These are the words of well- known pastor and translator of The Message, Rev. Eugene Peterson. It is a fair warning though not considered frequently enough. I use to pride myself on the number of words that I could type in a minute. Who knows what the count is for many of us these days with tweets, blogs and minute- by- minute Facebook updates. There is no end to our words.
Isn’t it ironic that we seem to be saying more than ever but that our communication is greatly reduced and has not improved in meaning or depth? In fact, we are not saying much that is new; instead, we are finding new says to say the same old, same old. In some cases, this is good; with regard to relationships across cultures and matters of race, it has been tongue- tying.
Now more than ever, I am becoming increasingly aware that our world is made up of words. It is an old and obvious truth, recorded in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. It is the record of the speaking God, who used words to create, who left unsaid nothing beautiful or majestic. I have read it numerous times but my consciousness was dim to the fullness of this reality.
Of course, as Christians, we believe in the God who is the Word made flesh (John 1.14). In some measured sense, I understand this but certainly not fully intellectually and theologically. I believe that we are people who live by words and that we are walking words, that our names have power and can purpose our lives for good or ill. And with the recurrent violence that everyone is talking about, the power of the words we use is increasingly more evident.
Thanks to social media, we share what we feel and how we are doing at lightning speed. We have so much to say about ourselves and others. I wonder what this says about the value of our words when we don’t keep some of them to ourselves or save some for later. To be sure, words are powerful. They have caused wars, deaths incalculable and tragedies unthinkable. We learn more quickly of embarrassing moments and the missteps of those who wish that there was a rock that they could hide under that didn’t have Wi-Fi.
What is the matter when we continue to speak words that hurt us and clearer still, that silence us and keep us from seeing ourselves? What is wrong with our speaking when we lose our voice and become a puppet of the very words we speak, when our tongue becomes the strings pulled? I believe this to be so when it comes to race.
We started using these words hundreds of years ago against others and for our benefit. Now, they don’t benefit any of us. We have lost the meaning of ourselves with their use. So, what do we say now? What do we do now that we are employed by race, now that race has our tongue?
I say we quit, that we stop speaking of our humanity on these terms. What say you?