I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of words to give life or to deal death. About the ways we speak with, or unfortunately often AT or ABOUT, one another. Along with many of us, I’m deeply concerned about our public discourse these days. If you want to be any more troubled about the state of our dis-union, just read the comments section after any article you find sensible. I don’t know why I do it; it’s like passing a pile-up on the highway, and you can’t look away from the carnage.
It seems like we argue way more than we dialogue. We try to change each other’s minds, more than we try to understand another’s perspective. We tear down, and speak AGAINST, rather than building up and speaking FOR. Turns out maybe we’re all wielding the weapons we have in our possession --our tongues, and in our digital age, our fingers, which we use to fire off inflammatory texts, emails, FB posts, tweets and the like.
I get it. I find myself “triggered” every day by the false or frightening, the myopic or maddening, the hateful or hellacious things people are saying and doing. I want to react, and sometimes I do, with my own ambush of words. But to what end? It’s like we’re all wearing those ear muffs and rapid firing, and is anyone left standing unwounded?
We’re at war. Every day, we wake up to more bloodshed. Every which way, we are mowing one another down with our hate and ignorance, our fear and greed. And whether we choose to really see it or not, we are all wounded and suffering.
Those among us who call ourselves Christians, who say we are trying to live like Jesus,--the Prince of Peace, the Suffering Servant, the one who commanded us to “put down our swords, for all who take the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52), the one who bore the depravity and violence of humanity in his crucified body and breathed forgiveness until the end rather than resorting to violence himself--we are called to nonviolence. In our actions. In our words, spoken and written. In our hearts and thoughts even.
I keep hearing these verses cautioning and convicting me . . .
You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (Matthew 5:21-22, The Message)
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29, NRSV)
No one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (James 3:8-10)
What are we doing with our anger? How are we wielding our words? Are we blessing and building up and giving grace to those who hear? How is God inviting us, even now, especially now, into the school of love and nonviolence?
I don’t know about you, but I have a next-to-impossible time staying true to Jesus during an election season. No angry dismissal of others? No retaliation? Love my enemies? Pray for perpetrators? Speak truth in love? These are the difficult teachings of Jesus, which we often prefer to ignore, when they don’t align with our political inclinations or even our “rights.” I want to retort, and sometimes do, “Come on, Jesus! There’s got to be another way.”
He says, Follow me, and sets his face toward Washington DC.
I pray for the strength and grace to stay with him, even when I’d prefer to deny and flee, or draw the sword of my tongue and strike. Because at the end of the day I don’t see any other way but his beyond this chaos and carnage.