Oh, For A Thousand tongues to sing

Speak English
He comes into my class
Wearing a T-shirt that says,
In big bright letters,
“You’re in America –
SPEAK ENGLISH”.

And I ask the class
To write down at least three cities
In California.

And then they proudly share them with the class;
San Francisco
Los Angeles
Santa Barbara
San Jose
Santa Cruz
San Diego
And many more.

And finally
One in English; Compton.

And I ask them
If they notice anything unusual about those names.

Most of them don’t,
Because once a word
Or name becomes familiar,
It doesn’t matter where it came from.

Related: The 6 Best Things About American Christianity – by Stephen Mattson

And that’s true of all of us,
Words,
Names,
Places,
And our neighbor
And the one who isn’t
And the one who looks out from the mirror
Wondering.

Wondering who
And how.
How we could forget
That this land wasn’t ours first
And we will not hold it forever.

In fact
Our land that we love
Came from
And exists among
A thousand different languages –
Each one richer
And deeper – more expressive and more human –
From being mixed and slammed,
Mangled and mispronounced.

Sometimes I forget my mortality
And I forget
That this land will never be ours – or anyone’s.
If anything, we belong to it.

It is a land full of surging impossibilities – if we allow it,
And those of us who moan and soar,
And rejoice
And cry out in disbelief and betrayal.

Yet America I am
By birth and passion and sometimes rage –
Against small visions and broken promises.
And I don’t care what language you speak
As long as you speak
What only your soul, and no other, can sing.

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In Germany, they speak German,
In France, they speak French,
But in America,
But in America,
The ‘English’ we speak
Is a beautiful, rhythmic, mangled mess
Any true Englishman would blush to call his own.
As Lerner & Lowe put it in My Fair Lady

“There even are places where English completely disappears.
In America, they haven’t used it for years!”

Also by Morf: What Belongs to Caesar?

We’ve changed some spellings
And more pronunciations.

We, in the United States, don’t even have – or seem to need – our own official language.

The Americas – North and South –
Are a mosaic
With roots
Colors and textures
Deep and rich.
And to imagine that they could, or should,
Speak with one voice
Is an absurdity and a lie
Made obvious in almost any neighborhood
Or public school room.

I’ll take, and love, this ever-shifting language
Like I love my nation.

Even if we sometimes forget
That Peru,
Ecuador,
Argentina,
And Brazil
Are also America
And they too,
Speak a tongue far larger than themselves.


Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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About the Author

Morf Morford

Morf MorfordMorf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.View all posts by Morf Morford →

  • otrotierra

    Another fantastic reflection. How incredibly offensive Jesus is: multilingual yet no English fluency, dark complected and Middle Eastern, unemployed and questionable birth certificate!

  • http://kathyon.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    I love this, Morf! Beautifully said!

  • Frank

    This post is written in English. I wonder why?

  • bluecenterlight

    I spent two weeks in Russia on a missions trip. The first day I was there I was petrified. Chasing our guide through the metro system, trying to keep up with our schedule. I was hit with an overwhelming sense that if I got lost I was doomed. I don’t speak Russian, I could say hi, and thank you, which would mean that I would promptly starve to death. Gradually over the two weeks I found out that in most situations you could find someone who could speak a little English. In this amazingly poor country, God only knows what there education system looks like, they could talk to me and I could not communicate with them. One of the Russians in our camp knew very little English. One night, he was trying to tell me his testimony and all the things the Lord had done for him. He began to tear up in frustration. He wanted so much to communicate his love for Jesus to me but I didn’t understand. I felt ashamed. I think we have become arrogant on this subject. Our mission is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all people groups. Why is it such a horrible thing to learn how to communicate to someone else? Especially if it can make a difference whether or not they get to know Jesus?

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