Accent on Accents

I am proud to admit I have Southern roots. My parents, grandparents and eleven generations before them are Southerners. Self-descriptions include: cracker, GRITS (Girl Raised in the South), redneck, Appalachian-American and, on occasion, southern belle. (Though truth be told, I act more like Ellie Mae Clampett than Scarlett O’Hara.) I drink SWEET tea and wear a dress to church. I know which fork to use at a formal dinner and have ridden a horse while wearing a hoop skirt. My sons reply, “Ma’am?” when I call their name. Before I moved to Wyoming, I lived north of Addlanna. (That’s Atlanta, GA for the linguistically confused.)

I love the melodious rise and fall of a soft Southern intonation, the way Southerners joke with each other, and ask “who are your people?” (Translation: we are inquiring about your family ties.) We know a toboggan is a cap worn on your head and “Wednesday week” can mean Wednesday of next week or not. We can tell when someone is having a hissie fit or pitching a conniption fit. When we ask for “sugar”, we don’t mean that white substance you put in tea.

 That's Lawana and me "cuttin up"...

Thankfully, Wyoming has many Southern transplants. Lawana, my sister in Christ, hails from Kentucky. We get each other’s screwball jokes, regional sayings, and spiritual approach to life. We both drop unnecessary letters at the ends of words. We know what a hankering is, what cattywampus describes, and what Momma means when she exclaims, “I’ll jerk a KNOT in your tail!” One of our identifying characteristics is our pronunciation. We speak with an accent.

In one of the most heart wrenching stories in the Bible, it was an accent that exposed Peter. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is seized in the Garden of Gethsemane by thugs acting on behalf of the religious leaders. Surrounded by captors, he is taken before Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter follows the crowd and sits in the courtyard awaiting the outcome. One woman and then another address him and identify him as being with Jesus. He vehemently denies the association. Other people approach and say, “You must be one of them; your accent gives you away.”

Peter responded as many of us do when cornered by the truth. He got angry and launched into total denial. Cussing and swearing, he denied knowing Jesus until he heard the rooster’s crow and recalled the prediction of his disloyalty. Grief stricken, Peter left the courtyard weeping in shame and remorse.

John relates in his Gospel that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael, James and John, the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. After Jesus prepared breakfast, he turned to Peter and asked three times if Peter loved him. In an open confession before the other men, Peter replied “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” As Peter had denied Christ three times, he now confirmed his love three times. In all actuality, Jesus already knew how Peter felt about him. Jesus knew what had happened in the courtyard. His questioning was for Peter’s benefit, to understand that he was forgiven and restored to fellowship.

I don’t fault Peter for his denial. I do the same when I act in ways which are not Christ-like. When I respond in anger or pride or gossip with others, I repudiate the saving grace of Jesus in my life.

And, like Peter, I am no longer under condemnation because I confess that I love and am a follower of Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies to my spirit that I am God’s daughter through my faith in Christ Jesus. I receive God’s forgiveness, freely given because of what Jesus did for me. In other words, God sees me through the lens of Christ. In this viewpoint, I am seen as holy, pure and blameless, the same way He sees you.

When I speak, I want to accent, that is, emphasize, stress, underscore, articulate, and pronounce God’s great love for the world. Lord, please give me an accent of gratitude and thankfulness.