Note: I originally wrote the following column for the front page of Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church’s newsletter “The Chosen Word” published on July 24.
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” —Professor Albus Dumbledore, from the film Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”—Ephesians 4:14-15 and 29
We live in a technological age where we are constantly bombarded by words in a variety of formats, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, websites, podcasts, radio, computers, iPads, smart phones, newspapers, newsletters, emails, Post-It notes, postal mail, flyers, magazines, books, e-readers, billboard advertisements, TV and film. That’s in addition to the dozens of daily conversations we have with people face to face!
Words are essential to our existence as human beings. Without them, we’d be at a loss as to what do with our lives. If there were no words, there would be no written or verbal communication and extremely few, if any, ideas, dreams, and aspirations to be expressed and embodied in the world. Words are a precious commodity that should always be appreciated and never taken for granted.
But despite the wonderfully countless ways in which we can use words to sincerely communicate our thoughts and feelings (or to connect with one another), we often forget the value of words. The various mediums for sharing words has taken away, more often than not, our ability to filter out or discern what words should be shared and which words shouldn’t. These days, most of the words we read in print or hear from an audio speaker or see on a screen are empty, arrogant, condescending, angry and hateful. Words meant to discredit and dehumanize another human being.
And it seems that everyone—politicians, political pundits, celebrities, comedians, athletes, talk show hosts, and religious leaders as well as the average person (thanks mostly to Facebook and Twitter)—wants to inflict injury with their harmful and insulting words. To make it worse, those in the news business who don’t necessarily use incendiary words want to make sure that the rest of us see those harmful words ad-nauseum!
While Christians and churches are just as guilty of using words to cause irreparable damage, I do believe that the community of faith is where we have the greatest opportunity to learn a different and more excellent way to speak to one another. This summer I’ve had the fortune of witnessing first-hand the power of words that can not only remedy injuries but also prevent injuries from occurring.
During the High School Youth Conference at Montreat, the PHPC group has a tradition of writing notes to others in the group about how they made the week a special time, and to sharing verbally, words of strength to the graduated seniors as they embark on a new journey in their lives. The latter exercise moved 30 youth and 9 adults to tears as folks shared loving and grace-filled messages—words that affirmed they were and will always be beloved children of God.
On the recent High School Youth Mission Trip to Honduras, the youth and adults—many of whom were not fluent in Spanish—spoke words of love to those we served, and the Hondurans—who knew little to no English—did the same in return. Through words and actions, we communicated to one another: We love you. You are a child of God. You are family. You are part of my story. These beautiful and sacred words are rooted in scripture and in God’s Word that has breathed among us. They are words spoken and sung in worship, taught in church school, youth group, and Vacation Bible School, and shared on summer youth trips, and mission projects and fellowship events.
May we all continue to use words in our church, home, work-places, community and world that recognize God’s love in the other, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the foreigner, the Muslim, the gay school teacher, the mentally handicapped woman, the hungry, the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the prisoner, the terrorist, the oppressor and the grumpy. Doing so is useful for the building of God’s kingdom and is grace to one’s ears.