When I was in high school one of the language options was Chinese.  I ended up taking it for two years… for no particular reason (other than the fact it sounded better than German or French).  To be honest, I don’t remember most of it.  I do remember that it is the only class I ever fell asleep in while I was in high school.  (To be fair, who has you listen to a boring audio tape right after lunch!)  One thing that is interesting about Chinese is that there are actually two major dialects – Mandarin and Cantonese.  Note: there are many other dialects, but those tend to be the two most common; with literally billions of people, there are bound to be various dialects.

From what I have read, Mandarin is the dialect that has been getting the most notoriety, mainly because it is the language that is being pushed by the Chinese government.  It is also the easier of the two to learn.  Both are tonal languages, meaning tone and inflection are important in speaking the language, but Mandarin has four tones, whereas Cantonese has between six and nine different tones.  Let’s put a pin in this part of the discussion.  Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it.  I know, riveting.

This week, delegates from all over the world descended upon Portland, Oregon for the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church (#UMCGC if you’re interested in checking it out on the Tweeter… er, um, I mean, Twitter).  The main focus, if you listen to the media, of this event is to decide the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality.  Now, of course, there should be much more than that going on, but it’s the only story that you’re going to hear for the most part.

The official stance of the United Methodist Church is that homosexuality is incompatible with the witness of Scripture, and, as a result, “practicing, self-avowed homosexuals” are not to be ordained, and UM churches and pastors are not permitted to participate in same-sex marriages.  Maintaining or changing this stance has been the primary function (so it seems) of General Conference for quite some time.  In fact, it’s an argument that has come up every four years since the inception of the UMC in 1968.

The left claims it is a justice issue.  The right claims it is a matter a faithfulness to the witness of Scripture.  Both are right, and the other is pig-headed in their insistence on maintaining their stance.  In the end, the loudest voice doesn’t necessarily get their way, but the majority voice does.  Then we hit the reset button, and start it all over again.  They are both speaking English, but two very different dialects.

There is Mandarin.  There is Cantonese.  Each one wants to speak their own dialect.  Are they willing to learn the other, and become fluent in both?  I guess that remains to be seen.