Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kingdom Language

Do you ever wonder what language we'll be speaking on that Day when we are resurrected with the rest of God's people?

In my last blog post I wrote about the tensions and joys of being a Bilingual. Some multilinguals describe their most dominant language as their "heart language". It's an apt description as it expresses the form taken by what most naturally gushes out of one's heart. It's the language you gravitate to when you are angry, or frustrated, or tired, or the language you use to share the most vulnerable part of who you are.

My heart language was Chinese, as it was the only language I knew until the age of 10. At the age of 12, God, in His grace and mercy, took a hold of my heart and has held it ever since. I was a missionary convert. Missionaries came to Taiwan and shared the gospel with me in Taiwan. My first Bible Study and my first Christian community were all based in English, my second language. I was also schooled in English and my worldview began to form in this Christian, English environment. The soil upon which my faith took root was English soil and the water that nourished that young believer was the western context. I could no longer integrate my "heart language" and my Chinese-ness into my new faith and the only way to cope with that was to split my life into two: the old Chinese, unsaved me, and the new, born-again, English-speaking me.

But I understand things now that I could not have understood as a teenager and a new believer. And what I know, is how God had called me to be His child in His Family that stretches across ethnicities, gender, cultures, and language. And that He shaped me in my Chinese mother's womb and gave me a Chinese family to be steward over my formative years. When I became a part of this big Family, I was not to lose my Chinese-ness, but that He had come to make my Chinese-ness even more fully Chinese. Surely this is why when I sing Chinese praise songs my heart feels so full. Because God, in His grace and mercy, took a hold of my heart-language and culture, and affirms it by saying listen. Listen to your Chinese brother, or sister, create these beautiful lyrics so you can worship Me with all of who I've created you to be.

It rocks to be part of God's Big Family.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Being Bilingual

I am bilingual.

Technically I am bi-and-a-half-lingual, because I also comprehend Taiwanese and speak minimally. I'm not really that smart and I'm not especially gifted with languages (trust me, two years of high school French and I can barely count to 10 proves the point). However, various factors and circumstances during my growing up years combined to produce the perfect breeding ground for the bilingual me. Born and raised into a Taiwanese family where Mandarin/Taiwanese were both spoken, I had a solid base of those two languages and learned to read Chinese characters before I started school. Learned English at 10 in total immersion environment in Australia, I made the cutoff age for children's amazing capacity to learn a second language with a native accent. Then I finished the rest of my school years in an English based International school in a Chinese community.

I am blessed, I know this. Being bilingual has given me opportunities and insight into culture and worldview that I would otherwise not have access to. But existing in this privileged exclusive state can sometimes be lonely. Well meaning Chinese acquaintances and friends compliment my Chinese language ability when what I hear them saying is: "your Chinese is really good...for a foreigner." Americans assume, due to my near Native accent, that I am Asian American, which of course neglects my entire growing up years in Taiwan. While most people applaud my chameleon like ability to blend into the culture/language of the group I am with, what they don't see is a pathetic, desperate longing to be "one of them".

Along with the privilege of being bilingual comes choices in all areas of life. What do I do for entertainment? I could turn on the TV and watch Taiwanese variety shows or news, or I could put in an episode of Lost. What do I do as a Mom? I could demand strict authority and Chinese expectations of manners, or I could emphasize having fun as Western Moms would choose. So many of these choices are conscious but I realize much much more are subconscious. At the beginning of my marriage I would sleep-talk in Chinese because that part of who I was stowed away in my subconscious while I dated and married my American husband.

The further along I go in my life journey as a third culture person, the more I am able to integrate these different parts of myself into a whole person. It's sort of like two melodies working to sync into a harmony. When I am in harmony, I thrive in my bilingual/bicultural-ness. I serve in translation, I help others shed light into a culture which is foreign to them, I help bring diversity into my community. And then there are moments of discord, when the harmony sounds more like my actual ability to harmonize: terribly off-key. Those are the moments when I feel the pangs of loneliness, the spiral of confusion that I feel sucked into, and the irrational and immature desire to just be a normal monocultural person.

Okay, now I'm going to switch into my Chinese pragmatic mode and say: "stop thinking so much and go do the dishes."