Archive for category Say Something Nice

Our Words Hold the Power to Bring Life or Death

My friend said to his mother, “Don’t worry about it. They are just words.”

In fact, she was right to worry. She was concerned about the wording changes in her church’s by-laws. Words that reeked of exclusion and fear.

She had prayed fervently that the ugliness that was sweeping through churches nationwide would not touch her church, but it did.

Words are never just words. Our words are sacred. When we were endowed with the power of speech, God gave us the power to bless or to wound others with our words.

The psalmist prayed that not only “the words of my mouth” but also “the meditations of my heart” would be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14).

Similarly, the Greeks used the word logos to mean words spoken as well as words formed in the brain but not yet spoken.

Words spoken and/or heard become part of our nervous system. They may stimulate an immediate response, or they may lie dormant for years.

Words are never just words. They carry with them the power of life or death.

Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.”

The U.S. has been tragically reminded of how destructive words can be when they are weaponized by someone with evil intent.

Our democracy was threatened when a mob set out to overthrow our government. It seems that some were actively looking for certain officials whom they intended to harm.

Some in the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Prince.” Others cried out ominously, “Naaaaancy. Oh, Naaaaancy.” Thankfully, they did not succeed in finding either.

Many police officers were injured, and one was killed. There was much destruction to our Capitol and the business of the Congress was delayed.

The former president of the United States is a master politician and showman.

He understands the power of words especially when the same inflammatory words are repeated day after day, week after week and month after month. He is skilled at name-calling and character assignation.

With his words, he has been successful in undermining the press, the scientific community, the intelligence service, the FBI and the CDC. He has mastered the art of destructive speech.

Most heinous of all, he succeeded in turning citizen against citizen. This clearly demonstrates why words are never just words.

With his acquittal in the second impeachment hearing, former President Trump was not held accountable for the manner in which he (mis)used his freedom of speech leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There is something to be learned from all of this: Our words are a sacred trust.

We have the power of creation with our words. We can create a better world one person at a time.

We can speak words of encouragement, hope and caring. We can build each other up and help create a more harmonious environment. We can create community.

We can search for leaders whose speech is more uplifting. So much of political programming on the radio and television is toxic, as are political campaigns.

No, we do not live in a Hallmark world and finding those who model healthy speech is not easy, but it is worth the effort.

As a follower of Christ, even more troubling is the reality that so many Christian leaders sacrificed their ideals in order to be associated with the former president.

They have done great harm to their reputations and to their calling. They have encouraged many of their followers to choose a darker path.

Their actions mocked the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).

I believe that the attack on our Capitol is the worst calamity of my lifetime because it was not committed by a foreign power. It was committed by my fellow Americans at the urging of the former president.

Our words are important. Our words are powerful.

Let us use them wisely, so that they bring life not death.

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Freedom of Speech Is Not the Absence of Responsibility – Mitch Randall

 Søren Kierkegaard once quipped, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

The Danish philosopher and theologian provides us with an accurate backdrop for the terrifying events that unfolded on January 6 in Washington D.C.

Insurrectionists, inspired by former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen, fraudulent election and his fiery speech on Jan. 6, broke into the U.S. Capitol, killing police officer Brian Sicknick.

Before the former president’s term ended, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president for a second time, stating, “Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

This week, at the former president’s second impeachment trial, the term “freedom of speech” is being cited frequently by his lawyers and supporters as they argue for his acquittal by the U.S. Senate.

Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president cannot be held accountable for his speech because it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right for all U.S. citizens, Trump’s argument fails at the point of honest assessment and application.

Without getting lost in the woods of legal jargon, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that freedom of speech can be limited for several reasons:

  • Inciting actions that would harm others (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 1919).
  • Making or distributing obscene materials (Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 1957).
  • Burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 1968).

The court recognizes that words are extremely important in a free society. Words define. Words inspire. Words incite.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right, it is not absolute. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”

Freedom is not the absence of responsibility. On the contrary, freedom relies on both personal and social responsibility.

As individuals, we have the responsibility to utilize speech for the common good. As a just society, we have the responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens, especially when the tension of rights is present.

Over his 29 years on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) wrote extensively on freedom of speech.

Holmes engineered the “Clear and Present Danger” test to guide his opinions regarding freedom of speech. He wrote in Schenck v United States (1919), “Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Holmes’ “Clear and Present Danger” test was replaced in the 1950s by the “Preferred Position Doctrine.” This doctrine acknowledged a hierarchy of constitutional rights, noting that some freedoms garner preference over others.

Interpreting constitutional rights and freedoms through this lens ushered in a new understanding of individual liberties and civil rights.

For example, can a citizen use speech to discriminate against another citizen? Can a shopkeeper cite freedom of speech as a defense for hanging a “Whites Only” sign on their front door?

As one can witness, constitutional freedoms are not always absolute. There are instances when a “preferred position” of rights must intervene, establishing one right over another.

Therefore, as Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president’s speech is constitutionally protected, an important question begs to be asked: “Why is the former president’s right to free speech more important than Officer Brian Sicknick’s right to live?”

It’s not.

While freedom of speech is an essential component to a thriving democracy, when a citizen uses speech to incite violence against another citizen, then the latter’s right to live outweighs the former’s right to speak.

More so, citizens must begin to realize that freedom of speech does not divorce a person from responsibility. Actions, even when they are merely words, have consequences.

We would all do well to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to think before speaking, but we would also do well to follow the urging of James 3:5-6 and tame our tongues.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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 Three easy steps to face down fear and worry – Rev. Susan Sparks”

 1-Name what’s NOT worrying you;
2-Name what IS worrying you;
3-Hand it over and look beyond.
Here’s steps 1 and 2 in a nutshell:
First, start from a place of power and name what you are not worried about (step 1). When we focus on what is working, then we empower ourselves to face all the things we are worried about (step 2). Now we are ready for step three: hand it over and look beyond.A few years ago I tried mountain biking in Moab, Utah. The terrain was unlike any I had experienced with slick red rocks, gullies and dry riverbeds. One thing my instructor kept repeating: “Look beyond the obstacles!” Unfortunately, I kept looking down at the scary gullies and rocks. And as we all know in biking, if you look down, you go down.

It’s the same in life. At some point we have to find the strength to let go of the fear and look up, beyond the worry to the horizon of opportunities right in front of us. It’s like the old saying, “Worry looks around. Faith looks up.”

In any place of fear, we have two choices: worry or believe. You can’t do both. Either you believe in a greater power and have faith, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you keep the burden on yourself.

This is the ultimate act of ego because (and lets be honest here) we aren’t always strong enough to handle it. While I was in Moab, I also did some hiking. Any of you who have been off on a long day’s expedition know the exhausting nature of carrying a heavy backpack.

Thank goodness they put hip straps on backpacks—so you can rest the heaviest load on the strongest part. We should take a little wisdom from those backpacks and rest our heaviest worries on our strongest part—our sense of faith, hope, and a power greater than us.

So, the next time you get caught up in a cycle of worry remember: 1) name what’s not worrying you (what’s working), 2) name what’s worrying you, then 3) hand it over and look beyond. *
*Rev. Susan Sparks is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is a native of North Carolina. Suzanne and I visited that Church in January, 2020.

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Gratitude Two: Family

Both of my children, Suzanne and Michael, were here this past weekend. As the banter bounced back and forth it took me back to years ago when their mother worried that if something happened to the two of us, those two would never speak to each other again. If only she knew how wrong she was and she was never wrong.

Christmas 2015 - Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

Christmas 2015 – Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

I know that when the two of them are together my life hangs in the balance. How many mothers can one guy have? On the other hand, how blessed can one father be? Their mother raised them well. They could not have had a better example. She was the light of our world. Still, the teenager in them manages to show itself.

Suzanne cooked and froze dinners for me. Michael changed light bulbs, moved furniture, etc. His own two children, now adults, engaged in the same behaviors as my two did as teenagers. Not to be outdone was Maggie, Nancy and Michael’s dog, who made herself right at home.

Suzanne’s son, Christopher, and wife Raven were here to make the circle complete almost. He was on his way back to Seattle where he is a submariner.

This house was filled with joy and laughter. For a little while we were able to forget the COVID pandemic and how it has devastated our world. We are family.

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