By Joe LaGuardia
In the South, it is considered rude to speak over another person. It is polite to listen and yield to your conversational partner. After all, Southerners are known to be humble, mannered folk.
Not so for us Italians. While growing up around a table full of bread, wine, and pasta, I learned that speaking over one another with exuberance was a way of life.
Italians bicker with each other, debate politics, and gossip (just a little) at the dinner table, often, all at the same time.
Our embedded cultures bleed into religious life. Take funerals for example. There is nothing like planning a funeral in the South. Funeral directors around these parts are as close as siblings and as invested in the local church as your favorite deacon.
In the North, planning a funeral is like strong-arming in the Stock Exchange. When we planned my father’s funeral, I wish I could have transported Scot Ward and company up north just so my mother did not have to fight with the director about whether to make the visitation an sixteen hour or eight hour event.
I was not happy.
Yes, Italians are anything but humble, but when it comes to speaking their mind, they are on to something.
On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit filled the earliest disciples with power and charismatic gifts fit for heaven.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”
In other words, a cacophony of voices rose in praise and proclamation to God. A divine wind blew manners out of the windows, and a chorus of different languages erupted like a fight in an Italian household.
“At this sound,” Scripture tells us, “the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (2:6).
Pentecost, like the Italians, teaches us that we have lost the ability to talk to one another. I don’t mean to say we’ve lost the ability to be rude, but to say exactly what we mean and to mean exactly what we say.
Italians can get overwhelming at times, but they value communication, which generally leads to intimacy, growth, and honesty. You may fight, but you’re still family at the end of the day.
We have removed the power of Pentecost not by only silencing voices in our midst, but by congregating (no pun intended!) around people with whom we agree and share a common language. We forgot how to welcome diversity and talk robustly about things that matter and about which we may disagree.
There is no shortage of topics worth debating at church. Race relations and violence come to mind. We need to be frank about how violence has made its way into faith as if violence is a part of faith.
There is the subject of ecology and policies related to global warming. Did you know that Christians feel differently about these topics, and our theology shapes where we are on matters related to our earth’s future?
How about gun control? Just because some people want to regulate gun control to curb violence does not mean that people want to curb gun ownership, no more than people who value gun ownership want to shoot everyone who gives them a dirty look.
The sanctity of life demands that we assess honestly the protection of all lives that are made in God’s image, whether guilty of heinous crimes or as innocent as doves. Talking out our differences is a start.
On that Pentecost day so long ago, the result of disciples talking together — talking over one another even — resulted in a revival that inspired 3,000 people to accept Christ as Savior. The church has lost something along the way. We, like the Italians, need to engage in conversations that matter.