For the worth of words  

For the worth of words  


Tell the truth.
Who's been fooling who?
…You better come to terms
with your fellow men soon, ‘cause...
It doesn't matter just who you are,
Or where you're going or been.
Open your eyes and look into your heart.
The whole world is shaking now.
Can't you feel it?

(From “Tell the Truth” by Eric Clapton)

Comediennes are paid to entertain us,
to make us laugh.

Teachers are paid to teach our children well.

Reporters are paid to keep us informed
on current events at home and around the world.

Lawyers are paid to defend our rights
under the statutes and the rule of law.

Celebrity speakers are paid to challenge our minds
and to be motivational.

Preachers are paid to guide us spiritually and morally,
from here to eternity.

Politicians are paid to govern us
according to our rights and freedoms,
to uphold our national security,
and advance our economic interests
in a world of competing needs and interests.

By dealing in words each of these
ply their trade and sell their wares.
Yet what we pay them is no guarantee
that the words they use will do us any good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words,
my own words and the words of others.

We live in a world of words.
Like air and water
we depend on the goodness of words
for the flourishing of our lives.

When the air we breathe turns thick
with pollutants and particulates -
we suffer.

When the water we count on turns fetid
with decay and toxin -
we suffer.

When the world of words we live by
lose their mooring in truth and goodness -
we suffer.

“Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies”*
a book about words and meanings, truth and beauty,
is as provocative as it is prophetic
For if we are careless with the words we use
as we are careless stewards
of the air and water
the environment of truth and trust and meaning
turns dark and toxic.

Some folks take me to task for becoming political,
for taking issue with leaders who
lie while calling others liars;
and who label others false and fake
while they themselves cannot be trusted.

The reality is that we are all at fault
when, in benign complicity,
we smile, defend, and politicize the issue.
Far more than any of us would care to admit,
we also are to blame -
when we speak words
that are untrue;
words that deliberately malign;
words that defend the indefensible;
words that castigate and cast aspersions
on another person to make us seem the bigger winner;
words of hubris
that only bolster our own egos;
words of threat
that demean and undermine community…

What’s a word really worth today?
…when what we read and hear
from politicians and reporters,
comedians and lawyers,
speakers and pundits,
even teachers and preachers,
becomes self-serving -
other maligning -
words of untruth, half-truth, and nothing like the truth.

The world we live in is becoming toxic by our own doing.
We demand clean air and water,
yet we don’t we demand the same of words?

There should be no excuse for political and public leaders
who play loose and fast and mean with words.

There should be no excuse for us
when we accept untruth for the sake of
politics, or place, or privilege.

As followers of Jesus,
the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life,
we are called to live by a higher standard.
And if all of us who wish to follow Jesus
really cherished words by virtue of truth and goodness,
the stifling environment of hypocrisy and distrust in which we live
would change for the better.
It would change with us
by the words and tones we use
in speaking to one another,
and the expectations we have
of those among us
who are entrusted with leadership responsibility –
to use their words
for the common good.

That is what are our words are really worth
and why it is that every word matters,
especially in the toxicity of this present culture.

(* “Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies” Marilyn Chandler McEntyre)