Things are not what they seem
She’s an MK from Colombia and a recent Berkeley grad. Born in Kingsburg, she grew up in Medellín where her father has been a Covenant missionary for over 20 years.
He’s a Berkeley graduate student in economics from Montreal and a PK. His father is the pastor of a French-speaking Mennonite Brethren church.
This weekend had more than its fill of things that didn’t fit our usual categories. For those of you not familiar with California, you’ll need a little background.
First, there were a LOT of Swedish settlers in northern California and the Central Valley. Kingsburg, about 10 miles south of Fresno on CA99, was one of the centers of that settlement. The Bay Area was, too. Berkeley Covenant, founded in 1903, was established as a missionary outreach to Swedish speakers. It was Swedish speaking until 1935. Only now, in the first decade of the 21st century, is the last generation of California native speakers of Swedish dying out. The last native speaker at Berkeley Covenant, now in his late 80’s, is from Kingsburg.
Kingsburg is very proud of its Swedish heritage, even piping Swedish music onto the streets of the downtown business district in honor of the centennial of the incorporation of the town. And Swedish symbols are everywhere — even at the MacDonalds.
The motel we stayed in had rooms that looked almost exactly like the medium price range rooms at the Covenant retreat center in northern California, Mission Springs, complete with the horse on every door.Back to the wedding. The whole affair was loaded with stereotype breaking features. The bride looks like a Swede from Kingsburg, tall and blonde. But in reality, because she grew up in Colombia, she’s Latin American. The groom, a Mennonite with a German last name, is French Canadian. Even personally, it seemed a bit odd to me to be attending the wedding of friends both of whose parents are younger than we are, but then the church can be like that. One can have easy cross-generational relationships through participating in various ministries.
All of this belies that fact that the area has a sizable Hispanic population. You hear Spanish everywhere. The local Catholic church has masses in both Spanish and English and plenty of Hispanic bilinguals attend the English masses. On Easter it was SRO at all the masses in an ostensibly Protestant stronghold. (11,000 population, 17 Protestant churches, including two Covenant congregations.) This is not unusual for the Central Valley, where conservative Christianity is strong in both evangelical and Catholic guises. There are even towns, like Escalon, which are reputed to have more churches than bars.
There were unusual things about the service as well. It was jointly celebrated by the respective fathers. It was trilingual — mostly English, but some in French and Spanish. When they came to the part where his father, as the primary celebrant, asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, her father answered that if his mother and father were willing to give him in marriage to their daughter, then he and her mother were willing to give her in marriage to their son.
A murmur rippled across the crowd.
The exchange of vows was unusual, too. His father began by cracking a joke, saying that vows would be exchanged in French and Spanish, and that they realized most of the guests wouldn’t understand one or the other sets of vows. “But,” he quipped, “you’ve heard these many times before, so just remember what they say.” Some muffled chuckles ensued. She said her vows in French, which she speaks fluently, administered by his father. He said his vows in Spanish, which he doesn’t speak, administered by her father.
In the Old Testament, God may have sent His Spirit to act in the world, but it was just seen as a part of Him, like our spirits are part of us. And there were other spirits that were understood to be holy as well, but my understanding of OT culture is too limited for me to go any further.
So in NT era thinking there is no separate category for the Holy Spirit apart from a spirit of holiness and both distinct from a holy spirit. If, by the time of some of the manuscripts, the doctrine of the Trinity had started to gel to the point that some scribes copied in such a way to make some verses distinguish THE Holy Spirit from the other two, that doesn’t solve the problem for us. That’s post hoc and the issue remains. We have three categories where the writers of Scripture had one.
Recognizing the problem doesn’t solve it, unfortunately. It just gives us a way to address it. But it does serve to point up a serious problem floating below the surface in many of our discussions about translation.
The categories of 21st century Euro-American Christianity are NOT those of the NT writers. We make many, many translational — and even doctrinal — mistakes because we fail to recognize that that one very pervasive fact has a much deeper implication:
Words that are legitimate dictionary equivalents often don’t mean the same thing.