Religion as Language

“What do you want?” rasps J, 82, a high school alum, when I call at the hospice, not expecting him to come to the phone. I had been emailing him that I was praying for his speedy recovery, that God would not abandon his beloved servant.

“I had to hear your voice,” I exclaim, ecstatic. We had survived war-ravaged Seoul during the mid-1950’s, rooming together. “Hallelujah, praise be to God!”

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself talking like a believer when you know you are not?”

I had to turn down his arm-twisting to make me come and live near him in Washington, D.C., where he was pastor at a Korean mega-church.

“I speak English when speaking to Americans and Korean to Koreans. Christianity is the language of Christians…”

“Infidel! So you equate religion to language.”

“Absolutely. As sacred and inviolable are the grammar and idioms of one, so are the rituals and creed of the other. I intend to learn them perfectly, lest I be spotted as a second language learner.”

“Okay, go on fooling the natives, but in whatever language you may speak a terminal condition is terminal. I won’t last more than a few days, so let’s say goodbye. Hope to see you around, up there.”

“Sure but not on the same floor. You’ll be up on the roof top but me in the basement. Say, are we allowed to bring cell phones and laptops?”

“Ha, ha, you are a native all right. Keep talking…”

“J, J,” I shout, only to be met by the dial tone.

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