It’s Only Words

It's Only Words

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.




Hearing the Unheard


“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter” –John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

(Jesus testifies about John) John 11:14-15: “If you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. If you have ears to hear, then hear what I am saying.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard anything that you didn’t hear. In you think that’s confusing you’re not alone. I wrote it and I didn’t know what it means. It sounds like a Yogism, you know, an often self-contradictory statement that Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame Catcher, might have said. He himself remarked, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Huh? Exactly.

I was thinking about hearing the unheard one day this past week as I was listening to one of my Pandora music stations. If you haven’t heard of Pandora, it’s a “music service” in which listeners put in the names of singers or types of music and the service creates a playlist of that singer and others like him or her or one of, say, bluegrass or gospel. The user can give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down, which keeps me from having to listen to heavy duty rap in my case. This “voting” procedure also builds a station with songs the user likes. I have 71 stations, ranging from Mozart to the Bare Naked Ladies to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Coldplay is also on my list although I don’t know who they are or what they sound like or how they got there. I certainly don’t want to listen to them in any case. Adventurous I ain’t.

Anyhow, my stations are heavily loaded with far out music from the ‘60’s, when I was a lad in college whose biggest worry was whether I’d finish a five-page paper at 3 AM for a class at 8. I don’t know why I ever scheduled a class so early. My natural wakeup time then was somewhere south of noon.

So, I was listening to my Groovy Folk Hits of the Sixties Pandora Station, and John Denver came on singing “Calypso.” It’s one of my favorite Denver songs, and I don’t know whether my computer has better speakers than its predecessors or Pandora played a live version of the song or if the planets were aligned correctly, but I heard three guitars adding all kinds of riffs I’d never heard before. Maybe this version was the one I had listened to for decades, and for some reason I never heard these instrumental bits. They had been there all along, but they were non-existent as far as I was concerned.

The spiritual part of this is, I think, that God is always there, speaking to us, guiding us and leading us. We can’t hear this a great deal of the time, but if we are quiet we can hear that still small voice. It’s there all the time. All we have to do is listen to it. Then we can hear what has been unheard.