By: Valerie Kazarian, Staff Writer
Language is fascinating. On a blue wall in Woodbury, prominently displayed at one entrance, is a world map with “Welcome” emblazoned in the center. “Welcome” is surrounded by like greetings in dozens of other languages. This display visually represents the diversity of USM.
But USM’s diversity is not limited to linguistics. Before you ever get here, most had chosen a major. This school offers hundreds of majors and your course of study teaches you a new language. Think of a feature and it most likely has a language. Your race, cultural background, political position, sexual orientation. What part of the country, or even of the state, that you’re from. Are you from the city? Chances are that you’re different from someone from the country. Each has its own vocabulary and expressions. Even slang has, OMG, had effects on everyday language.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us that there is diversity in our religious belief – or lack
thereof. Recently there have been itinerant preachers on our campuses. Their message and style have been off putting for some and downright upsetting to others. It is interesting that these preachers were taken by some to be protesting or demonstrating. That is the language that was heard as they spoke, the language of protest or demonstration rather than that of a style of preaching. They were seen through a political lens instead of being taken for what they actually are. We didn’t recognize the language.
What a surprise for people on their first day of classes in Portland to find someone on campus yelling unexpected opinions at anyone and everyone and singling out specific people for special notice. Staff felt it necessary to run outside to comfort students as they walked in front of the Science Building making sure they felt safe and protected and welcome. A few on the Gorham campus were riled up enough to gather up gay pride flags, return to the demonstration, and establish an impromptu counter protest.
Itinerant preaching is actually a very old piece of Americana. It is a tradition that goes back to the first century in Christianity and became a popular style after the Reformation. It was prevalent in the midwest during the eighteenth century. These preachers, riding on horseback, used to travel from town to town ministering to whoever would listen and setting up new congregations. It was quite common in rural parts of the frontier. Today, I would argue, that they are among us primarily as televangelists who have simply exchanged their horses for a television studio. In any event, they are an anachronism.
Should these preachers come back at any time, we should simply see them for what they are – a style for preaching and belief with deep, old roots. It’s a piece of history which we may not like but it is there. We are here to learn, to be educated. In one of my classes the other day one of the other students use the word “mensch” which is Yiddish for “an honorable person.” We’re here to become “mensches.”
“Repent,” they yell, which falls as a foreign language on our modern ears. Rather than seeing them as a threat, see them as if they are pretending to be John the Baptist from two thousand years ago. John said the same thing and wasn’t dressed as well. It’s a history lesson. You’re welcome.