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  • Reverend James Squire

Does God Have An Accent?

I was excited to hear that there is a possibility that “Mare of Easttown,” will return next season. it has gotten more local press than even the film, “The Sixth Sense”, written and directed by my former student M. Night Shyamalan. I love mysteries, but I think that what captured the attention of the Philly folks was the authenticity of the area in general and local accents in particular. It was filmed in the working class enclaves in Delaware County.

Accents are an important thing because hearing a voice immediately has us free associating to what we know about the possible place where the story is taking place. It is a connection that adds much to the narrative of our lives. People change their accents to fit into the narratives of others. I am always surprised to hear actors from England interviewed. Their accents come to America with them such as Hugh Laurie, Idris Elba, Damian Lewis, Christian Bale and many others. They change their accents such as Kate Winslet to make a deeper connection with the viewer of a movie. But on “Silver Linings Paybook”, set in the world of Italian Eagles fans, Bradley Cooper didn’t make an attempt to work on that accent even though he is from Montgomery County, and people noticed. It was like doing an Irish movie with the lead role having a Delaware County accent.

People get crazy over accents. Vicki moved to New Haven after we were married for my last term at Berkeley at Yale. She worked at the Yale New Haven Hospital but continued with courses so that she could graduate on time with her class at NC State University. She took a speech course at a local university. The professor threatened to fail her if she didn’t get rid of her southern accent. He was serious. She passed the course. She has lost a lot of her southern accent, but it comes back when she is on a weekly zoom call with her sorority sisters. My daughter in law, Courtney, lives in Pomfret, Connecticut but worked in Providence, Rhode Island. She was constantly referred to as “Cawtney. Where did you pack your car?” That part of the country doesn’t believe in r(S).

Accents assist us in feeling safe and connected to others. The French people tend to speak French to the foreigners who arrive there so when I heard a group of Americans talking, I immediately went to listen to their conversation. Hey, I was starved to hear my accent. I felt at home and a connection to the group. It wasn’t about the substance of their conversation. It was all about their accent.

I suppose I liked Mare of Easttown so much because I grew up in a similar community and the people had the same accents and mannerisms of those in my home town. When I was at Berkeley at Yale, we were assigned parish work in communities unlike where we grew up. A friend from Harlem and I were sent to Darien, Connecticut. My accent from my high school days was long gone. People asked me where I prepped. My response was, “The Alan Wood School,”the name of the steel mill where I worked. Their comment was, “Never heard of It, but` it must have been a great school. We love your sermons.”

Accents connect us to others, produce a perception of others, create authenticity (to be not to seem to be), and the feeling of safety that we all belong.

If accents are that important, what accent do you think God has? Ridley Scott’s, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” to be released in December, 2021, chose to have a 11 years old boy actor, Isaac Andrews, to be the voice of God. Ridley has chosen to have the God’s commands and demands in the innocent voice of a child. He based this on the biblical passage “and little child shall lead them.” Scholars responded by saying that there is only one Old Testament reference that supports the notion of God as an innocent child.

The voice of God is mentioned many times in the Bible, in an encounter with Samuel, at the burning bush to Moses, at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration, at St. Paul’s conversion and on many more occasions.

Sure, we know the volume with which He or She spoke as “a still small voice.” Perhaps we should use the litmus test for accents that we have in our conversations with God. We should hear His or Her voice when we pray for a connection with others, when we are open to the experience of others that are different from us, when we practice what we preach, and see all as equal in the sight of God. God’s accent is really what we want it to be so that we feel the power and glory of what we should be about on this earth, our island home. Today I would hear the voice of God to be the voice of James Earl Jones as I think of the ongoing struggle to make voting accessible. I would also choose Ms. Higgins, my high school classics teacher, who celebrated everyone in her classes. She lifted up the struggling and the gifted students always clapping her hands when someone got it right. She was excited about our effort and success. That is very much needed in Congress.

When my son was a student at Princeton, he did a summer language program in Germany where no English was permitted. It was a deep immersion into the German language. I asked him when he knew that he was bilingual. His reply was simple, “You start to dream in that language!” Maybe that is true for the accent of God where we are given direction to help others to be all that they can be with no one left out. It is the sound and accent of the good moral life. That’s what we should be dreaming!

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