December 9, 2014

I'm just a few weeks into learning Spanish a second time. Four years of high school Spanish left my memory banks long ago. So, disappointingly, I feel like I’m starting almost at the beginning. I decided to learn Spanish again, or maybe I should say, I was prompted by the Spirit to learn Spanish again while I was attending a gathering for North Carolina clergy within the Church of the Nazarene. Someone asked us clergy, “Who here knows Spanish and can help lead in this part of the service?” I looked around the room, and there was not one person who raised his/her hand. I thought, “This is terrible. Pastors in North Carolina need to know Spanish. How can they say they care for the marginalized in their communities if none of them knew the most prominent non-English language in the state?” Full Stop. Yes, it dawned on me rather quickly that I am a pastor in North Carolina who doesn’t know Spanish. God called out my hypocritical questioning of other pastors, hence, beginning to learn Spanish again.

In the few weeks since I began my lessons, I’ve had three interactions in Durham with people who speak Spanish as their primary (or only) language. The first was with a family with whom I was involved in a car accident. (If you care, it was my fault. I pulled out in front of their car, and thankfully, no one was hurt.) I desperately wished I’d been practicing Spanish for years rather than a week. Fortunately, someone came quickly who could translate for us. The second interaction was with the men who were replacing the roof of my house. It was definitely going to rain the day they began, so I was curious about their plans for several components of the job. (As if I have any construction experience to know whether such questions were important, but I was curious and was interested in the process.) The third interaction was with the pastor from El Buen Pastor at a community event in late October. We attempted to speak about our churches and ministries prior to participating in what is the largest inter-racial community event I’ve attended in Durham, the Durham CAN Assembly. Overall, the “conversation” was full of my half attempts at Spanish followed by remarkable translation/mind reading efforts on the part of the other pastor. 

When it comes to communicating in those Spanish-speaking situations for me, as some of the undergrad students I know are fond of saying, “the struggle is real.” What I struggle with most in these situations is not patience, nor desire to understand, nor even the time it takes to try to think of what I might say.
For me, the real struggle is perfectionism.
Perfectionism
      ... is that sneaky little voice within my head that says, “If you can’t say it correctly, it’s better to say nothing at
          all.”
      ... proclaims that if failure is a viable, potentially likely, possibility, then it is better not to try.  
      ... communicates that proper pronunciation and grammatical structuring are more vital than expressing and
          receiving thoughts and ideas that build connection and community.
      ... speaks quietly, yet straight to the places of my deepest insecurities, and therefore has a deafening quality
          about it.  
      ... unfortunately, has a way of suppressing the desires of community formation and relationship building,
          which are perfectionism’s alternatives in communal settings.

These three interactions I’ve had while learning Spanish taught me that fear of failure and lack of vulnerability are core components of perfectionism for me. These components, in particular, sabotage community and kill connection. This is true when speaking different languages, and it is true when trying to communicate in most any situation.

So back to learning I go. I’m learning to speak Spanish because not to do so would mean that I’m giving up on community and connection for the sake of perfectionism. And while Christian perfection rooted in love of God and neighbor is part of my denominational heritage, perfectionism rooted in fear has no healthy place in the Christian life.

By Bruce Puckett, Director of Community Ministry, Duke Chapel

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