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Apr 24, 2012

By Dan Bodine


Maybe I’m just too sensitive! As a stutterer (even in my old age now, yes, I can still stammer with the best of ‘em, partnuh!) why am I finding there’s a bit more of an embarrassing ping (a needless emotional ping in the conscience, I think) when I hear these repeated stories of mighty success by someone who stuttered? Are we being driven irrationally by trendy religious social media looking for political gain? The pause for the cause? At the expense of Truth?

In a recent Jewish article on Moses of the Bible, for instance, it linked the leader of the Egyptian Exile as being a stutterer, too. The tone and reason for running the story seemed shallow—The King’s Speech, for instance, the film sensation with many awards this year. The king had to conquer stuttering, too, for a speech. The news hook was there, the writer used it. And added, And oh, yeah, here’s Moses, too. The great one who led the Israelis out of bondage!

 But maybe it’s just the cynical times we’re living in, also, my reaction is. Not only mixing religion with politics but mixing it with anything, it seems, to help bolster a political position is trendy now. And that’s what this story smells like.

The New Right started this latest wrinkle in the late ‘70s under the wraps of divine corpocracy, the religious right’s Moral Majority. As moneyed success they burned the radical capitalism brand into the Sunbelt movement. (See http// Synthesizing creative energy to success became holy again. And now the world is a burning bush with examples of it gone awry, yes.  So we’re now unholy?

Reminds me of a local church bunch here, organized as a tax-exempt corporation and using selected biblical texts to denounce the El Paso City Council’s decision to grant employee health care benefits to straights and gays alike. They’ve not only been thwarted by a higher court in their council recall efforts but a prominent national civil rights group has listed them as a hate organization also.

Gawd. (An El Paso Times story with related links is here.) Hate in church! All in the name of God! And these people aren't even Baptists!

So, yeah, leaning on divine intervention to explain things may be common as fleas now, but that doesn’t make it always the straight and narrow. Even for a Jewish group. Not to me, anyway.

What set all this jibberish off?  Story entitled “The Stuttering Servant” in the April 12 Jewish Ideas Daily. [Link here] It’s a well researched story on the possible origins of stuttering, by the way, and the links it presents to relevant current studies and stories on stuttering I found both helpful and entertaining. Thank you. But it's disingenuous, too.

Which leaves the question, what was the motive in linking the most well-known exodus in history to a reluctant leader’s speech problem? If it wasn’t to show specific proof of God smiling on the Israelites? In my thick-headed thinking, am I missing something that’s as clear as a bell to everyone else?

For writers--perhaps unconsciously at times, yes—using this ploy admittedly to squeeze out extra mileage for their religion is nothing new. It seems FOREVER , in fact, in whatever the culture, religious thinking has been to put one slow of mouth and tongue as a 'chosen' person. Moses and the Bible have set our tradition, yes.

Remember well, for instance, my own late deeply religious Mother, bless her heart, using the same thinking to answer my questions of “why do I talk different?” Especially when I’d come home from school with my face and hands bloodied from a fist fight--over someone teasing me.

 “It’s God’s will, son. He’s got a special purpose for you, a job much more difficult than most people will ever have to face. But He also created you with stronger shoulders, to carry this extra burden. So don’t question it. Just be thankful. One of these days God will show you.”

Divine intervention, regardless of the feel-good factor, is pretty heavy stuff for a kid. With Mom and dad both “from the soil” with little formal education, the Good Book was all they had to explain abnormalities such as speech impediments. And they leaned heavily on it; that was the script.

It wasn’t until many years later, in my early 30’s, in fact, after going thru two years of group speech therapy in transactional analysis [still my quest to “get to the bottom of it”] in Dallas in the early 70s, did I find an answer. Divine intervention has many faces, yes . Moses had a bush; I had a close friend named Jane.

The therapy hadn’t helped my speech, so I stopped it. Then this bright Dallas school teacher and fellow First Unitarian Universalist Church member, Jane Hepner, phoned one summer morning. She’d just watched a TV Today show. A noted psychologist announced the results of a long study: 85 % of the studied stutterers had a physical reason. Many ever so slight. A primary cause when very young and first starting to talk.

“Dan, have you ever had anyone, a true professional, examine your mouth?” Jane asked.

“No, I’ve always been told it’s in my head,” I answered.

“You need to go back to Callier and ask they examine your mouth and throat.”

Callier Speech and Hearing Center in Dallas, after taping an initial interview with me, is the one who’d recommended the group therapy I’d just finished. Gathering courage to go back with a special request was all made possible by a godsend friend named Jane.

“Oh my gosh, what a high roof in your mouth you have!”

I get teary-eyed still when I recall it, leaning back in the examining chair and opening my mouth wide. The holy grail of my search was a very minor birth defect -- high roof in my mouth, upper gum lines pulled in at birth, and subsequently a pressed tongue when I try to speak. Ain’t got the space to move it around most folks have; it’s cramped. That simple.

“It’s not in your head,” she assured me.

Never, never, in my life, have I been so happy. “I’m normal!” I shouted to Dallas motorists passing me on the freeway on the way home.

I’d pulled off on the right-side emergency lane because I was crying so hard it’d become dangerous to drive. I rolled down the window instead, and waved to motorists as they passed--crying and laughing, waving wildly, and pointing at my mouth.

“I’m normal!!”

Being singled out by God for a special, unknown mission in Life is pretty heavy stuff for a kid, yes. Oftentimes since, I’ve thought about such physical conditions as blindness, deafness, deformities such as legs or arms. Even CNN's HLN earlier this month carried a story about a cat born with both back legs 'backward.'

Why aren’t these people (and these animals) considered special, too? In the case of a stutterer, if not an operation on the mouth, generally only strong training on breathing techniques will allow you a public face. Allow you to be presentable.

Why do writers then—beginning, in this case, with early biblical writers—use divine intervention to try to reinvent the wheel of logic on something so simple as a birth defect?

So to hang religious glory to it? The proverbial underdog winning again? For my team?

Do you think that stinks some?


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Posted: Apr 24, 2012 4:17pm


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Dan Bodine
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