When learning a new language, we often become more aware of our own. When I was in Ethiopia, a friend asked me to help him learn English. Each time we met, he would have a list of words that he would want me to define and use in context to convey their meaning. He would also include phrases he had heard, like ‘going bananas.’ That’s when I struggled. How do you define and explain ‘going bananas’? I don’t use that phrase very often. Going crazy? Sure, but what does crazy mean? And then I realized, well, I could act it out. 🙂 With this particular phrase, I didn’t act it out, but instead did the best I could in defining it and simply said, “I don’t think that’s a phrase you’ll use very often so don’t stress too much over its meaning.”
Many words in the English language can mean two, or sometimes three, very different things. We often take it for granted that people usually understand which meaning we’re trying to convey. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, like with the phrase ‘going bananas,’ our audience doesn’t know what it means. Usually, the best way to define the word is by putting it in context. But most often, a better way of defining something is acting it out, or better yet, living it out.
Advocate is one such word. Websters dictionary defines advocate as, “to plead in favor of” (verb) and “one that pleads the cause of another” (noun). But how do we fully convey the meaning of the word advocate in both cases? We could use it in context or, to infuse the word with more holistic and nuanced meaning, we could live it out.
As Christians we are called to both advocate (verb) and be advocates (noun). Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” This passage is a call to live out the full meaning of advocate. It is a call to be and to do. And, just like when teaching words to non-native English speakers, when we live out its meaning we generate understanding among others. With that understanding, hopefully, they will also begin to live it out.
There are many ways to live out the meaning of advocate. Simply speak up at your church for those with disabilities, highlighting ways to address them: sound systems for the hard-of-hearing; ramps and elevators for those in wheel chairs; braille for the blind; large print hymnals and bulletins for those struggling with poor eye sight (good resources can be found here). Assist neighbors with their tax returns. Speak out for refugees and immigrants struggling through a broken immigration system. Sign pledges and petitions on behalf of foreign aid. Send letters to government officials and representatives, asking them to protect the poor and vulnerable. By living out the meaning of advocate, we live out the call to love “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Through that love, others will understand the full meaning of advocate.