Lost in Translation

As a history minor in college, one of my favorite classes was economics.  I was hopeful that some day I’d make enough money to warrant the class’ necessity.  I am still hoping.  I remember the day when our professor told us about advertising campaigns that failed miserably when they were translated into another language.

Electrolux, a Swedish company, tried to market their vacuums in America with the slogan, “Nothing Sucks like Electorlux.”  Pepsi famously botched a Chinese campaign when it’s “Come Alive with Pepsi” translated, “bring your ancestors back to life.”  Clairol tried to market their “Mist Stick” to the Germans not knowing that “Mist” is the German slang for manure.

As a millennial child with boomer parents (I was the unexpected surprise), I am often perplexed by the continual fighting between my millennial siblings in Christ and the Older generations.  My consternation is that we all want the same thing but we’re saying it in a way that doesn’t translate well to the other group’s language.

Given that each group values different parts about Christianity, it’s easy to see how this misunderstanding can happen and also how easily it can be rectified with some definitions.  For instance, I was involved in a ministry at my church and was trying to get pictures of volunteers at various outreaches.  I sent an email asking about hashtags that the church has and even gave my idea about a new hashtag to organize the photos.  It was met with very harsh resistance by an elderly saint in a leadership position.  I was in shock as to why she was so vehemently against my use of hashtags – not my use of the pictures but the hashtags.  I left the meeting feeling very angry, confused, and hurt.  I called my parents and told them about the incident and my mom said, “Honestly, Paul, I see those things on Facebook but I don’t even know what they are.”

“You know the filing cabinets we had in our basement growing up?”  I told her.  “You had folders labeled ‘taxes 1993’, ‘family vacation 1987’, ‘David’s Wedding.’ etc.  Well, a hashtag is just a folder like that, only it’s for digital content… like the pictures you take on your phone.  You can put #Thompsonfamilyvacation2012 on the picture and it puts that picture into a folder.”

“So you mean anyone can put pictures in there if they put that hashtag on it?” she asked.

“Yes.” I replied “and if multiple people are taking pictures of an event, say a ministry related outreach, they can hashtag the photo and all of them will show up in a centralized location with no need to make an e-mail and add attachments.” (My mom hates making attachments)

My mom got it and in that moment I understood that the usefulness of this technology was lost in translation with my older sibling in Christ back at the church.

“Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another” Romans 12:10 NET admonishes.  We often put the burden of honoring on the younger group because, typically, they’re the ones that need to learn but lets not forget that in Christ, we are not Mother/Father but Brother/Sister and honor goes both ways.

My millennial siblings, honor the older generation and learn from them.  Be patient and willing to explain. Try to learn their language and respect the differences you have.

My wizened siblings in Christ, honor the millennials and learn from them.  Do not chide them for what you see as frivolous behavior or stop them from ministering because you don’t understand what they’re doing.  Ask questions of them and continue to ask until you do understand.

You may both be amazed by how similar you really are and how much of our striving is just normal, God honoring work that got lost in translation.

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Paul Thompson

Paul Thompson is a composer, arranger, orchestrator and frequent shower singer. His pieces have been published by many publishing companies and his music is performed all around the world.

As the fifth of five children, he has endured the onslaught of "youngest child" jokes and has blacked out most of the torturous activities his three older brothers and older sister inflicted on him. Now that his siblings have given him 24 niblings and 6 grand-niblings, he delights in buying them all noisy toys and sharing shocking details of their parent's lives with them.

When not writing music for House of El Music, Paul enjoys acting in musicals and plays, cooking, wood working, and going on long walks with his dog, C.K. (named after his favorite super hero, Superman).