Secondly, and closely connected with the above, I want to use terms appropriate for today’s culture. My kids laugh at me when I slip and use the word “record,” when today the word is “vinyl”. Or if I talk about tapes when I should say CD. There are a myriad of examples in my life, and I’m sure there are in yours. I want the words I speak to be understood today and not expect my listener to know language from fifteen years ago. Words mean things, and I want to know what your words mean.

Lastly, language conveys love. And the attempt to use language correctly goes a longgggg way. Routinely, I sit with Christians and non-Christians that identify with the LGBTQ community in some regard,  and I make language mistakes. Recently, a young woman, that I’ve gotten to know but rarely agree with, texted me. When I say that we rarely agree, I mean that we read the Scriptures related to sexuality very differently. But in spite of that, we have built a relationship because she believes that I love her. And I actually do.

She texted me to ask for my feedback on a blog post she was working on. She wanted to know how it was read by a straight person—did I understand what she was saying?

Days later, she texted again, giving me feedback on a recent blog post I wrote, giving me an idea of how to phrase something differently.  I so appreciated her thoughts on how I could be more inclusive and loving in my wording.

She could have just written me off, saying my wording was insensitive. But I have to believe that because I’ve worked to use language appropriately, she offers grace and wants to help me be understood—even when she doesn’t agree with the bottom line of my post!

So why aren’t we using language better within the evangelical church? I believe there are three main reasons:

1. We perceive ourselves too busy with our own lives to make the effort to learn.

2. We are too lazy to make the effort to learn.

3. We resent that we have to make the effort when we are the “majority.”

I’ve debated discussing the validity of the above claims, but really I just want to leave you pondering where you fall in this discussion. I have a basic terminology sheet that a friend helped me put together that I’d be happy to send to you. You can email me, using the link at the bottom of the page.

You will have to make the effort to send me a note!

Susan Titus