When I was a kid in the Catholic church, we would often have “student” priests come and spend time with us in the summer. They were typically from . . . India is the closest I can guess (although I’m quite sure they were from a variety of places, and I just didn’t have enough of an expanded worldview to keep track of where they were really from–but hey, I was ten years old, right?)
My parents and grandparents would complain about these priests, because when they gave the homily, it was too hard to understand what they were saying.
(ah yes. once upon a time, I attended “mass” and had no idea what a thirty-minute (or longer) “sermon” even was . . . )
Several years back, the church I attend had a co-pastor who is a native of Liberia, West Africa. I remember that I was surprised when I heard a friend say that they “could only understand about every third or fourth word that he said”, because I had no problem understanding him myself.
I think . . . that I am a bit “proud” at this point of my ability to understand people with accents . . . which is my own stupid problem, I know. But all self-glorification aside, it occurred to me that the difference in attitude towards “the other”, that person you might need to listen to just a little more carefully in order to “catch” what they say, has a lot to do with tolerance, acceptance, and realizing that not everybody is going to look and sound exactly like YOU.
By saying, “Ugh, I have no idea what that person is saying”, or its equivalent, aren’t we really saying, “Why doesn’t he talk like *I* do?” Because surely OUR way is right . . . (the old, “This is America, SPEAK ENGLISH!” . . . only problem? The United States doesn’t HAVE an “official” language. But that’s an issue for another day . . . )
And I’m not even talking about people who don’t speak English. I am talking about those who, for some people, their English is a struggle to understand because of their “accent”. (And, as any true New Yorker will tell you, “I’m not the one who has an accent, you are!”) And honestly . . . it just takes a little extra effort.
One of the best sermons I have heard at church in the past year was given by a Korean man who is in the US studying at the seminary in town . . . and he was so apologetic about it, so acommodating, even putting the gist of what he was saying on the projector screen for our benefit . . . but it was also an amazing, vulnerable sermon whose message echoed in my mind for days and weeks afterwards . . . so to me, that little bit of extra effort is totally worth making. As with most things, what we gain is greater than what it costs us to do so.