I think I had forgotten the rich creativity and delightful ingenuity found in Caribbean English! In my mostly Caribbean Brooklyn congregation, it was an English-speaking “canal zone.” Panamanian Mildred Stanford (her father had come from Barbados to work when the canal was being built) who had raised magical turns of phrase to an art form.
But it’s the Trinidadians who just can’t stop the carnival of sights and sounds in their everyday speech. “Dog ain’t bark after she ask dat question” (her question, right on point, silenced the room). It was the first phrase I recognized this trip. But there were others:
“He better boil down like bhaji” (bhaji is a kind of spinach— he needs to calm down quickly after being that angry).
“I wasn’t invited to the wedding, so doh invite me to the funeral” (you didn’t need me in good times, so don’t expect me in bad times).
“Every bread have a cheese” (there’s a partner for everyone, no matter how hard that might be to imagine!)
“Dog doh make cat” (children are going to behave like their parents along the lines of ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.’
“Higher monkey climb, more he show he ass” (human’s ridiculousness increases up the social ladder and with the more we think of ourselves).
It was at our closing worship in Georgetown I heard “ain’t no room in church for the unemployed.” Of course, it could just have been a good homiletical exaggeration, a preacher’s tagline. But since it was preached in a rich Jamaican brogue, it also sounded like a West Indianism, as true as it is colorful.
No, I’m not suggesting that those without jobs are unwelcome at Old First! In significant ways our ministry is focused on, and our history has been enriched by, the unemployed.
But I am issuing a challenge: why come to church and pretend at being Christian if you aren’t going to actually undertake the works of salvation?
It’s not the most forgiving, fair or even correct of designations, but sometimes I’ve heard them called “pew sitters,” folks who take up space but never seem to get up and do anything related to church. Are you a pew-sitter or a Gospel-doer? Some might dismiss my challenge as a pastor’s sad attempt to organize more ‘worker bees’ for all that has to get done around church. I shake my head often: there is much more involved in keeping the church going than even the regulars imagine. We do have jobs for you, if your calling is to exercise your faith in ministries in, to, or through the church. (Just ask me and I will help you find your place in ministry: of leadership, or outreach, or fellowship, or support, or teaching or…)
But the majority of our people perform their Christian service extra-murally, beyond the walls of the church. Why? Because church is an apostle-manufacturing machine! And our mission field isn’t the corner of 4th and Race Streets, but the world. We are sent out to speak the words and do the deeds of the Gospel far astream from the church, when and wherever life finds us, where God needs us.
Even as your pastor, I will never know most of what do in the name and memory and discipleship of Christ. And that’s how it should be. I give thanks for the Christian service of this congregation, multiplied over hundreds of times by the people who look to our church for help with their faith and from here begin to see neighbors in need and opportunities to serve.
But there’s still the preacher’s challenge in that commanding Jamaican accent. Even though as your pastor, I am in no position to judge, we each have to ask ourselves — this is one of those between an individual and God questions:
Am I “employed” or “unemployed” vis a vis my faith?
Or maybe I am “under-employed” — settling for part-time work or odd jobs when I could take on much more because God’s waiting on more from me?
Am I working up to my potential? Am I showing — in eagerness, hard work and output — that love you have for Jesus and the love God has for me in Jesus?
Think about it. How often are you coming to church and what are you making with the time you invest here, what are you doing about your faith? Does the rest of your life reflect what you hear, learn, experience in church? How often do you choose words or undertake actions faithfully, that make of your daily life-light an extension of church?
I guess ultimately the question for each of us is “why am I going to church if I am not going to make the most of my faith all the time?”
If your answers disappoint you, take heart, ours is a full-employment God. There is available to you all the work you need. If you don’t understand what I mean, read ‘this Good News parable that Jesus told.’
See you in church,
(I am back this Sunday and new members are joining!)