Translation Tables or Common Ground

One of the struggles anyone will have in moving to a different country will be learning the culture and/or the language.  In our case, learning both is something very hard to do.  I spent a few hours yesterday talking with an American who is moving here next year, and I bet he thinks I’m some type of language fanatic.  The one thing I said over and over was that he would need to guard his first year here JUST to get a basic handle on the language.  The other element we spoke about was the cultural differences between USAmerica and Germany.  Although a very western, post-modern culture, these two countries are VERY different.  At some point, I’ll blog solely about the differences.  Last weekend I was speaking with 3 men who live in Stuttgart, and we were speaking about American expressions like, “That was so good, it’ll make you slap yo’ mama!”  It just doesn’t translate.  When we spoke about Texas, the idea of a “Good ol’ Boy” came up.  I thought I’d done a great job of explaining this one when one of them asked, “So, is Arnold Schwartzenager a ‘good ol’ boy?'”  My saving grace is that the conference presenter used a clip from “Second Hand Lions” where Garth, Hub, & Walter realize the salesman sold them all the same seed, and that they’d be eating corn for the next year.  I was able to lean over to my friend and point to these two old men in overalls eating corn-on-the-cobb that they grew on their farm, and said, “Those are good ol’ boys!”

The next day I received an email from a very close and very wise friend.  He always seems to have the right words at the right time, and was speaking into my frustration getting the Harley road-ready.  And he drove home the point that where my American culture and German language may fail me, the Harley is a “point of translation.”  I’ve been chewing on that, and the implications for life overseas in general.  There is a great temptation to always be transfixed on the differences, and to see the cultural gap as unbridgeable.  But, I think that’s going about things all wrong.  The question should be, “Where are there commonalities that will bridge that gap, and make language and culture a minimal difference (or at least a smaller difference?”  Motorcycles, sports, family, kids, eating, art, the list is endless.  Caryn has been singing in a community choir for the last month.  It’s a group of mostly senior adults who don’t know a lot of English, but they love music and she loves music.  So, they come together in the medium of their interests and bridge the cultural and language gaps with music.

We often quote Paul saying, “I’ve become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)  I know I’ve often used this verse to talk about being places the traditional church hasn’t been, but it’s much bigger than that.  And, even though Paul was a Roman citizen and a Jew among Jews, what does he really mean?  This morning, I’m chewing on the idea that he didn’t let things keep him from his appointed task.  He didn’t balk at cultural or language differences.  Instead, he found the commonalities and plowed ahead.  

Today was the first time I’ve ridden my motorcycle out to have coffee.  It wasn’t just a “ride through the country so the battery doesn’t die” ride.  It wasn’t a ride to the shop because there was a problem, or a ride home from the shop only to be parked.  I rode into town, found a parking place, and was unpacking my stuff when a German man walks up, looks over the motorcycle, looks at me, and, with a smile, says, “Wunderbar!”  Then, he turns and walks off.  For just a moment we connected.  As he walked off, I said, “Danke!” hoping he’d turn around, but he didn’t.  But I guarantee that, had you been standing there with NO knowledge of the German language, you’d have understood, too.  The gap was bridged, and, even for a short moment, we connected using an understood medium, or “translation table,” as my friend called it.

New concept?  Not at all.  For thousands of years, God sought to make Himself understood to humanity.  Although His language was clearly understood, our sin-nature clouded our understanding; a disconnect of cultures perhaps?  But, at just the right time, in just the right way, God made His perfect revelation of Himself in Jesus so that we could say, “Wunderbar!” and connect with the divine. (Gal. 4:4-5)

Instead of living your day today disconnected or discontent, feeling alone or misunderstood, why not follow the model of Christ, the model of Paul, and  strive to bridge some gaps today through commonalities.  You’d be good at it, I promise, if you’d just get out there and give it a try.  There is a world of very diverse people all around you that would benefit greatly from your presence.  Find a commonality and connect with them!