Lost in translation

Last week, I made a joke about the fate of our chocolate Labrador, saying that he was at a farm someplace where I couldn’t visit, instead of just saying that he was probably buried in the ground somewhere near a vet’s office in the NC Piedmont’s. I thought maybe I would take some flack for joking about the death of my beloved dog, or about animal cruelty, *1* etc. But I didn’t think that anyone would miss the joke. 

As usual, I was wrong. 

As I was leaving church that evening I noticed that my mom had posted a very cryptic “interesting,” regarding that post. My mom being a nearly fanatical lover of all animals everywhere, I thought maybe she’d taken objection to some of the relish I now enjoy as a pet free individual, and so I thought I’d call her up to let her state her case. When I asked her about her comment, she said she wanted to know why I’d decided to rewrite history. I was confused, as, to my knowledge, everything I’d written had been mostly *2* in line with history.

“Why did you say you sent Bradford to the farm when you know we had him put down.”

It would seem my mom didn’t get the joke.

When I wrote last weeks post, I debated footnoting that line as a joke, but then thought that, no, sending the dog to the “farm” is a common motif, and to come out and say it was a joke would only be an insult to the few people who love me enough to read this, week in and week out.

I said, “mom, that was a joke, and a fairly common one at that.” But she didn’t get it, *3* didn’t get my joke, and had been confused by my seemingly revisionist history. *4* I assured her that it was, in fact, a joke, and that I felt no guilt or angst over the fate of Bradford whatsoever. 

Still, it got me to thinking. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve relied on my sense of humor to get by. People who know me now find this a little hard to believe, but I was pretty shy as a kid, shy really even into college, always using humor to acclimate myself to whatever crowd I was in. Donnette’s never come out and said it, but I’m pretty sure it was my sense of humor that won her over, mostly because I didn’t really have all that much else to offer. *5* Even as an adult, I still lean on my sense of humor a little too much, and find it incredibly difficult to do anything straightforward, without joking at all. *6* 

My biggest struggle is not letting this habit bleed into my preaching. My sense of humor tends to run along the lines of sarcastic/ self-depreciating, neither of which should have a big place in a sermon. There is, literally, nothing with more severe consequences, than the weekly preaching of God’s Word, and even if I have a hard time taking myself seriously, I recognize the need to take that seriously. *7* There is a time for humor, even in the pulpit, but it can’t come at the expense of truth, and the last thing I’d ever want anyone to take away from one of my sermons was, “man, that guy was snarky.” I preached a new sermon at a church I’ve been to many times in the past, and my biggest critique of it was that it came across a little dry. Which is also not what I want, but on the whole, I think that’s better than trying to give a 20 minute stand-up routine. *8* 

But I’ve been thinking about how all of this will relate to our time in France, and particularly how we interact with the French people. I asked Pete what the French sense of humor was like, and he said, “well, they love Jerry Lewis”, which does not bode well for me. I get nervous trying to translate simple French nouns, how on earth am I ever going to translate a sense of humor? What if they don’t get it? What if they don’t get me?

This is the kind of thing that can keep me up at night.

I don’t really have an answer worked out for this, beyond the generic things I know to be true but still don’t always offer much comfort. I’ve debated putting some old Lewis movies in my Netflix queue, but I’m afraid all that will do is scare me away from ever wanting to put my foot on the continent. Aside from them getting my sense of humor and loving me for it, I think the best I can hope for is that our time in France will force me to be a more serious person, a trait that I should probably start developing along with my language skills before I even get to France. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging along, trying to find the right balance between the two. 

Thank you all for your prayers, they mean so much to us. 



*1* This wasn’t a big concern, as I suspect most of my readers aren’t really a part of the PETA crowd, but still, to quote Chris Rock, “white people love dogs” 

*2* I say mostly, for two reasons. 1. Because I’m drawing from my memory, which, while better than most people’s, still has occasional lapses of recollection, and 2. in the interest of telling a story worth reading, some facts are occasionally omitted or changed in order to move the drama along. 

*3* In fairness to my mom, she is really well read, and it was likely my miscalculation that led to the assumption that everyone would get the joke. When I got home, I asked Donnette if she got my joke, which she had, which then led to us trying to figure out where that joke originated from. We decided that it must have been a part of the pop-culture that came during our childhood, and that explained why neither my mom nor my 18 year old sister had gotten the reference. However, under further scrutiny, even this theory doesn’t really hold up, since Donnette didn’t really watch T.V. as a child, instead being forced to play outdoors most of her young life. 

*4* I suppose revisionist history wouldn’t be completely surprising for me, as I did study the subject at a public university. 

*5* Still don’t. 

*6* It takes me nearly as long to write our monthly newsletter as it does one of these blogs, even though these are probably five times longer, for this very reason. I try to keep our newsletter more straightforward, since it’s purpose is to let people know how they can pray for us, and we get it to them by sending it to their inbox. Even still, every month I struggle with the section where we update what our kids are up to, especially for Oliver, since there isn’t seemingly a big difference between a 4 and 5 month old. 

*7* I don’t want to overstate my own importance, or even worse, sound self-important, because that’s actually the opposite of what I’m talking about here. 

*8* I think that this is compounded by the fact that evangelical Christians are, generally, not on the cutting edge of anything, and this includes humor. I recently attended a service where the guy worked really hard to be funny, and would have been really modern and up-to-date, in 1995. I think he actually said “you go girl.” At least he didn’t have a goatee…

One thought on “Lost in translation

  1. Hey, Chris!

    No worries. French people love you if you aren’t afraid to be YOU. Obviously we don’t go out of our way to be obnoxious Americans, but I’m someone who laughs a lot. Definitely more than French people do, and sometimes too much. In teaching English, I’ve had to be careful not to laugh at the sometimes VERY funny mistakes people can make. But I DO laugh at the jokes they make, and we have some VERY fun times in English class. So yes, I laugh a lot, and I was thrilled when I started making plays on words in French and people would get it and laugh with me. So, don’t be afraid to be yourself. One of the comments I got on arriving in France and doing my internships in several churches was, “Whatever you do, Stephanie, don’t change.”

    If this doesn’t work, buy a dog. Complete strangers will talk to you because the French LOVE dogs. So either way, you should be good. ;-D

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