Keep hyphens in perspective

The hyphen is in its own way a noble and exceedingly useful mark of punctuation. But it pays, I think, to keep hyphens in perspective.

In our present age and culture, the hyphen is all too often seen as a mark of division when it serves just as well and far more nobly as a mark of unity, all the more noble because that unity occurs in the richness of genuine and joyful diversity (as opposed to the insipid and sterile “politically correct” kind).

Here’s what I mean: I suppose that almost all of us in America can justly lay claim in one way or another to a hyphen. And though most of us whose families have been in America for generations now are likely so mixed up genetically that our hyphens might actually extend for paragraphs, many of us still have an idea basically from whence many of our ancestors hailed.

My particular hyphen firmly links British with American. British-American. I’ve never understood why we rarely, if ever, hear that particular hyphenated term of ancestral description.

Prejudice? I don’t know. We hear of Italian-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc. Why don’t we hear of British-Americans? No kidding. I really wonder.
In any case, in my case, the Shelburne and Caudle, Shropshire and Key blood mingling in my veins points back to merry old England. And, for what it’s worth, though I had nothing to do with my birth, I am absolutely OK with that.

When I read the words of my personal heroes, like the man singly most responsible for leading in the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Winston Churchill (whose mother, by the way, was American and who himself near the end of his life received honorary American citizenship), I look back on the long history of British-American relations and am thankful for the exceptionally warm ties of friendship and, for most of their histories, faith, that have long bound England and America wonderfully and almost always together.

But what about your own hyphen and your own heroes? I can be happy with mine and at the same time be completely happy that you’re happy with yours. I guarantee you, I’m richer (and fatter) for having feasted on the food, enjoyed the flair, and learned to love a bunch of the customs that have come with your particular hyphen to the nation that nurtures us — first and foremost simply Americans — all.

God, the Father of us all, hates divisiveness. He paid the highest price to unite his children. But he loves, celebrates, and makes possible genuine and joyful diversity of the very best and richest sort. If you doubt that, just visit a zoo.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at