Yogi Bera, the Yankee’s catcher, was a 15-time All-Star; he won the league MVP award three times (1951, 1954, 1955) and caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 Series. In 1972, he was elected to the United States Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now, his fame as a baseball player has been eclipsed by the popularity of his off the cuff sayings – like:
• “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.”
• “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
• “If they don’t want to come, you can’t stop them.”
• “I didn’t really say everything I said.”
We find such simple incongruities unexpected and delightful.
Today, we live in a complex Google age, when more and more are techno-savvy, when they manipulate the swiftness of their lives with multi-app hand-held devices. In the midst of this revolution, a successful businessman has chosen to not own a cell phone. His friends josh him and call him a “Luddite.”
King Ludd, a mythical figure of the early 1800’s, supposedly lived in Sherwood Forest – like Robin Hood of an earlier age. Ludd hated the mechanized looms that changed the textile industry of England – replacing textile artisans with machines and low priced labor.
“They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy.
He turned to his workmates and said: ‘Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams’”
(Robert Calvert, 1985).
Some words give us a sense of this clash between cultures. Now, here is where we essay into the lexicon with free association. Stick with me. See where this takes us.
“Barbarian” is from Greek – barbaros – “foreign, strange, ignorant.” The word mimics the unintelligible sounds of foreign speech – bar-bar-bar. Sanskrit barbara – is translated as “stammering.” The Romans (actually barbaroi according to the Greeks) took up the word and applied it to tribes or nations which had no evidence of Greek or Roman civilizing influences. Still, some barbarians were highly cultured – simply different – misunderstood by those who had conquered their lands.
But, not so the rustic folks from the “holler,” the backwoods – outlandishly rude and “crude” – “in a raw state,” from Latin crudus – “rough; not cooked, raw, bloody.” They were “heathen” – Old English hæðen from Gothic haiþno perhaps a derivative of haiþi “dwelling on the heath.” Most likely, they were “illiterate” – from Latin – “not” (il) “lettered” (literatus) – “not able to read or write.” When others could sign their name, the illiterate could only make an “X.”
And, when these isolated heathens gathered in villages, they were known as “villains.” The origin of “villain” is Middle Latin villanus – “farmhand.” Although we associate rank with villa – “country house” – originally the idea was pejorative. Anyone who came from a villa was low-born – presumed to be a “village idiot.”
Skip to Scandinavia. Even in these cultures, country folk still were despised. The Scandinavian word, cloyne, is translated – “rustic, boor, peasant.” A similar Swedish word, kluns, is “a hard knob, a clumsy fellow.” This is the origin of our word “clown!”
Perhaps the most surprising of these derogatory rustic names is “pagan.” We typically think of “pagan” as “unbeliever.” But, it comes from Latin, paganus “villager, rustic, civilian,” from pagus “rural district.” Paganus was used in the Roman military as a raw recruit, an untrained soldier. Trained soldiers knew how to lock shield and shield – even wheel about or open and close ranks on command. But, not the paganus. The paganus was a rookie, a “peasant” – from Latin pagus “country or rural district.”
These words show us the kind of bigotry that existed in the ancient world – and – even though different words may be used now, we have bigotry of our own. Words may show us that real differences in location and skill can be magnified into prejudice. Embarrassed, we say with Yogi: “I didn’t really say everything I said.”
In the midst of just such a divided and unjust world came the gospel. Paul wrote the church in Rome (1:16): “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” And who is “everyone?” Everyone – the civilized as well as the Luddite, the barbarian, the heathen, the literate and illiterate, the crude, the villain, the clown, the pagan, and the peasant. Because of the gospel, we can say: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Paul, a formerly self-righteous snob, had been changed. Now, he was a learner – a disciple – a pagan – one who was untrained in the ways of Jesus – yet, nevertheless, one who had been loved by God. His personal mission from God gave him purpose (Romans 1:14): I am obligated both to Greeks (i.e., the educated, those on the inside) and non-Greeks (literally, the Greek word translated ‘non-Greeks’ is “barbaros!” – those on the outside – whether educated or not, tattooed or not). Paul’s new love for God and those made in God’s image obligated Paul to fulfill the calling God had in his life.
Paul’s hope for overcoming the narrow-mindedness of his own culture and the cultures to which he went was in the power – the dunamis (see “dynamism”) – of God to unite people to Christ – and in Christ to one another. Later, Paul wrote the Colossians that Christ includes all kinds of people. Again he uses the word “barbaros” (Col. 3:11) to describe those who believe the good news of Jesus! How revealing; how revolutionary; how dynamic.
If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, welcome to God’s world.
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,