I was at the Scottish Baptist Assembly last week and had interesting chats with the ladies who were doing the sign language interpretation for the deaf people.
There are over one million people in Scotland with some degree of deafness – 57,000 of those with what is called severe to profound deafness.
There are at least 50,000 people in the UK whose preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL) and perhaps up to 70,000, of which 6,000 live in Scotland. And then, add to this that about 2,000 of these are also challenged with some level of blindness.
I confess this leaves me in a bit of a challenged state as to what to do with this information.
How do I react and respond to it? How do I assess how it may or may not impact my ministry and interaction with different people at varying states in our world and community.
I know in my past that my encounters with some deaf people have not been positive in the sense of being able to make a connection and feeling satisfied that I have done all I can to be a friend to them.
This leaves me a bit troubled at several levels for a variety of reasons.
I just know as I watched these two ladies do the signing it was at times very moving to see the signs and the facial expressions as we sang some of the songs of worship, and even at times to be moved to tears as the out loud words and signing and expressions mixed in my heart and mind.
The one from Edinburgh shared with me some of the challenges of translating from speech to signs of some words that I take for granted.
I wish I could show you the signs she used but sadly that isn’t possible via this avenue.
But I have been preaching through the gospel of John which starts out “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...” and she explained that there are three signs for the word ‘word’ — so which one should she use?
As the theological implications of that ran through my mind, I was a bit taken aback to think of the confusion this could create in a deaf person’s life over one word. And to think that there are, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, over 171,000 word entries, not counting words with more than one meaning. Words like ‘read’ which is past or present tense depending on context.
That leaves me confused when I hear them, let alone think about the signs and meanings of that many words.
Now I think I am coming to understand why Jesus said that our faith had to be like a little child to understand God and the incarnation of Jesus into our world.
Much beyond that and confusion sets in and we get lost in translation. I know even at times Scots and American ‘English’ get lost in translation and the divided by a common language thing happens.
I know I’ve not solved anything and I have raised more questions than answers. But think about just this part of life a wee while.
This is just one disability of many, then digest what other challenges folk face day to day and try to find solutions of how to communicate better than we do, care more than we show and make a difference in each other’s lives.
Give me more time to think on these things,
Rev. Jon Bergen