I’m considering a “word fast.” I’d never thought of this as an option before but lately I’ve been so acutely aware of how my words – however well meant – can have an impact I didn’t intend. Hmmm…that reminds me of one of our Guidelines from VISIONS, Inc. I know we are all aware of the power of our words to bring pain or to bring healing:
…but 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 (James 3:8 – 10a).
Just last week, some 125 bishops of The Episcopal Church took out an ad in the New York Times appealing to the President and Congress not to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The words in the ad are meant to bring protection and support to the young people who were brought to this country “through no fault of their own.” You can see the ad here.
In this same week, we also heard words of incivility and aggression by our President directed at the NFL owners and players. These words were spoken to shame and ridicule others and maybe coerce some people to take action against those that demonstrate their right to free speech.
I see a problem here. As much as my descriptions of these two events conveys my opinion, I also know that they don’t necessarily represent the opinion of everyone – even people I know well. Even some people I call friends. I’d like to think that my opinion is truly the only reasonable one but I know that this line of thinking prevents me from hearing what others have to say. I honestly believe that the elections of 2016 demonstrated that, perhaps, many of us hadn’t been really listening to the stories of those who have felt marginalized and underserved. Along came a strong voice making promises to bring a better life to these hurting groups of people. It seemed as though someone was finally on their side. How could we expect the result to be anything different?
These thoughts started playing around in my mind as I prepared the sermon for Sunday. God’s extravagant generosity is lavished on everyone. None of us have a claim to more of God’s love or grace or mercy than anyone else. That being the case, how do I express my opinions with respect for others, acknowledging that they, too, are entitled to their thoughts and ideas – and entitled to express them? I’m saddened when I read social media posts written by friends of mine that engage in name calling or ridiculing the opinions of others. I’m no “Goody Two Shoes”; there are plenty of times I’m angry and scared and want to speak out in my frustration, too. More than that, however, I want to see healing and reconciliation grow in our communities and country and not further the divisive course we seem to be traveling.
As I was driving home from Jackson on Saturday, I got to listen to NPR’s This American Life – this week’s program having a lot to do with the words that we speak. It’s a tough one to hear because the stories express many opinions and actions with which I disagree and, in fact, find appalling. Despite that, I’m glad I listened because I have a better understanding of the motives behind the individuals involved in planning the Charlottesville rally last month. I don’t agree with them at all and I’m still sickened by what happened and frightened for the direction our country seems to be taking but I’m glad to have the opportunity to hear some of the background. You can listen to the program here.
Another very cool thing happened last week. The House of Bishops has been meeting in a small town in the northern wilderness of Alaska to explore local projects in the care of creation and racial reconciliation. Episcopal News Service (ENS) shared an article about the preparations the Diocese of Alaska made in advance of the Bishops’ visit that you can read here.
As one part of their meeting, the Bishops listened to the villagers’ stories and then blessed the abundant natural resources of which their land boasts. The Daily News-Miner from Fairbanks reported the story of the visit by 25 of the bishops to the site of an old gold dredge near Chatanika Lodge. Bishop Arthur Williams from the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio commented: “These days we use the word ‘awesome’ a lot. I have a deeper understanding of the awesomeness of God and his creations after driving from Anchorage and seeing Denali.” Other groups of bishops traveled to different sites to offer blessings including Eagle, Fort Yukon, Venetie, Arctic Village, Beaver, Allakaket and Huslia. These ceremonies of blessing included prayers, confession and Scripture readings, ending with this blessing:
May God the Father pour blessing upon the earth that God has made. May God the Son pour mercy upon the earth that God has made. May God the Holy Spirit pour healing upon the earth that God has made. Upon our communities, our people, our land. May the land be filled with abundance, and the waters with life. And may the blessing, mercy and grace of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon this living world. Upon our ancestors, upon our mothers and our fathers, upon us and upon our children, now and forever, amen.
What strikes me about this visit is the desire of the bishops to listen and learn. This is a fine example for us even as we remain at home. And the bishops brought words of healing and reconciliation, words that build bridges and not walls. You can read more here.
So, that brings me back to my “word fast.” I am committing to fast from words that cause pain and demonstrate a lack of respect for others. I will speak out for justice when it is appropriate using words that express my opinion without trampling on others and cause pain. And I will take a big deep breath and listen to what others have to say. You know, my mother used to say: “If you don’t have something kind to say, don’t say anything at all.” Maybe she was right…again.
Let us pray…
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council