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Filtering by Tag: language

Speaking Mt. Sinai

Ross Gale

7 Mt. Sinai I overlooked a small detail in the Elijah story. It’s right after God’s fire comes down from Heaven in glorious proof that He is God. Right after Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life and he runs away exhausted, ready to be done with all this prophet business. It’s a small and obvious detail I overlooked and it changes the story for me. After an angel feeds him and lets him rest, Elijah travels to a mountain called Horeb. I should get it when it’s described as the mountain of God, but I didn’t realize we’ve been to this mountain before in the Bible story. I thought he went to some random mountain. I didn’t realize Elijah purposely travels to this mountain also called Mt. Sinai—where God's presence has been before—without food or water for 40 days. He went looking for God. I always thought he was just running away, going where the angel directed him. But his journey is more purposeful. He's seeking out God's presence. Maybe hoping God will sweep him up to Heaven on arrival. But going toward God nonetheless.

It's the little details that can drive a story. It's the nuance. While sweeping narrative arcs and plot turns are attractive and desired, it's the details that matter, especially little ones—like the name of a mountain.

This is true of our everyday language. One word can reshape our narrative and drive us to new and unexpected places: personally and collectively. Words like justice, joy, hope, peace, and forgiveness.

We can go toward those themes but we have to name them, we have to say them out loud. They can't be generalized, clichéd trivialities. They can't always be implied. They must exist on our tongues and lips. They need to beat in our hearts and roll out of our mouths. We have to fill the words with our literal breath.

At a recent worship service I listened to a grandmother and her seven-year-old granddaughter sing the lyrics:

And on that day when my strength is failing The end draws near and my time has come Still my soul will sing Your praise unending Ten thousand years and then forevermore

The stark difference between the voices caught my ear. The fervent, raspy older voice compared to the gawky sweetness of the child singing about death and eternity, things beyond her understanding, but not beyond her imagination.

The small details of the lyrics took us somewhere far away. A place of mystery filled with words and words pronouncing mystery. Let's name that mountain in our stories, poems, our everyday language, our songs, and in our lives. We might not understand the magnitude of it all or know what will happen when we arrive, but those small details can connect generations and direct our hearts toward Mt. Sinai.

Why I Hate Nazis (Apart From the Obvious)

Stephen Swanson

This week Stephen Swanson lets out his supreme hatred of Nazis.  No, it doesn't have anything to do with his dislike of efficient extermination of whole peoples.   Nor is it a reaction against the Sieg Heil, in both the formal and informal forms.  It's much more.

Reason 1: They are Everywhere.

I'm not the first observer to notice that Nazis and talk of Nazis are everywhere.  You can't kick a looted Luger without running into a video game, pundit, protest sign, movie, or documentary mentioning Nazis.

This is too much!  I know that in the 1980s, we had the brief flirtation with drug dealers as the bad guys, but that petered out despite the attempt of Miami Vice (2006) to bring it back hard on board numerous "go-fast" boats.

The Nazi's just won't die!  I've spent hours sniping them  in Medal of Honor and before that in Castle Wolfenstein.  They just coming and coming.

Reason #2:  They've Taken Over

No, I know that "we" won, and even in today's divisive political arena, most people think Nazi's are bad.  However, right there is the problem!

"Nazi=Bad" has become "Bad=Nazi".  Anyone who was awake in formal logic class (Oh right, NCLB doesn't really emphasize logic and many colleges are decimating their philosophy departments)...umm, anyway, people should realize that just because B follows A does not mean that A follows B.

And for these people, I have one message:

Stop Referring to Everyone You Don't Like as a Nazi!

Don't compare them to Nazis, unless they are actually similar to the National Socialism of the 1920s-40s.

Hey, you, Teapartier, Obama is not like Hitler.  He's just not.  Hitler came to power using the rhetoric of fear of foreigners and difference to correct the post WWI economic crisis in Germany.

Hey, student writing a paper for my class, anyone who commits genocide is not a Nazi.  They might be bad people that Americans should speak out against and maybe use force to contain and destroy, but you can't call everyone a Nazi.

Hey, liberal protester in Ottawa, Ann Coulter is not a Nazi.  Yes, she does seem to fit the ideal of beauty.  She is Wagnerian in many ways.  Yes, she does look a bit like Leni Riefenstahl.  Yes, she does use race and class as divisive methods to build up a strong nationalist base bent on eliminating the "Other" usually by violence or force.

Ok, you might get away with that one.

The Point:  Nazis are Destroying Our Language from Beyond the Grave

The English language is a pain in the tuckus, but as this sentence implies, it's strength and vitality comes from its ability to incorporate and accept a wide range of words and meanings from other languages.  This provides an sense of subtlety and nuance that comes with the blending of language.

In recent years, I've noticed that my students have no sense of nuance.  They reach for the brightest, boldest, and clearest example within reach, which perhaps explains the Googling of everything.  Because of this, we, collectively are losing our ability to draw from a diversity of evil and suffering in the history of the world.

There are tons of bad people in our own history and from around the world.  Why are we outsourcing to Germany and not friendly, efficient, welcoming Germany of National Lampoon's European Vacation (You know what I mean) or even of today.  We go with the Germans of the 1930s and 40s?!  We can do better when creating analogies and effigies.

Sadly, I guess the seeds of over generalization of evil were already there at our beginning.  Even then, the "patriots" defined a "tyrant" as their rightful monarch who wanted them to pay taxes like every other colony in the British Empire.

Maybe I'm naive, but we're Americans!  Our country was founded by people who stuffed straw in sacks, put a crown on it, and called it "George" as they set it alight.  Now, we let people in the Middle East doing all of our flag burning and effigies.

I'm better than that!   You're better than that! We're better than that!


Stephen Swanson teaches as an assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College. Aside from guiding students through the pitfalls of college writing and literature, he spends most of his time trying to remain  aware of popular culture, cooking, and enjoying time with his wife and son. He holds degrees in Communications (Calvin College), Film Studies (Central Michigan University), and Media and American Culture Studies (Bowling Green State University. In addition to editing a collection, Battleground States: Scholarship in Contemporary America, he has forthcoming projects on Johnny Cash and depiction of ethics in detective narratives.