Poison in Jest

I guess we have to be careful what we say.  Not everyone has the same sense of humor.  One of my good friends, who grew up in Mississippi, said he thought the “Obama Psalms 109” bumper stickers are just a joke.  Nobody means the president harm; Southern Republicans just want one of their own back in office.  I’m still not persuaded; I am afraid there are a few unbalanced individuals who would take the words way too seriously.

On the other hand, I was re-reading an article from a year ago about one of my own students.  The Kansas State Collegian did a feature story about Jessica Long’s passion for all things Egyptian (here).  There was a small piece of the article I had missed when I read it last year:

Long said her friends are aware of her fascination with Egyptian history and even tease her about it. One evening, while playing “Would You Rather …?” – a game in which participants choose which extreme action they would rather take –  Long’s friends decided to test her devotion to Egypt.

They asked if she would rather “push the button” to destroy Egyptian artifacts or cut out her future child’s tongue. Long chose to save the artifacts.

Now, she said, whenever her friends are tired of hearing her talk about Egypt, they say, “Jessie, push the button!” She said they are also passing the inside joke on to new friends and students.

Well, it’s a game, maybe a sick game, but the answers shouldn’t be taken too literally.  I know Jessie, and I know she wouldn’t really cut out her (future) child’s tongue.  But some reader of the Collegian thought she was serious.  He commented that she is not a Christian because “God would never give her a passion like this because he is LOVE, not a materialist. Material things mean nothing to Him.”

Of course, God cares more about people than things.  I wouldn’t say material things mean nothing to God–the creator came up with the idea of material stuff.  But the relics of the past are a little bit more than material things.  They connect us with real people who lived on this same planet.  Our knowledge of ancient civilizations makes us richer.  And by the way, our knowledge of ancient Egypt helps us understand the Bible.  After all, our spiritual ancestors spent four-hundred years as guests in Egypt.

Cyrus Gordon once commented that Ephraim Speiser’s Anchor Bible Commentary volume on Genesis was a fine contribution to the series, especially with the insights from Speiser’s knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia (aka Iraq).  The book only suffered from the neglect of Egyptian sources, because, said Gordon, “Genesis is replete with Egyptian influences.”

Every Idle Word

Michelle Obama
“I meant to say, as proud”
There’s is a verse in the Bible that says we will have to give account for every idle word we say.
It is true in politics. Sometimes words matter.

I find it interesting that sometimes a single idle word can destroy a political career, while at other times politicians have recovered from a faux pas.

Back in the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter remarked that sometimes it is desirable to preserve the “ethnic purity” of a neighborhood. To some that sounded racist, like an endorsement of segregation. Candidate Carter recovered by saying, “I meant ethnic heritage.”

Some politicians are so famous for slips of the tongue that, like Yogi Bera (“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”) they are given a pass. Purists cringe when they hear the pronunciation nuc-you-ler, but it never cost George W. Bush a vote. Dan Quayle was quoted as saying, before a trip to Latin America, “I wish I had studied Latin harder in high school.” He was ridiculed, but his lapses like that, or inability to spell potato, are probably not what cost him and George H. W. Bush the re-election.

Jesse Jackson’s political ambitions were hurt by a careless ethnic slur. Trent Lott was forced to resign when he made a flattering comment at Strom Thurmond’s one-hundredth birthday party. He said if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 the nation might have been spared “all these problems.” He forgot that Thurmond had run on a segregationist platform; and some journalists fluent in Southern speech detected a veiled euphemism in the cirumlocution “all these problems.”

The most striking case of a careless word derailing a promising career was Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech. He was not undone by a racial slur, or in fact by a word that offended anyone. It was the rising intonation of his “Yeah!” at the end of a geographical litany, that seemed undignified. For his exuberance, he was ridiculed into oblivion.

Maybe Michelle Obama simply left out a word. Maybe she meant to say, “I’ve never been as proud of my country as today.” Will she recover? Evidently the remark didn’t hurt her husband in the elections yesterday.