Posts Tagged words

Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt – James Gordon – Ethics Daily

Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt | James Gordon, Speech, Civility, Lent

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness, Gordon says. (Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The first clause of the theological masterpiece, which is the Gospel of John, proclaims “In the beginning was the Word.”

The first words of God at the beginning of all things, according to that equally remarkable meteor of theology, the creation story in Genesis, are “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'”

For Christians, those two moments of divine articulation should be enough to teach us respect, indeed reverence, for words.

Whether written or spoken, words have performative power. They make things happen, they have an impact, they influence for good or ill, persuade of truth or lie, affirm or diminish, enlighten or deceive, liberate or oppress, heal or hurt.

As a Christian, I have a responsibility to give an account of my words. Indeed, Jesus warned that the day would come when we will give an account of every word we have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

Now there’s a warning for the biblical literalist self-righteously ramming their words of truth down other people’s throats.

Elsewhere in the gospels, there’s a quite different scenario – a Roman centurion, a man of few words and most of them were orders to other people (Matthew 8:5-13).

His personal servant is about to die, but he has heard Jesus is a healer, someone who speaks with authority. So he uses his networks and his influence, he sends Jewish elders to bring Jesus.

To cut a short story shorter, the centurion gets a message to Jesus, “Say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Now there’s a man who knows what words are for, who understands the power of the spoken word, someone used to seeing the performative power of words.

We live in a culture buried under words and blinded by an endless supply of new or familiar flickering images.

We hear so much, we are losing our hearing; we see so much our sight is blurring from image overload.

But staying with words for the present, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre, in her book, “Caring for Words in a World of Lies,” states with prophetic frankness, “Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded and filled with artificial stimulants.”

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness.

From the praise songs we sing to the texts we send; from our conversations at work to the confidences we hold in trust for others; from the jokes we tell and laugh at to the lies we refuse to tell; from the clever put downs of those we dislike to the caring affirmations of other people’s worth; language carries with it obligations to which the follower of Jesus has to attend.

That’s why this Lent we should consider the nature of language – what it is that we do when we speak words to each other, how to endow words with sacramental significance so that speech becomes a means of grace, a strengthening of the soul in ourselves and others, and an influence for good, compassion, truthfulness and conciliation in our society.

I’m tired of cliché and spin, of the conspiracy, not of silence, but of unworthy words spoken in half-truth – evasive rather than clarifying, cruel rather than compassionate, empty of human communion rather than full of attentive human presence.

At a time when the Western world near absolutizes freedom of speech and expression, it’s time to examine much more closely the proper constraints on speech and expression.

It is time, too, to recognize the power of language to dehumanize and diminish other human beings in the interests of our own agendas, prejudices and unacknowledged as well as confessed enmities.

James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and continues as an occasional lecturer on practical theology and areas of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.

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Singing Is the Only Sufficient Outlet for Praise and Worship – Chautauqua Daily

Morning Worship

Mary Lee Talbot

“When we decide that we are creatures of the lord, we allocate some of our words for praise. Worship is the practical name for this mouth-loosening activity.  Sometimes, the words come out in song as we discover god beyond the debates, thinking and discussion; singing is the only sufficient outlet for praise,” said the Rev. Peter Marty at Thurs- day’s 9:15 a.m. morning worship service. His sermon title “Singing With our last Breath,” and the Scripture text was Jeremiah 1: 4-10.  Marty told a story of a young couple, Ben and renee, who were in Haiti at the time of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. They were staying in a home for boys on the third floor with a cousin of Ben’s. After the earthquake hit, renee and the cousin were able to get out of the building. Ben was trapped on the third floor. Renee let him know she was safe and then she heard Ben singing, “god’s peace to us we pray,” a new composition he had written.  “Ben,” Marty said, “spent his last breath singing. “everyone who takes Jesus seriously must take words seriously,” he continued. “Jesus is the word made flesh. This is not a trivial claim; it is a tipoff for all of us as we navigate relationships that require words. We have non-verbal clues to attitudes, feelings and moods but words are critical to full relationships; they are the currency of living.” Marty said that words possess the power to do things. in a courtroom, the judge breaks the silence with the words “ ‘the jury has found the defendant guilty,’ and it changes lives. A lover looks at her mate and blurts out ‘i love you’ and sets off a ripple through the nervous system to the brain.” Words can soothe, inform, judge, encourage and love, he said. They can express ideas and experiences, yet words can express more than ideas. “god said ‘let there be light’ and there was light,” he said. “god spoke creation into existence. Words can func- tion like deeds, as the prophet isaiah said, ‘My words did not return empty to me’ but fulfilled their purpose. The Church defeated the roman empire by blanketing it with words, with the retelling of Scripture.” He continued, “They did not use guns or swords or cannons. The church opened its mouth and spoke. roman society was organized around classifications — race, class, family name. The Church formed a people based on words.” Words shape lives. “our paths are cut by swaths of words from the people who raised, encouraged and challenged us. But we are all capable of cheap words that treat life and people gracelessly. Words are the substructure of trustwor- thiness in relationships and once they are spoken they can never be unspoken,” Marty said. “Words,” he said, “are all i brought with me this week. They formed in my heart and mind and eventually are ex- pelled. They formed in my head and moved to your ears. As the Psalmist said, ‘May the words of my mouth and medita- tions of my heart be acceptable in your sight.’ ” Speech is a physiological event and every word has a physical substance, a puff of air through the lungs, esopha- gus, larynx, tongue, teeth and lips. He repeated his warning that words once spoken can never be pulled back. “We can apologize sometimes but the words are officially gone.” There are times when words will not come. The prophet isaiah could not speak the words of the lord until a seraph touched his lips with a coal and made his lips clean. Jeremiah was not capable of speaking for the lord until god touched his lips. “The beautiful dimension of the Christian life is that in life and death we sing. in living and dying, song is our strength. As the Psalmist says, ‘open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise,’ ” Marty said. The Rev. Scott Maxwell presided. Pat Brown, hostess at the Baptist House, read the Scripture.  The prelude was “Trio in G Major” by Marcel Gennaro, played by Barbara Hois, flute, Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, and Debbie Grohman, clarinet. The Motet Choir sang “Love” based on I Corinthians 13:1-13, with text by Chris- topher Wordsworth and music by Gerald Near. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy supports this week’s services. Singing is the only sufficient outlet for praise and worship

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Thankful Thursday – Joyce and Dean Murphy

On this Thankful Thursday I am thankful for the gifts that Joyce and Dean (Willard) Murphy bring to my life. I was at Furman University with Joyce’s sister, Jeanne.  Joyce and Dean had already graduated. Joyce has a delightful sense of humor. She and I share a love of great quotations and she calls from time to time to share one. She is a terrific conversationalist. I enjoyed being in a Sunday school class with her because she is never satisfied with a simple, pat explanation. Being a lover of words, she digs deeper. She reads widely and has a depth of knowledge that is staggering. Joyce is an accomplished gardener and hostess. Joyce and Dean are very active members of First Baptist Church of Charleston. Dean has a FBC photo collection that is remarkable. He has stories to tell about many of those pictures. He has riotous stories about being a door to door furniture salesman on the islands. They are world travelers. On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for the gifts that Joyce and Dean Murphy brings to my life.

Thankful Thursday is a day set aside to recognize the importance of someone to our lives and to let her or him know of our gratitude. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. You will be glad you did.

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The Tyranny of Unspoken Words

The Unitarian Church in CharlestonOn the first of their summer services, I was honored to speak to at The Unitarian Church in Charleston, where my son and his family are members. The message, The Tyranny of Unspoken Words, was a reminder of how much our words, or lack of them, can mean to people.

To listen to the full podcast of the service, please go to http://www.uupodcasts.com/the-tyranny-of-unspoken-words/

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