John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin, but there’s no reason you should have. I didn’t know about them until I decided to introduce a local Native American character into On the Wings of Hope, Book 6 of the Beyond the Blue Horizon series, and so I created Jacob One Hat, a young man who has almost mystical powers as a tracker. I have Jacob use a few words in Menominee, and since I don’t speak the language, I had to research those terms and in doing so, I learned something about Menominee history and culture.
The tribe has occupied land in what is now Wisconsin for 10,000 years, and belongs to the Algonquian language family of North America, which is made up several tribes now located around the Great Lakes, along with many others along the Atlantic coast.
While doing my research, I came across an article on the Indian Country website about a 12-year-old Menominee student who was kept from playing in a basketball game in February of 2012 because she spoke a few words in her native language during class.
The girl, Miranda Washinawatok, attends Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin.
Miranda was teaching a classmate to say posoh and ketapanen on January 19, when her teacher scolded her. Native News Network reported that the teacher had said, “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?”
The words Miranda got in trouble for saying were these: “hello” and “I love you.”
“Miranda kept saying she was only told by her assistant coach she was being benched because two teachers said she had a bad attitude,” Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother, said. “I wanted to know what she did to make them say she had a bad attitude.”
It was unclear as to who actually affected the suspension, but the school has admitted it “failed miserably in its handling of the matter.” Deacon Ray DuBois, the communication director for the Diocese of Green Bay, which operates the school, also said that the school does not prohibit the use of any language and that “the number one priority is to help this girl.”
This story of an absurd reaction to a child’s innocent phrases made me think of the power of language. It may be used to curse, as Hitler did, or to bless, as Jesus did. And because language is so powerful, people throughout the centuries have been punished for what they said or wrote or thought or sang. I’m sure you can think of other instances of this kind of injustice.
We, of course, are called upon to preach and teach the Living Word, and, at the same time, we are commanded to do so regardless of the cost. Miranda was kept out of a basketball game, and the school admitted it was wrong. All too often someone has a word that challenges the government or society or religion, and they may be imprisoned as Paul was or killed as the martyrs of church were. But we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that Jesus Christ “was the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” This means that whatever happens to us because of what we have done or said in the Lord’s name, God is with us and will take us to be with God in the heavenly kingdom. Praise God for the Word, for our part in sharing it with everyone and for God’s redemptive love, mercy and grace. Amen.