The Subject of Words

March 1, 2015 8:35 am

While tempted to write this week about the colors of dresses and the escape of llamas, or perhaps the arrival of a new ice age in Williamson County, or Kanye and Beck, or Birdman (about which I surely will write), I can’t escape bringing to your attention a somewhat more mundane theme – the subject of words.

The conventional wisdom of the age is that we live in a time when the power of visual image has eclipsed the potency of the pen. I’m not convinced. In fact I can’t escape the feeling that I am swimming through a sea of words at every turn, alternately assaulted and amused by 146 character digital post-it notes, driving past bill boards, hearing endless ads, and feeling like there’s a soundtrack being offered for every human activity. Let’s add to this ocean of verbosity the penetrating, life-altering effect our words have on one another every day, at home, at work, and at play. Surely Rudyard Kipling nailed it when he wrote, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

With words Churchill rallied a nation, and Dr King rebuked ours; Shakespeare formed our notion of personhood and identity, and Stephen King frightened us out of our wits. George Carlin made us laugh at the words we could not say on TV, and there are words we still ban from our public conversation, always identified by a letter: N, F, B.S. and so on. In other words, you can think certain words, but don’t say them. Why? Because words matter; they are the currency of love and hate, the screenplay that unfolds the mystery of the heart, and whether whispered or shouted bind us together or drive us apart. “Words”, wrote Jodi Picoult, “are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” We don’t even need Wikileaks or a Sony email chain to know that words – true or false – can alter lives, sometimes forever.

We’ve all used words this week for good or for ill. We’ve told people we love them, maybe damned others, or deployed our vocabulary like secret weapons behind the backs of people in whose presence we smiled while despising them in our hearts. We said ‘Thank You’ to some, ‘Please’ to others, and with simple words like ‘No’ or ‘Yes’ or ‘I do’ changed the direction of a whole life.

No wonder God calls himself The Word, the ultimate Being revealed as communication that is gracious, truthful, and loving. The Word can not only send his words to bridge the gaping chasm between who he is and our ability grasp that reality, but by his very communication form galaxies, raise the dead, and heal broken hearts. Too often even those of us who claim to speak for the One who is the Voice sound way off key, serving the cause of anger, and clubbing people with the truth rather than washing feet with the water of the word. This week, let’s ask The Word to make our conversation more like his: gracious, loving, and truthful; let’s ask him to change our hearts so that what we say sounds more like heaven instead of smelling like smoke.

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