On June 1, 2009, I wrote this post in the aftermath of the shooting of Dr. George Tiller. I am reposting it with some changes as a response to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the death of six victims including Judge John Roll and a nine year old child and 12 more injured. There is already a flurry and war of words going on in the media, among the rigth and the left and everyone in between. I felt an edited version of this blog post might be helpful in this time.
When I was a child we used to chant, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I most often chanted that when someone was calling me a name. Somehow in some way, if I used those "magic words" whatever hurtful, insulting or hateful things people were saying wouldn't matter.
Truth be told, it never worked. The names hurt, the words were painful for all that I attempted to be strong. Those persons who called me names or laughed at me or mocked me, knew the power they held.
As a preacher for 29 years, I know the power of the word. Words can comfort a grieving soul, words can inspire people to do great things. Words have the power to give voice to deep held emotions and beliefs. Words can share the depth of love and of faith.
Words also have the capacity to wound, to destroy and to incite persons to acts of hatred and violence. In that way, words are not neutral. What we say as human beings matter and matters deeply.
Not all persons are Christians, but followers of Christ have an interesting understanding of the power of words and the Word. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took the commandments from the Hebrew Scriptures and said paraphrased, "You shall not kill, but any one angry with their brother or sister or insults them or calls them 'fool' is liable." Jesus goes on to say in the fifth chapter of Matthew that what we do in our hearts and minds is just the same as if we physically acted out those thoughts.
When we say hateful, violent words, when we wish ill or death or violence on another human being it is the same as if we actually lived out the action. I believe in a very real way, those who have posted on web sites, opinion lines, those who have passed out flyer's and leaflets, and gone on radio and television spewing hatred, spewing prejudice and encouraging violence have a responsibility when their words are taken seriously and acted upon.
For the past two years, in the midst of an election cycle, all kinds of hateful, vile and violent words have been used between candidates for election. The election was ugly and both sides promoted misinformation. The words hurled back and forth created an environment seemly closed to dialogue and to debate other than to shout down and shut down others.
The past two days comments on cnn, msnbc, fox, Wichita Eagle and Kansas television stations have not surprised me. I find the battle of words continues with insults to others who comment. In the online world where anonymity rules, some people really believe they can say anything they want and it does not matter. The more shocking, the more hateful, the more likely a reaction will occur.
For people who claim the name Christian, words matter. We are held responsible for the actions that occur because of what we say and do. We are called to a higher way of being, one of love, one of peace and one of grace. We can deeply disagree about our faith and how we live that out, but that does not leave any room for name calling, the hurling of insults or anonymous posts.
As a preacher, because I know the power of words, I find myself "filtering" rather than saying things that will had fuel to the fire, and promote more hatred and violence in the world. Words are sometimes "too easy" and I must be careful. A turn of phrase, a cutting edge to my voice, a slightly veiled insult does not promote what I believe is good and true. So, I continue to attempt to use my words to bring peace, love, justice and grace into the world. I know that words will break hearts and spirits. I will not use my words to incite anger and violence. I will lift up the families of all the victims, the community stunned by this senseless violence and all those struggling to heal from their wounds in my prayers as they walk through this difficult time.
I am committing myself once again, to lowering the violent rhetoric, to creating space for deep dialogue and disagreement and reminding everyone, words really do matter.
I am Graced to Serve.