My wife and our daughters had an encounter with a street preacher downtown Fort Worth, Texas USA the other night. As they approach him, she said to our eldest, the most outspoken, "Now, just don't engage." And yet the guy was good at his craft. He rattled a mother by accusing her children. "You probably think you're Christians, that you're going to heaven, that you follow Jesus. But you little girls just follow Jesus around like puppy dogs. You're all going to hell." At that, my wife laid into him, telling him he had no idea who her daughters were let alone who Jesus is. They got into an argument about whether he was judging and whether he was, as he was claiming, like Moses in the dessert bringing good news to his people though some died eternally refusing to listen and following idols. And my daughter, the most outspoken, made her public profession of faith as a missile back at the guy: "Isn't 'good news' about love? I'd rather go to Hell than to follow your version of Jesus."
Words are weird. I grew up hearing the words "Tin Lành" in South Vietnam, where my American parents were Southern Baptist missionaries during the war. There was a war for words there too. In Vietnamese the word tin means "news" and lành mean "good." And the phrase "tin lành" means "gospel" or "evangelist" or "Protestant" and actually is the label for a large (not Baptist) Protestant denomination. "Good news," huh?
I've been thinking about these things a lot. Rachel Held Evans has a series of posts on "good news," trying to define it and trying to get others to have a concensus about it while enjoying the diversity of it. Wendy McCaig, similiarly, has a post "Good News?" and a post "What Label Do You Wear?" This makes me want to write a blog post on the Hebrew (and Greek) origins of the phrase Christians and evangelical Christians, even street preachers, have appropriated exclusively for themselves, so concerned about its definition and the Jesus ostensibly so associated with the phrase.
In the mean time, I've appreciated Bob McDonald's thoughts about words and their translation. Look here how he uses the metaphors "guest" and "host" languages! This is a rather non-Western and a particularly Chinese sort of metaphor, if you ask Lydia H. Liu. Look how Bob talks about those who think they are "far from God or Gospel." If I had time to blog more (I don't), I'd say more just how sexist the street preacher was to these women (my wife and my daughters) whom he accosted with his gospel. If I had time, I might also say how sexist I think the words niña and mallorquina are in the sonnet that Willis Barnstone (also a Bible translator) translated rather simply and all-too-benignly as "the pupil" and "the Mallorca whore." I think they mean something like "little girl" and "shiksa slut." Do I know Spanish and English and Yiddish and the author of the sonnet? We all thought the bad words were merely those other ones, didn't we? The excremental ones. But when "good news" hurts women and men and boys and girls, aren't these also bad words? Can't we talk about these words and their translation and our appropriations of them and exclusions by them a little more?