“If it's true I live in a world where hope has all but died, and if I really have a living love alive in me,
How am I letting it be known? How am I letting it be seen?
These are the signs, these are the signs of life: the love that proves there is a living faith inside…
These are the signs, these are the signs of life: the compassion and concern that make this world turn…
These are the signs of life!”

-Steven Curtis Chapman

Monday, March 28, 2011

Form And Meaning

Let me tell you about my afternoon. It was just awkward. I was sitting in a room, waiting for my Deaf client to arrive. I am the only non-Spanish speaker in the room. When I first came in, everyone had been pretty quiet, but after a few minutes, someone started telling a joke in Spanish…

At least, I think it was a joke. Judging by facial expressions, loud tones and wild gesturing (not to mention the riotous laughter that followed), I’d say it’s safe to say a joke was being told. For that moment, everyone in the room was united… except for me. I was left out because I didn’t understand the language. I knew a few words here and there, but not enough to make sense of it. I wanted to be involved – I wanted to know what caused everyone to smile, to laugh, to form community for the briefest moment… but I was excluded. I couldn’t understand, because of the form the message came in.

Flash back to a few weeks prior. I was sitting with another group of people. Another joke was being told, complete with the facial expressions, loud tones and wild gesturing, and I didn’t understand a word of it… until a friend interpreted the joke into a language I could understand. I was able to laugh along with them, to smile, to understand the message…

This afternoon when I was excluded, I didn’t think much about it. Maybe no one spoke English in the room; maybe no one could have interpreted for the girl who was CLEARLY confused and left out. But then I heard the woman who was sitting next to me start to speak in English. She had the ability to explain, and didn’t. I really didn’t mind in the slightest, but it did make me start to think: how often do I do that to people? I don’t mean jokes and conversation topics, but in terms of my faith. How often do I throw out phrases and words that are baffling to those outside of the faith, without explaining what I actually mean?

Let me give you an example. Suppose you had no church background and I told you I’d been “cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.” Be honest, you’d think I slaughtered a sheep in my backyard, and you’d probably think I was nuts. Or what if I said I was having my “quiet time” and struggling in “my walk.” Wouldn’t you think I’d taken a nap and was having mobility issues?

Within Christianity, we have a beautiful vocabulary. It’s rich, and weighty and deep… but when those who don’t know Christ hear those words, there must be confusion regarding what I’m talking about. I know there is, because I’ve asked some of my non-Christians friends, and they’ve all admitted to it.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” 1 Peter 3:15

Certain words have rich meaning for me. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – Christ literally dying for me, taking the punishment for my sin and giving me forgiveness in exchange; the way that I’ve been declared right in God’s eyes – not because of me – but because of the obedience of Jesus. Quiet time – a period of time that I’ve set aside to use for praying, reading my Bible, journaling, and engaging God. My walk – my relationship with God. That’s not a perfect explanation, but that is how I described it last week to the fourteen year old I mentor. (Oh, and am I the only one who hates the term "quiet time"? It sounds like a punishment, or something...)

Think of it like this: as a sign language interpreter, my profession requires that I understand what’s being said in one language, so I can alter the form of the message unto the second language. The message (the point of whatever was said) doesn’t change; only the form is altered. The message the Deaf person signs should be exactly the same as the one the hearing person will receive in English.

When I talk about Christ, I strive to be able to take the message, and by CHANGING THE FORM, make myself clear. Jesus related to the people in his culture by telling stories and using every-day examples, like when he told them stories about a woman sweeping her house to find a lost coin, or a guy sowing seeds in his field.

I have to be able to give an answer to everyone who asks me about the hope I have because of Christ. EVERYONE. Those who have a church vocabulary and those who don’t. Those who already have heard about Jesus and those who haven’t. I have to be able to explain who Jesus is to me.

Can you change the form of your words and explain it to others? Are you able to explain Christ without falling back on unclear phrases and clich├ęs? I’m still figuring it out. All I know for sure is that I never want to talk about Christ and let the other person struggle because of the form of my message. I always want to be able to answer questions about the hope I have because of Jesus.

By the blood of the Lamb,*


*I gave an explanation, so I have no problem using it here! :-D


  1. Great point, Casey! Last week, I did my share of translating between English and Spanish. There were a few times when I didn't understand or just plain didn't want to translate (try telling Neal that they just asked if I was his daughter... he's 36; I'm 21). It's so easy to get caught in a conversation without realizing those around you don't understand the language, the jokes, the directions, etc. One thing Neal also told me is that the Holy Spirit interprets for us. It happens that you botch the language, but you can still be understood by the power of the Spirit. I began to pray that before every time I did any translating.

    <>< Katie

  2. Maybe their joke was about YOU and she was saving you!? lol JUST KIDDING!

    But I completely agree! However, its part of our struggle here on earth. We are to be His missionaries here but that means that, yes, we do have to find a way to make sure everyone is fully understanding what we are telling them. It's not easy, but no one ever said it would be! At least you're seeing it now and maybe making steps to fixing what you need to in order to help others grow in Christ!

  3. I just have to say wow!!!!!