Archive for category Christian Civility

Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego – Rev. Susan Sparks -Sunnyside Up

Until I entered seminary, I thought that the three Bible characters who were saved from the fiery furnace were named Shadrach, Meshach, and “To bed we go.”

Okay, maybe the seminary timing is an exaggeration. However, it’s true that I believed those were their names. You see, in order to get me to go to sleep when I was a kid, my Dad would read me Bible stories—this one from the book of Daniel being one of my favorites. While he pronounced “Abednego” correctly (albeit with a thick Southern accent), I heard “to bed we go” because I knew that was what was coming.

Sadly, Shadrach, Meshach, and “to bed we go” weren’t the only names I got wrong. In elementary school, there was “Elemeno,” that peculiar letter in the alphabet that came before the letter “P.” As a teenager (and for many years afterward), I sang some embarrassingly incorrect lyrics from Starship’s hit song “We Built This City.” Instead of “We built this city on rock and roll,” I would happily croon, “We built this city on sausage rolls.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Recently, I discovered that there’s actually a term for this; “mondegreen” means a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. In fact, it’s quite common in human behavior. A study at the Baylor College of Medicine concluded that when our brains attempt to process imprecise information (like a song lyric that we’re not sure about), the blanks are filled in based on our own biases, prior beliefs, or expectations.

If you ask me, there’s a lot of “mondegreening” going on in our world these days. That’s understandable because as a society, we are terrible listeners. We form our answer or opinion before someone else’s sentence is even finished. We make assumptions that aren’t in evidence (as we used to say in the law). We form conclusions about what people are saying, filling in the blanks based on our biases, prior beliefs, and expectations.

In fact, we worship assumptions just as the ancient Babylonians worshipped the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar from my favorite “to bed you go” story in Daniel. There, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into a fiery furnace because they refuse to worship the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, but an angel joins them in the fire, not only saving them, but transforming the heart of the king.

Sadly, we continue to worship at that golden idol of assumptions. Maybe it’s when our spouse or partner starts to tell us something, and we cut them off because we already “know” what they are going to say. Maybe it’s when we quickly click the remote because we’ve “heard all we need to hear.” Or maybe it’s when we refuse to listen to another side of an argument or story or dismiss an insight from someone with whom we disagree.

However it occurs, this refusal to listen tends to result in incomplete and inaccurate understandings of what is being said. We then fill in the blanks with our assumptions – kind of like when you know that your dad is trying to get you to sleep, so you hear “to bed we go” instead of “Abednego.”

The bottom line is that we repeat what we think we hear. And if we repeat it long enough, it becomes our truth.

Listening is a holy ritual that we should perform with grace and love every day. What if we refuse to worship at the idol of assumptions? What if, instead, we lean on our faith to give us more patience, empathy, and understanding? When we step out in faith, powerful forces will come to our aid—like, perhaps, an angel standing by us whispering, “take a breath; let them talk; hear their story.”

Sure, I’ll continue to belt out incorrect song lyrics that will mortify my family and friends, but I hope the inaccuracies will stop there. Singing a song lyric that the writer never intended is a wrong, but putting words into other people’s mouths is a whole ‘nother kind of wrong.

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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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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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