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It fascinates me, how much we speak from our own experience, how our vocabulary and quirky hand-me-down sayings are tied inextricably to our nation’s collective culture and memory.

Hands on hips and oozing exasperation, the Canadian missionary stood at the door of the room I shared with two Northern Irish girls and hollered,

“This room looks like a TOR-NAAAY-DO’S hit it!”

We nodded solemnly, unable to safely meet each other’s eyes, holding in our eruption of giggles until she turned and swept out.

It wasn’t just her long drawn out intonation. It wasn’t just that we were teenage girls, away from home and ready to laugh at pretty much anything. It wasn’t even that the poor woman had a never ending list of things she needed to reprimand us for.

It was the fact that all of us, despite having been chastised for messiness countless times by our own parents, had never once had our rooms back home likened to the aftermath of violent freak weather.

No. Our rooms had always looked like bombs had hit them. Never tornadoes.

It said such a lot about our respective countries’ history and geography. Peaceful Canada experienced greater climatic extremes, whereas mild-weathered England and Northern Ireland in the late 20th century knew so much more about bombs.

We just talk about what we know.

Speaking from experience can be a window onto our lives and backgrounds. We give all sorts of intriguing things away by the words we use.

But we speak from our own experience in other ways too. We can have little grace for those who struggle with things that come easily to us. We make assumptions. We don’t think. We have no idea.

We forget that others don’t come from where we do. We overlook how much our often-easy lives have formed us and think everyone should see things our way, say things our way.

In the church and elsewhere, we forget that some of our snap judgments and strong opinions are less “well-thought-through-truths”, more the simple result of our culture, our upbringing and the freedoms we take for granted.

Amidst the richly eccentric language of experience and telling throwaway comments, it’s worth remembering that one person’s “bomb” is another’s “tornado”.


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