Fellowship with Gandalf

A seeker's first encounter with Christianese

A seeker’s first encounter with Christianese

Rohan, suspicious of everything remotely religious, finally agreed to come to church this Sunday.

He knew Sam for six months, out of which he was probably invited to church for the last five months and three weeks. “It will be different”, said Sam, “not like anything you’ve experienced before.” 

Sam was a nice guy, overtly enthusiastic at times, but generally easy to get along with. Rohan liked hanging out with him, but was quite curious to see how different his church would be. Here we see Rohan’s first experience of church.

Sunday finally arrived. Rohan was woken up by alarm clock he could not snooze. It was a call from Sam. “Rise and shine brother Rohan. I’ll pick you up at 9:15 sharp.” “Brother Rohan?” he thought, “When did that happen?”

Once they reached the church hall, Rohan felt like one of those Bollywood heroes of the 80’s, who after many years met all his siblings lost at Kumbh mela. “Brother Rohan, Brother Rohan,” was a bit too dramatic for him. The only thing missing was Nirupa Roy herself.

They then gathered to sing about how all of them (including the ladies) were sons of Abraham. They sang about a ghost who would consume them with fire because they have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Finally they sang about how they were saved by grace. “Grace seems interesting,” Rohan thought – perhaps he could meet her later.

Then a man in a pristine white shirt that matched the color of the flowing white curtains behind him came up on stage and referred to something called the NIV. Rohan thought he looked a bit like Gandalf, and spoke for a good one hour using words Rohan never knew existed in the English langauge. All Rohan got was the fact that God sometimes pranked people with child sacrifice and that we should listen to what Paul says. Rohan thought maybe Paul was somehow related to Grace, as both seemed to be pretty important people.

The man on stage then said they would now be collecting tithe. Rohan immediately connected it to Gandalf’s white shirt and white upholstery all over. “Maybe that’s their secret. Must change from Surf excel to Tide,” he smiled to himself, as he whipped out his wallet and felt compelled to contribute to the maintenance of the purity.

Finally, at the end of the long talk the man on the stage told everyone to stay back and fellowship with one another. “Fellowship with Gandalf”, Rohan thought to himself, as he couldn’t help but realize that he was now part of what felt like a Tolkien cult.

When fellowship time came, Rohan was relieved to find out that all they were doing was hanging out, just like he often did with Sam after work. It didn’t end there. Wave after wave, people, especially the elderly, came up to him and flowed him with questions in this new language. “Are you a believer?” asked one aunty. Rohan looked eagerly, “a believer in what…” as he waited for her to complete her sentence, which she had no intention of doing. Seeing his clueless face, she asked again, “Are you a born-again?” Apart from the fact that the sentence seemed grammatically incorrect, Rohan politely pointed out to Sam and said, “I’m with him.”

The truth was that Rohan was lost. He loved the place. He loved the enthusiasm. He loved the people. He just didn’t get the language. They seem to be doing a lot of things that he was quite familiar with, but used different words. Even Sam spoke differently. That’s what Rohan couldn’t get over. He never called Rohan, “Brother”, in fact he never even heard Sam call his own brother “Brother” at home.

“Why can’t they speak in normal English,” Rohan wondered. He was confused and schemed how he could get out of there as soon as possible. Rohan never came back. He liked Sam during the week because he could understand him.

There are many like Rohan who are lost in translation when they encounter Christianese. They are seeking God but are given directions in a language that they don’t understand. It’s no surprise then that a first century follower of Jesus, named Paul, who wrote a letter to his fellow-followers living in an ancient city in Greece called Corinth said,

If you come together as a congregation and some unbelieving outsiders walk in on you as you’re all praying in tongues, unintelligible to each other and to them, won’t they assume you’ve taken leave of your senses and get out of there as fast as they can? But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you.

– The First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 14, verse 23 to 25, The Bible.

Joshua George

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