Monday, December 11, 2006

Making life too easy?

In my last post, I suggested that

by seeking to simplify the the process by which a reader may come to understand what the Bible says, dynamic-equivalence translator/interpreters impoverish--or, certainly, threaten to impoverish--the understanding, wisdom, and insight of their readers.

And that same impoverishment threatens consumers in many other areas of life.

Or [new thought as I wrote the last line] . . . does it?

That little side comment arose from the following thoughts.

I'll start with the most recent item brought to my attention by a lunch mate this past Thursday.

[Please understand. In what follows, when I quote someone's speech, I am not claiming to make an exact, word-for-word report of what anyone said. I am attempting to create a [dynamic equivalence! :-) ] report of the gist of what the speakers had to say.]

My lunch mate commented that kids these days are being deprived of significant learning opportunities due to the manner in which all major competitive sports--baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and so forth--are fully organized and controlled by adults.

"It used to require quite a bit of pluck and gumption on the part of the kids who wanted to play; and they had to engage in some pretty high-level managerial functions in order to get a game together," said my lunch mate.

Another participant agreed: "When I was growing up, it could take us all morning to make arrangements so we could play a game of baseball. . . . We would all get our own lawnmowers and cut the grass in the field on which we intended to play."

"So where do kids nowadays get the opportunity to develop such managerial skills?" asked the first speaker. "I think we've lost something in our march toward 'efficient' play!"

Then there was another friend who made the following comment in an email:
Chris Tomlin writes Christian songs, and he was recently featured in Time magazine . . . : "According to Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), an organization that licenses music to churches, Tomlin, 34, is the most often sung contemporary artist in U.S. congregations every week. Since glee clubs have fallen out of popularity, that might make Tomlin the most often sung artist anywhere" (Time, November 27, 2006).
My friend commented,
There’s a robust industry of buying music and listening to music, but do people sing outside of church? There has to be music; as the US culture departs from its Christian roots it is also moving away from its singing. Maybe there’s nothing to sing about anymore, except in the (more and more) counter-culture Jesus-focused, Bible-instructed faith communities.
Well, that reminded me, immediately, of a longstanding complaint that I have.

For the last 20 years or so, evangelical churches have been abandoning printed hymnals in favor of overhead projections of the words to songs only.

"Where will future generations learn how to read music?" I have been asking for many years. After all, I have reasoned, I learned how to read music by standing in church Sunday after Sunday and seeing the words with the musical notations. It took me a while to figure out how the visual intervals between notes were supposed to translate into vocal intervals. But that was, indeed, how I learned to read music: by seeing it week after week at church.

And who gets to see music at church anymore?

Well, that reminds me of my experience with my optometrist.

As I mentioned in February, I had known for years that I had problems with my eyesight. And my optometrist knew it, too. And he had some idea of how to fix my problem. But, he said, he was unwilling to take the "easy solution" that was available to us.

"If I were to prescribe prismatic lenses for you," he said, "it would be like putting you on cocaine. You would become addicted to them. And instead of improving your eyesight, over time your eyes would actually become worse!"

Various events conspired to eventually get me into the office of a developmental optometrist who took a very different view.

"Prism glasses," he said, "are adaptive technology. They're like shoes. Shoes make your feet weaker, don't they? I mean, if you had never worn shoes, wouldn't your feet be a lot tougher than they are? . . . So your shoes have actually weakened your feet! . . . But who worries about having weaker feet as a result of wearing shoes? . . . Shoes enable you to do things that you couldn't possibly do without them. You can walk further, go across terrain that is littered with sharp edges, or that is too hot, otherwise, to traverse. You can walk through snow or on ice and not worry about damage to your feet. . . . You can climb mountains you would otherwise be incapable of climbing . . . "

And so it is with glasses. And prismatic glasses. And computers. And calculators. And all the other forms of adaptive technology we enjoy today: automobiles, bicycles, . . .

Every advance in technology offers opportunities for benefits. But it also offers opportunities for decline, for a failure to develop, a failure to rise to the opportunities, once beyond reach, but now made possible if only we will use the new adaptive technologies as a means for advancement rather than an opportunity for greater laziness. . . .

And so, returning once more to the ongoing thread of thoughts about Bible translation: I wonder about dynamic equivalence translations every bit as much as I do about prismatic glasses . . . or any glasses at all: What do we gain--and what do we lose--when we agree to use these adaptive technologies?

Aren't we losing something when we permit ourselves to enjoy even any translation at all? Wouldn't we be far better off if we refused to bow to the pressure of our own laziness (or is it laziness? or is it pressure of time? or . . . what?) that keeps us from learning the languages from which the translations are made?

Wouldn't we all be better off if we learned Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic (for the few chapters of Daniel that come from Aramaic), let alone Latin and German, French, Spanish, and all the other great languages of the world? . . .

Or is there a legitimate reason and call for specialization and division of labor?
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