John the Gospel Writer wrote the words in the title to this blog. They are found in the first chapter and are part of a longer passage that gives the theological and philosophical meaning of Jesus’ birth. Luke and Matthew provide the details of the story: angels, magi, shepherds, Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, and Mary and Joseph. John is more interested in the meaning of Jesus’ life and birth.
The Word, which we translate from the Greek word Logos, is associated with self-expression and revelation of the self. The Word is thus God’s self-disclosure (according to Richard Rohrbaugh and Bruce Malina in Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John). God speaks and there is light in Genesis; God’s Word is uttered and there is a new revelation of God’s being in John.
So, this brings me to think about words. Remember the rhyme our teachers taught us in elementary school (at least if you are the same vintage as I): “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I confess that I never believed this when I was a kid; and today’s research into bullying and other forms of intimidation categorically disprove this aphorism. Words matter!
Words are important and when used in a negative or bullying way are hurtful. As we learn in history over and over, and as we learn in our own lives after language faux pas, we need to choose our words carefully. There are lots of examples where words are hurtful or wounding, but I want to cite three that have recently bothered me.
1. Bal Brach, a CBC journalist, wrote an article called “Canada limits the number of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applicants in 2017.” A spokesperson for the Ministry of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada—Sonia Lesage—was quoted as saying, when addressing the backlog of cases in the refugee system, “Annual caps help reduce processing times and prevent an inventory backlog to build up.” I was appalled that this Canadian government official would refer to human beings as “inventory.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canada-limits-the-number-of-privately-sponsored-syrian-refugee-applicants-in-2017-1.3911172.)
2. A phrase that we hear all of the time, even in the church, to which I object is the reference to an issue as a “file.” Even referring to something as an “issue” is bad enough. When we refer to a situation involving the earth or human beings or something specific, we objectify it by referring to it as a “file.”
3. The recent discussion about fake news has been enlightening. Fake news, employed most recently by Trump supporters, is now a political tactic. Words are used to twist or deny the veracity of something. The words of fake news items are used to create a false reality.
Words are important because we disclose something of ourselves when we use them. How we use words, don’t use them, or misuse them matters!
As we enter the year 2017, I want to commit to using words wisely and lovingly. I want to convey my understanding of God’s intention for the world. I hope that in my use of language I can convey something of the Word made flesh and God’s intention for distributive justice and love.
Happy New Year!