Responsively Yours: Translating United Methodist Women
- Audio version, May 2009 (MP3, 8.6MB)
- Cover of Response, May 2009 (PDF, 150K)
- Content of Response, May 2009 (PDF, 94K)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
What a difference from the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost that birthed the church! From the original confusion of languages that divided people from each other, to the differences being no barrier at all as each one heard in their own language.
The followers of Judaism were gathered together to celebrate Pentecost — the day that is 50 days after Passover. They were gathered from all of the then known world in a city that was one of the international commercial crossroads of the day. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
I suggest that these people were not easily amazed. They had seen it all — from religious zealots to military rulers to captains of industry. But, on that day, they were amazed and astonished.
I wonder if communication among people is always amazing. Translating, from my experience to yours, from my language and culture to yours, so that I can share what I have seen and heard in a way that has meaning for you. Of course, the Holy Spirit did not prompt the gathered believers to merely speak slower and louder to reach the traveling folks, or help the listeners understand the speakers’ languages. The Holy Spirit “gave them utterance” to speak each one’s language.
What sort of translation or enculturation would enable us to speak the languages of persons (old and young) who are not yet members of United Methodist Women? What tools, support or inspiration do we need in order to share United Methodist Women with women whose experiences are different from our own, or whose cultures are different from ours? With such guidance, we would be able to share the love of Jesus with them and learn about the love of Jesus from them. United Methodist Women could be even more the kind of place where those who are currently strangers are valued for who they are, and might find a relationship of love and forgiveness with God and with others. United Methodist Women could be even more the kind of place where we learn about the love of God from the stranger. What would it take for United Methodist Women to be even more that kind of a place?
Our work in language ministries is this sort of work, of course. Helping persons whose heart-language is not English to find a home and a community in United Methodist Women is part of how we work together to fulfill our Purpose. Our investment in preparation of materials in multiple languages is that kind of work, too. So is our work to communicate on the web and through United Methodist Women’s Online Community.
Theologian Leonard Sweet talks about “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Some of us are definitely digital immigrants. Unlike the speakers empowered by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (I’ve always assumed that the translation was perfect on that day!) some of us may always speak with a digital accent. We may continue to need to translate from the metaphor of the printed page when we talk about electronic communication. And, conversely, some of the digital natives may be uncomfortable with the meeting styles and communication methods that seem most normal to others.
Whatever language or medium threatens to divide and create confusion among God’s people, we know that the Holy Spirit can help us to speak the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ — good news indeed to captives, persons who are blind or lame, and to each of us who stands in need of the grace of God.
The prophecies spoken to the people of Israel are fulfilled — the Spirit has been poured out and the daughters and sons dream, speak and live out the Gospel. The young and the old can and do share good news. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we break down the confusion of Babel in order to offer a new utterance of the Gospel that each can hear in her own tongue.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : June. 03, 2009