WORDS-Our Weapon of Choice

hurtful-words

The years was about 1978.  I was working behind a full service meat counter.  A young lady was next and I couldn’t help but notice the entire left side of her face was discolored as if she had just been in a horrible fight. Thinking I was being sympathetic I asked her, “Wow, what happened to your face?”. I will never forget her response and her words when she informed me that it was a birthmark. I don’t know to this day who felt worse over that exchange, her for something she was born with and couldn’t change, or me for being an insensitive jerk and speaking before thinking.

Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me” must have never been insulted, disrespected, bullied, or otherwise verbally assaulted.  Words have ended relationships, landed people in jail and started wars. They can be as deadly as bullets when spoken and released down the barrel of hatred to their intended target.  And just like bullets, once fired you can’t put them back in your weapon; they have already done their damage.

I have been privileged, challenged and exhaustingly enlightened this week to be engaged in several conversations with my black brothers and sisters over the current and never ending racial tensions.  What has impressed me the most deeply is that many views and opinions are formed over ill thought out comments or taped interviews where certain people of both black and white races say the most outrageous things and the opposing side is left speechless by the implied hate and bias being spewed forth.  I can’t even offer a defense to them when I am exposed to an elected white official talking about the lack of contributions by “sub-groups”, or minorities to the success and fabric of our country. These blurtations (yes, I made that up) are harmful, divisive and deadly because so many who hear them accept them as generalized and representative attitudes of the race.  While this may be far from the truth, those who hold to and are not afraid of expressing these prejudiced sentiments and deliver them with the force of a 357 revolver are doing more collateral damage than any assault weapon on the market.  The perception that these extreme views are held in common by all people is preventing many from any attempt at healing and constructive dialogue for peaceful relations, and who can honestly blame them.

As with all things I go to my source, God’s word to see how exactly I am to live and control my tongue(could have used that advice in 1978) when communicating with people.  Where do we start?  I’ll list but a few:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18

“Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth” Ephesians 4

“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity that defiles the whole body” James 3

“If any man among you seems religious but can’t hold his tongue, he is deceived and his religion is in vain” James 1

“The tongue can’t be tamed and is evil and full of poison” James 3

“A soft tongue break bones” Proverbs  25

The tongue is the true gauge into the soul of a man. The jokes he tells, the tone of his speech, the actual words he chooses all reveal the inner man like an x-ray machine, open and apparent for all to hear and see. Likewise the words you tweet, the words you blog, text or transmit digitally or virtually not only have immediate impact but are permanently recorded to be further transmitted and easily referenced to maximize the damage.  Why in this age of technology and social media do we not see and understand this?

Yes, I am overtly concerned with things the way they are still to this day between blacks and whites and am on my own personal campaign to do something different, to be something different and to achieve something different. In doing so I have to examine every aspect of those tainted relations to see how and when they were damaged so that in moving forward through much listening and understanding I can be fully aware of how others respond to me, my words and my actions, or inactions so that I can feel at least that I have contributed something positive to the end result of peace and harmony.  I may never see it in my lifetime but I’ll  be damned if I continue on maintaining the current status quo when I know I can be better.  I have been given a small gift with written words.  I pray that I am full cognizant of their impact, both the damage they can do but also the healing they can offer.  God help me to choose correctly at all times so that I’m not forced to taste the bitterness of their improper use.

 

 

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Influence

 

Networking

It’s been a while since my last post.  When life hits with its surprises and uncertainty I tend to take a critical and maybe even an unfair look at some things. As an aspiring writer I question constantly both my influence and my credibility. Do my words have any positive impact on my readers? Do I inspire deeper levels of thought and reason? Do I adequately reflect my Christian faith? Are my words being read at all?  Am I leaving anything of value behind in my wake?

These questions are certainly not limited to writers. In fact I would suspect many of us at some point in our lives ask ourselves these same questions-why am I here, what is my purpose and who if anyone am I impacting by my speech, my actions or my lifestyle.  However the fact is that every single one of us has some impact on someone, whether positive or negative.  None of us live our lives under a shell or as hermits.  At some point we all cross the paths of others either inadvertently or by God’s design and have immediate influence on that person and in that situation. It would be idealistic to believe we leave behind rainbows and Skittles everywhere we go but none of us are ever on top of our game 24/7.  In fact if you are like me, you have probably disappointed more people than you have helped, or maybe it’s just me.

So what exactly is influence? The dictionary defines it as a noun, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or the behavior of someone or something…”. When I think of influential people I think of great orators like the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther King or Billy Graham or Ronald Reagan-people who have an effect on others by their powerful convictions and proficiency with words. But as a brother or an uncle or a dad or a grandfather I have an effect, good or bad, on those around me everyday.  Am I making a difference?  Am I having influence? Is there any evidence of positive effect on thought or behavior?

There is a popular passage in Matthew 5 that portrays for us the type of impact we should be having in our circle of family and friends.  Beginning in verse 13 it reads “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand so that it lights all the house. In the same way let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven”.

That is a tall command, a mandate if you will to always be positive in every way, and for many a seemingly impossible task, one that most certainly stirs critical self-review. When you shine a light on your own life to see if you measure up to this extremely high standard of living, the shadows it casts on your failures can be daunting in regards to positive influence. When you have serious questions on the impact you have you are left with only two options; retreat to your shell and assure yourself that no one will be impacted positively by your words or life, or find a way to live above the waves and have an effect on even one or two people.  One choice is easy, the other a real challenge.

If you are one of those who can step out of bed, break your leg but go about rejoicing that you still have one good leg to hop around on, let me just say I hate you! Rather I hate that I am not like that by nature and find it difficult to sing through pain. Yet everything in scripture confirms that I am light, I am salt, I am iron and that whether I sharpen someone or dull them, I have a choice to make each new day on how my response to life will impact or influence those God puts in my path whether I want Him to or not.

And so it is with you.  Peace.

When There Are No Words

love words

Have you ever been in a situation when you were at an absolute loss for words? Perhaps it was when you saw your child in their first school or church play, or maybe their first musical recital.  Maybe you were left speechless when friends threw a surprise party for you.  With most of us there have been occasions in our lives when words simply escaped us. For me it was the moment I realized how in love I was with the lady who would soon be my wife. I have always loved writing and thought I possessed a fair mastery of the English vernacular, that is until I tried to put into words the depth of emotions  I was feeling for her. Yes, I wrote her a poem or two-even had one of them published in a poetry anthology. But even with that, I still felt I could not come up with adequate words to express my love for her.   After seventeen years of marriage I am only more aware of this observation.

As much as I love my wife, imagine with me if you can how much more of a challenge I have in approaching God.  There are no words to describe the challenge of having no words!  After all, one can’t even describe God.  When He sent Moses to rescue the children of Israel, Moses asked Him “who should I tell them is sending me?”  God replied “tell them my name is I Am”.  I almost believe even God couldn’t describe Himself in a way that we would understand.  I Am pretty much covers it all with an infinite number of fill-in-the-blank descriptions.   There are no textbook definitions that are remotely adequate to express the person and deity of God.

So if we can’t even find words to describe God, then how can we possibly find words to express our loving response to an indescribable God? It can’t be done. There are no words. Oh many have tried-the writings of the early church fathers are masterful and the hymns written over the centuries have moved us to tears when reflecting on all we know and don’t know about God.  Yet all who have tried have come up short in their attempts.  The created can’t capture in human language the Creator.

When you are with someone you truly love there are those times when just being in their presence is enough. Love is shared and expressed at times when words would get in the way. How cool is it that we can approach God with the confidence of knowing the same holds true for us. In our intimate prayer or reflection time with God we can be assured that God sees our hearts and knows our deepest thoughts so that are linguistic inadequacies are not an issue. We are told in scripture that there are times when His spirit in us prays for us in groans that need no words. There is dialogue between our inner spirit and God’s heart that we wouldn’t understand even if it were somehow audible.  Thou shouldest not have need of  expressing thyself to the Almighty with Shakespearean prose thou canst comprehend or a language thou knoweth not of!

With people we may feel at a loss in trying to relay to them the depths of our emotions, but with God, there is no shortage of understanding even when there are no words.

Father, let my words be few.