Monday, August 6, 2012

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation…the mess of our message.

I was recently at a workshop where the speakers had some prophetic things to say. They were passionate about their content, solid in their exegesis, and had practice to support their ideas. This is usually a powerful combination for transformative communication. As I observed the presentation I became aware of others in the room that, while appreciating the content, were bristling at some of the language and illustrations that seemed to be completely unaware of the diversity represented in the audience. Our message suffers when what we are saying can’t be heard because of how we are saying it. When we are unaware of our audience and not conscious of gender, ethnicity, or culture our message gets lost in translation.

Gender awareness…
My wife is a professional educator, coach, and trainer. She has lead organizations through visioning processes, mentored teachers, and taught ages six to sixty. One of the presenters, I am sure completely without thinking, in the middle of the workshop referred to her as “sweetheart.” While this seemingly innocent reference may have been accidental, and certainly not meant to be an insult, it conveyed to me that within this trainer women were not at the same level as men. I am fairly certain he would have never called me “honey” (at least I hope not). It is time for us to realize that not all pastors are men, not all pastor’s spouses are women, and that our language betrays our prejudices. What we actually believe comes out in our unguarded comments.

Ethnicity awareness…
I know this may come as a shock for some but there are more churches, and more fast growing churches, led by and attended by people of color than there are Anglo churches. Whenever we communicate as if we are the only people in the room, we silence the voices of those who are on the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God. By the year 2020 Anglos will be in the minority as a combination of declining birthrates and immigration come together to make the once majority population the minority. That being said, whenever we communicate we must take into account the ethnicity of everyone in the community we seek to reach. This means care must be taken in the selection of illustrations and awareness of stereotypes that slip into our language. During the same workshop an illustration was made about English expansion into the Americas. What seemed like opportunity to one group (the English) probably seemed like imperialism and forced domination by the indigenous people. Our message gets lost in translation when we fail to consider the prejudices and assumptions related to ethnicity.

Culture awareness…
By now, balancing gender and ethnicity awareness may seem overwhelming but we also need to consider culture when we communicate. Serving in an upper middle class (UMC) denomination but having been raised in a family with very limited financial resources, I am increasingly aware of a bias toward those with money and opportunity. The language slips becomes “doing for” rather than “doing with.” Consideration of texts like When Helping Hurts provide us language about asset based community development that realizes every culture has different resources to draw upon and that lend themselves to the sharing of the gospel. Our message is lost in translation when it seems to come from the top down rather than from along side as we journey together.

The presenters at the workshop I attended were passionate and committed followers of Christ. I am certain that the presenters were not intentionally dismissive of gender, ethnicity, or culture. It just was not something on their radar. Having been guilty of similar biases and prejudices myself it’s easy to understand how it occurs. After having a rather frank conversation with one of their lead teachers I believe that they will have an increased awareness so that their extremely important message will not be lost in translation.

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