Don't let message get lost in translation

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We live in a time of acronyms. Life has become so complex, so busy, that consciously and with deliberation we abbreviate our language by using strewn-together letters to communicate ideas rather than speak individual words. We are the poorer for this development, but there is, I suspect, no turning back.

Of late, we see this tendency in cell phone texting: LOL (laugh out loud); IDK (I don't know); IDTS (I don't think so); ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing); SMH (shaking my head); HBU (how 'bout you?). Credit is given to my youngest daughter, Rachael, an expert in text-speak, as she teaches her clueless father about how to speak properly via these ubiquitous hand-held devices.

It seems Chris Brown, a singer of some notoriety who has had repeated trouble with law enforcement, has come up with an acronym to promote his latest musical CD: FAME. It means: Forgiving All My Enemies. Clever. It's an idea that Mr. Brown -- a worldly, wealthy and witless celebrity -- almost certainly doesn't know is appropriated directly from Jesus of Nazareth.

At this juncture, may I say it is a great relief that cellphones were not around when the master was walking through Palestine with his disciples. Imagine the Second Person of the Trinity standing at midday with the woman at the well excusing himself from a life-changing conversation because his phone has just beeped. Jesus' fingers fly over the keyboard as he replies, "Peter, I'm rofl. As for not denying that you know me, idts. Love you but I'm smh at you. Later. J."

There has been an explosion in biblical translations and paraphrases during the last 50 years. This is a good thing; it makes Scripture available to new generations and cultures.

Since we communicate differently now, translations need to take seriously the etymological roots in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic while rendering the words into vernacular languages the way we speak them today. But let's not get too colloquial. The other day, part of me -- I will admit -- cringed a little when a high school girl from New Jersey began a prayer by saying, "Hey, God, good to be hangin' with you today." I suppose I'm glad to see a teenager offer a prayer in sincerity, as this young woman almost certainly did, but please.

One of these days someone will get the bright idea to put the Bible into text-speak. That will be something. When the inevitable happens, my only wish will be that the translators be faithful. That means somewhere these letters should be attributed to Jesus: RLYA. Remember, Love You Always. Even on a cell phone keyboard, reduced to an acronym, that's the core of the Gospel.

Truth is truth no matter how condensed you make the language. I'm hitting the "send" button on this column now.


Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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