On Words

Political Flashback: Michelle Wolf. Thoughts? White House Correspondents Dinner. Response? Hopefully your reply is somewhere along the lines of “Yeah, a secular event with secular jokes, all went as expected.” But I have a feeling most people don’t share that sentiment. There has been too much slamming of Michelle Wolf as a comedian on social media for me to believe the general populous really understands what her job was. Personally, I was not surprised by Wolf’s jokes. I admit, I found most of them hilarious. She disarmed the audience, she exposed the truth, and she delivered her witticism in with great timing. What more do you want when you hire a comedian for a politically charged event? It has been difficult for me to reconcile with the outrage of many Christians I know. To what standard were you holding her? She has never proclaimed to be a spokesperson for Christ or the Church. She cannot have disappointed you in that regard. Perhaps you were holding her to the high standard of the American President? If so, Wolf could have gone much farther than she did. We, as a people, allowed a man with brutally vile language to take over a public position. We know what his tweets say. We know what he says behind closed doors. We know what he says to the faces of multiple women. Why do we expect anything more from anyone else? For those who are sharing “Protect Sarah Sanders” posts to your timelines, did you also share “Protect Rosie O’Donnell?” No? Hmm. Why not? Why is one member of the White House administration allocated your undivided protection when many women before her were slandered and disrespected? 

Of course, by the time this is public, Michelle Wolf and her ‘terrible’ speech will be old news. While this piece is not about politics, or about the White House correspondent dinner, it is interesting that now we have moved on from slandering Wolf to someone else. Even in our hate we have difficulty concentrating. Why? Are we so slammed with information that requires outrage we cannot pay attention to one event for longer than 24 hours? Or is our hate and anger so rampant that it requires a new target to devour every second? Are our words so incendiary we cannot keep them in our mouths – instead we have to purge them over coffee or during our daily media update – we must make sure we degrade at least ten people by night! That’s what good, upstanding people do! 

How twisted is that? How wrong is it for us to obsess over the flaws of others? Our mouths are teeming with derogatory vocabulary and we see nothing amiss with this habit? Why not? Why is so indoctrinated into our culture that we can say whatever we want, in whatever tone, to whoever is in earshot? When did it become okay for us to share hateful memes as casually as we say our morning prayers? When did it become habitual for us to demean people who think or act differently than we do – as long as they don’t hear us? Or even worse, when did it become commonplace to gossip, slander, or insult directly and expect the other person to ‘cover it with grace’ or to ‘understand because we’re family.’ If the premise of ‘family’ means you care more deeply than wouldn’t you be even more thoughtful and kind with your words? Perhaps not. Perhaps when we are in comfortable environments – our own home, with good friends, behind computer screens – we forget the need to work on our witness. Perhaps when we are in these closed-door situations we believe we have the freedom to act without consequences. We do not. We know this. We know that even that which we do in private affects our hearts, our minds, and our relationships with others. Words spoken and shared are no different. We should be even more aware of our words than anything else – words shape our image, they change our perceptions, and they create others’ impressions of us. Wouldn’t it be wise to treat words with utmost caution? Are we not warned to do just that in the New Testament? How then do we justify the cruel, inflammatory language spread so vehemently through Facebook, phone calls, group chats, or dinner conversations?

 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:1-12 ESV

This theme is repeated. It is evident we are meant to be careful with our words. 1 Peter 2:1 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Look also at Titus 3:2 and Psalm 34:13. The most convicting for me is always Proverbs 12:18-19 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” My words could either heal wounds or pierce someone – why would I ever choose not to heal? 

A few weeks ago I was reminded by an old friend of the weighty power of words. She was writing an account of her own experience – the destruction that words can cause was very evident in that moment. Words are unlike actions in their pervasive and transformational manner. Albus Dumbledore wisely said, through the pen of J.K. Rowling “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” How true that is. Words are heavy, friends. They can either create or they can destroy. Words can either build up or tear down. They can give life to a relationship or they can corrode it. Words can bring healing – yet they can just as easily be the poison that brings death. Words are powerful, and we, for whatever reason, have become too accustomed to wielding power. We have forgotten the strength we possess. We act like children playing ping-pong in a china shop. We know the potential disaster but we’re so used to the crashing plates, the shattering saucers, the ruined cups that one more broken dish doesn’t seem to matter much. One more tasty tidbit of gossip is nothing in a swamp overflowing with it. One more unkind word about that race, that religion, that school, that team is nothing when our world is satiated with hateful slander against groups of people. But, here’s the thing, it really does matter. What you say, what I say, and how we say it really does make a difference. What is the advantage of gossiping about your children, your friends, your siblings and taking the risk of breaking those relationships when instead you could provide direct encouragement to those individuals and make a positive investment? 

I know, it’s an odd notion. Let’s be kind to one another and say nice things – how preschool right? Wrong. How Christlike. How can we justify what we say when we know the words of Christ, Love Incarnate? It is deplorable that Christians cannot set themselves apart from the world by conversation. Yet, we seem to think we don’t need to do this. Too often I have been in a believer’s home and hear them say a terribly hateful thing about democrats, or republicans, or refugees, or their neighbors, or their in-laws, or their co-workers. Too often have I been the one to share my own misguided sentiments without conviction. Too often I find myself feeling entitled to gossip, to slander, to disparage on any one who has irked me – how wrong is that? How warped. Even if I were standing alone in my kitchen it would not be right for me to voice an unkind, hateful word – because even in that moment of solitude I am standing as a representative of Christ’s love. What does it do to our witness, Believer, when we are heard misusing the tongue?

An argument you may have against this is easy to predict. I’ve heard it before – mostly from other Christians. “Oh Iona, how silly and soft you are. This is the real, tough world. Grow a thick skin and move on. People are going to talk about whoever they want however they want and you are wrong to think you can stop them. Just give everyone grace and get over it.” To number the times I’ve heard a variation of this message would be impossible. What is it about us, Christians, that desires to keep our secret vices instead of giving our whole selves to Christ? Is it weakness for me to listen lovingly and diligently to people I do not agree with or understand? Or is it weakness for me to shame those same people on social media – intentionally inciting anger and conflict? Is it weakness for me to know the weight of my words and to be careful with them? Or is it weakness to spout off “You’re stupid and your ideas are stupid” as soon as someone says something I don’t like in my house? I know this is a real and tough world. Most of you readers do not understand how well I know that. Most of you did not grow up hand in hand with impoverished children. Most of you do not remember living without electricity in the 21st century. But it is the coarseness of this world that makes me so grateful we have a tender Father – a Father who drapes us in Loving grace, a Father who does not want us to remain in our sin but wants to see us grow more like Him. How unkind it would be if God never convicted us. Similarly, how unkind we are to one another when we do not recognize sin for what it is and attempt to make a change. I know the hypocrisy of this post all too well. I am a sinner well acquainted with the depths of my sordid actions. I know that for every cruel word I have heard I must have said a thousands others. I know that for every piece of gossip I have heard I must have shared a hundred others. I know that until the day I am taken Home I will struggle to bite my tongue, evaluate my words, and say only that which will edify Christ. But, even as I know this will be a daily battle, I am beyond grateful for the believers I have in my life who hold me to a higher standard. I am thankful for friends who hold me above reproach, friend who call me out when my words are not gentle, not loving, not a reflection of my faith in any way. It is never easy to change our ways – but it is necessary. If Christians are to stand out in this messy, broken world, it must be through our words and actions in every moment. If we are to have any impact for Christ we must be aware of the effect our words can create. We must be attuned to the magic we are wielding – and we must choose to let that magic be good, healing, wholesome. I love you. I am sorry. I forgive you. Powerfully magical words. Transformative words. Words seldom misused or forgotten. Words like those are often replaced with I hate you. I deserve more. You’re not worth this. You’re wrong. You owe me. And countless others…. Friends, we have the capability to create great change within ourselves and within our relationships simply by choosing to be kind with our words, gentle with our tongue, and loving without intentions. For those not convinced, for readers still rolling their eyes and saying “Okay Iona… tell me when the real world hits you. You can’t be a pansy snowflake forever” – I beg to differ. If being a “pansy” in this world means I am sensitive to words, both spoken by me and to me, for the sake of Christ, then I’ll be a whole window box display. Hurting others, hating others, degrading others for the purpose of having the upper hand or the “right” opinion is not worth the cost. How could I, how could we, use our words for ill when they have the potential to do so much good? 

For further reading on this topic please look at these two articles from Desiring God. 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/know-what-not-to-say

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-should-christians-comment-online 

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