It’s morning. It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. All we are thinking about is resting and feasting and watching football, right? So maybe this isn’t the best day to bring this up, but I can’t help it.
We are about to gather around the table with our family and friends, and for many of us, it promises to be a delightful and enjoyable experience. But for some of us, it might be an encounter that gives us stress, and even some trepidation. How do we come together with friends and family who might feel differently than we do about the political transpirings of November?
As we sit around the feasting table, trying to have thankful hearts, I ask—what language will we be speaking?
I see my calling as being somewhat of a translator of the languages around me, and I’ve realized that it’s not just the typical languages we think of that need translating. Yes, my Spanish degree helps me translate from English to Spanish and vice versa. My recent conversion to Catholicism has opened my eyes to the translation work needed between Christians of all stripes—we are using terms that have vastly definitions based on our faith traditions.
And, in a strange turn of fate for those who have known me for a long time—the religious conservative Republican--it seems that I am stuck somewhere in between the necessary translation work of the liberal/conservative divide that strikes fear into the heart of so many of us this holiday season.
I realized on Sunday, after a tension-filled conversation with my parents about the political climate in our nation, that we are trying to talk about very different things using the same terms.
Oppression. Rights. Bigotry. Life. Racism. Respect. Fear. Privilege. Freedom.
The problem is, if we don’t have consistent definitions and a copious amount of grace and patience from God, we will talk past each other. And if that keeps happening, frustration and misunderstanding will only grow, until it will feel impossible to be in relationship with people of good will who disagree with us.
You see—the work of the translator is so important, getting at the meaning rather than just the surface value of the words we use to describe our hopes, fears, concerns, and experiences.
I think about how Jesus is the Word of God, from the Father to us. If I can use linguistic terms, Jesus is translating the love of God into a language we can understand, from the language of the ineffable glory of heaven into flesh and blood—our language, our experience, our definition.
I believe that is what we are called to as Christians—listening, forging relationships, translating the love that God the Father has shown us into a flesh-and-blood reality as we follow Jesus and are led by the Holy Spirit.
So, how can we come to the Thanksgiving table with the heart of a translator?
1. Spend some time in quiet reflection. Mentally and emotionally prepare to be a translator, to enter these days of thanksgiving with the intention to be patient and to translate the love of God I have received on this journey. A good translator recognizes the innate dignity and intelligence of the people she is with. Translation is cultural as much as it is linguistic. Where does my culture clash with that of my loved ones? How can I be cultural sensitive and learn the terms they are using while respecting their experiences?
2. Be prepared to listen. It is easy to want to share your view of things and forget the validity of your companion’s view. Listen first.
3. Respond thoughtfully. Offer your thoughts in words that are translated into your companion’s experiences. Again, remember to maintain an esteem for your companion’s experiences, culture, and language. (These things might drive you crazy, and in fact may be wrong, but patience is key here. And I am definitely not saying that it is easy.)
4. Recognize: there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. When we come to the table as a translator, we must see that some things aren’t yet translatable. That is okay. Building relationships as a translator takes time. Trust must be given and must be earned, and time is our currency. The work of translating isn’t confined to the 10 hours you spend together on Thanksgiving Day.
The work of translation will look differently for all of us. In my family, we have declared a ban on politics for the holiday season this year. We are all still too tender to discuss what is going on in our nation, conservative and liberal culture clashing too frequently and too violently. Instead, we will spend time together in a language that we all speak—the joy of our children, the need for loving our neighbors well and in practical ways, the struggles and successes we have in other areas of our lives. And these cultural and linguistic encounters will weave the fabric for fuller conversations in coming years, I pray. *
Amanda Martinez Beck
P.S. You can read my call to Christians under a Trump presidency here.
*I want to note that this is not my norm. I prefer to go headlong into debates and argue my heart out for justice and righteousness. I am asking the Holy Spirit to lead me with wisdom in this. I will continue to speak out on social media about these things, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with different tensions that must be handled differently while still fighting for justice. If you feel differently, peace to you. May the Lord give you the words to speak that will melt hearts and change minds.