Tu, Vous, and the Gospel

My first Sunday in Toulouse, for the French LSA+, my host family slept in and I couldn’t figure out how to open the front gate to get to church. The button was hidden, and the gate was good and sturdy, about seven feet high, with a lattice overhead so that intruders couldn’t climb over and get in (and I couldn’t climb over and get out). Finally my host mom, still in her nightgown, poked her head out of the front door. “Are you trying to open the gate?” she laughed. She reached around behind a vine and pushed the button.

My host family had warned me the day before: the church met in a not-so-nice neighborhood, pretty poor; mostly immigrants and college students lived there. Sure enough, we got off the metro and walked down run-down streets past a run-down playground, and found the church nestled in a run-down apartment building complex.

We walked in. We were hardly in the door before a young couple said bonjour, and greeted with the traditional French bise, a kiss on the left cheek and a kiss on the right cheek. Not many people in France had greeted me that way. The bise is done among friends. It immediately breaks through social distance. “Where are you from?” they asked. They were from Southeast Asia.

When a white-haired Dutch man came over to greet us, and I asked him, “Comment allez-vous?”, he chided me with a gentle smile.

“Tu!” he said.

Vous is the formal, polite, respectful form, and in any other context I would have been entirely correct. People older than you, especially when you do not know them, are always vous. If for example a high school student calls the teacher tu, it is highly disrespectful. If I had said tu to an adult on the metro, they would have been confused and offended. Tu is intimate, only for family and friends.

“Everyone is tu here,” he told us.

In a city where it is smart to have high walls and strong front gates, it left an impression to be welcomed in so quickly and so warmly by a community that did not know me. Even though I was a stranger, they made it clear that they already saw us as family, because of our shared faith in Christ.

I share this as a little piece of evidence suggesting that Christianity is true. I would argue that there are two primary places to look for evidence for the Christian claim. The first, perhaps the more obvious one, is in history. It is a historically based religion—if it is not historically true, according to the New Testament writers, it is not true at all. Christianity commends itself to serious inquiry and rigorous thinking. The second area to explore, the context in which I take my experience in Toulouse as evidence, is the church, the community of believers built on and rooted in those historical events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Why the church? Because Christianity claims that the cross of Christ, his death in the place of sinful humans, has the power to reconcile broken and rebellious people to a holy, just, and loving God. And it also claims that the same power, the power of God that raised Christ from the dead, is currently—right now—at work in the church, reconciling people to one another through the gospel (Ephesians 2). It claims that people who have truly understood the news of God’s grace in Christ’s death and resurrection will be marked by love (1John 2-4). Christ told his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

I saw a glimpse of the transformative power of the cross in a new way in Toulouse—a small way, but a real one nonetheless. I simply don’t get the opportunity to see how the gospel affects intimate and formal forms of the word “you” in English, because English doesn’t make that distinction. But when the white-haired man told us to call him tu, I saw a new outworking of gospel that breaks down barriers and opens gates: “He [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). If the Christian gospel intrigues you, observe a local church, and see what you find.

Photo credit: krosseel from morguefile.com.

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