Lost in translation

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Sweetie and I drove to DFW to retrieve favorite daughter and son-in-law from their three weeks in India. Since then they have been either telling amazing stories from their journey or sleeping and trying to recover from their journey.

Life, theoretically, gets back to normal for them Tuesday when they are home and returning to work. I’m not sure “normal” is a word that could ever be used concerning anyone in our family. We tend not to do or be normal. Maybe it is because the Lord has allowed us the opportunity for enough life-changing experiences that we are really not looking for normal. Just a thought.

Some of the more humorous parts of their trip had to do with visiting their Indian “family” for whom English is not the primary language. Some phrases go through interesting transitions in the translation process.

For example, they were happy to see that my daughter had gotten “fat” since they saw her four years ago. Now this “fat” girl weighs about as much as one of my legs, but they were really just commenting on how good she looks. For them, the word “fat” is not insulting or judgmental. It is a description of size. Instead of saying, “What size does he wear?” they say, “How fat is he?”

They also told my son-in-law that if he would “just keep his mouth shut” people would think he was a local. What they meant by that was that he looked enough like the local Punjabi men that people would rattle off something to him in the native language and then point at his fair-skinned wife and say “American?” When they figured out that “American” was the only word he understood, they would start speaking English.

As I reflected on these stories and others, I thought about how easily we are insulted in our culture. If someone calls me “fat” or says that I should “just keep my mouth shut,” that person is likely to get removed from my happy list.

On the other hand, if someone tells me I look good and compliments me on something I said (or wrote), this person is obviously an individual of exquisite character, intelligence and judgment.

Here’s the kicker: that dear Punjabi family proved their love and devotion constantly for the entire duration of the visit. Those words were not meant to be, nor were they taken to be, hurtful because the accompanying actions spoke so loudly.

Conversely, the person who flatters us may turn out to be an enemy when character is revealed through action.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Our words may lose something in translation. My prayer is that my actions and attitudes serve as an interpreter of God’s grace and how much our lives matter to Him.

Now it is time for this fat boy to keep his mouth shut until next time.

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association headquartered in Decatur.

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