There’s this wonderful regional dialect survey that helps you see where your lingo fits on the American map. It’s a fascinating look at the different ways we have of saying the same thing. In taking the quiz, I learned that some people apparently say “bubbler” for water fountain. I like that — though I don’t see myself using that word. One that I hadn’t heard but plan to add to my vocabulary is “gawk block” — used to describe the traffic jam that develops when people slow down to look at a wreck.
Take a moment and take the test, and see where you fit on the map. Here’s mine; the redder the spot, the more I speak like those folks. The hot spot in the middle of the map is St Louis, which is where we moved right before I turned 11.
In the survey, the first question simply asks: What’s your plural for you? Because, of course, you is both singular and plural, with context the only way to know how many yous there are.
So, we tend to make our own plurals. The quiz tells us there are 8 main ways we do that, including ones I know and use: you guys, you all, and the more Southern y’all. There are ones I don’t think I have ever heard: you lot and yinz. What does that last one even mean? Perhaps it’s a clipped version of the plural my aunt used to say: You’ns.
However we say it, the word “you” cries out to be “pluralized.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the New Testament. Here’s why: an overwhelming majority of the uses of “you” should actually be translated “you all” – or, as Aunt Gladys would say, “you’ns.” In other words, when the NT writers talk about “you,” they are talking to the church family — all the folks who wear the name of Jesus in Corinth (or Galatia or wherever). Which means: The New Testament is not an individual book; it is not first and foremost a manual for individual inspiration.
Now, of course, we can and should read the Bible as a singular “you.” But while we read it alone, we must never do so in isolation; that is to say, we always read it with our brothers and sisters in mind.
Here’s the challenge: we live in a very individualistic culture. How I feel; what I want; what works for me — that’s what we go after. Most of what our culture points us to is: You gotta be you. You have to be true to your-singular-self.
But when we read the Bible through the lens of WE rather than ME, we find that we can only truly find who we are meant to be, in community. It’s not a selfish pursuit of me that gets me where I need to be. It’s surrender to my calling within the wider family of Jesus and the broader purposes of God.
What does that mean? Well, here are some thoughts I have on what it might look like to move from you to you all:
1. The songs we sing. How might it change how we sing, how we worship, how we live if we sang more we than me in our Sunday morning services?
2. The decisions we make. How many people have a real heart-to-heart with at least one wise mentor when it comes to key decisions in life, such as marriage, career, and where to live? How often do we make such choices based on how we feel, without taking into consideration the wisdom of trusted saints?
3. How we read the Bible. “Personal quiet time” is a tried-and-true devotional practice. It’s also a modern one. Dr. Robert Hull estimates that perhaps only 10% of the original audience could read the letters written by the Apostle Paul. This means they had to listen to it, in community. Personal reading is a gift we have that they didn’t — thanks to literacy and availability. But even our personal times of reading must be shaped and informed by the riches of 2000 years of interpretation, and the conversations that happen in congregations between young and old, male and female, and from people very different from us.
4. How we practice the Bible. As you likely know, the New Testament is full of “one anothers.” Love one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another. There’s even: Submit to one another. It’s great to be loved and encouraged. It’s not always so great to bear burdens or submit. But you can’t be on the giving end, or receiving end, of any of those without another.
It turns out that living the faithful life is less about how I feel in my moments of isolation, and more about what I do in the congregation. In a day when it is easier to avoid others, the New Testament makes it clear: the Jesus life requires that we come to that absolutely essential place — that is, together — where we are formed to be more like our Savior. Where, despite our differences, we learn to walk together in the way of Jesus. Where me becomes a part of we — and you find your place among you all.