Recently I had my second visit to the Forbidden City of Beijing which I enjoyed even more than my first. On that first visit in 1987, my Chinese friends arranged for an English speaking tour guide who was very helpful. Several times she mentioned the emperor and his cucumbers. Apparently he had quite a taste for cucumbers. Of all the terrific delicacies one can find in China, why cucumbers would be so high on his list was beyond me, but I nodded and kept listening. Then she took us to a lovely building and explained that this was where the emperor kept some of his cucumbers. A whole building, just for cucumbers? What? It took a few minutes before I realized the problem. The emperor’s cucumbers were victims of mispronunciation. Concubines was what our tour guide was trying to say. The emperor wasn’t such an ardent vegetarian after all.
Sometimes when we talk about our religion, we are like the tour guide, using terms and concepts that can really puzzle and confuse those whom we are trying to teach in spite of politely nodding and appearing to understand. Communication gaps from our use of unfamiliar terms (“bearing a testimony” or even “temple marriage” might be examples) or poorly explaining things can leave people with completely wrong impressions. It’s never easy, but taking time to check on what people think we have said can help, as can pondering if the terms we use frequently in our religion convey the same meaning to others.
Note: please keep the comments on topic. Today’s post is not a forum for delving into controversies around plural vegetables of any kind.