Imagine these words in Calvin’s soliloquy.
The President’s words
in speeches and on Twitter.
Does it glamorize racism? Sure. Does it
desensitize us to hate speech? Of course. Does it help
us tolerate bigotry? You bet. Does it stunt
our empathy for our fellow beings? Heck yes.
Did it CAUSE the racially motivated shooting in El Paso?
Well, that’s hard to prove.
The trick is to not ask the right question.
There have been recent reports in the news showing President Trump’s twitter feed side by side with the “manifesto” of the gunman in El Paso: identical circled words in both documents. The day after the shooting, the President read a carefully prepared statement, which sought to link gun violence with mental illness and video games, saying it was “mental illness and hate, not the gun that pulled the trigger.” CBS news reported on Monday that NRA leaders called President Trump’s staff members and said they were pleased with what they heard.
The President may be an easy target for those of us who care about words, and speaking truth and compassion. To be sure, on other side of the aisle there have been plenty of misspeaks as well. May I too admit my own morbid curiosity that lets me scroll through cringe-worthy social blunders that are spilled onto social media, and how much I appreciate the witty bon mots used in just the right way?
The problem is that talk is cheap, but the costs are going up. One writer comments:
We dwell in a virtual Babel of linguistic confusion and misdirection. One need think only of the advertising industry to appreciate how pervasive is the use of language to at once deceive and seduce, to consciously create by means of words and images multiple illusions in pursuit of which other humans can spend their fortunes and their energies . . . . . .We are aware as well how the slippery half-truths of advertising have become the common language of politics, where messages to the public are crafted precisely according to their ability to “sell” a candidate, where lying about and slandering opponents have become recognized as the most effective of all campaigning devices, and where political agendas are advanced by appeals to the electorate’s more primitive fears and most unworthy cravings.”
So, the general gist of this is to watch what we say. If only it were that easy. Psalm 141 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Jesus said, “it is not what you put into your mouth that makes a person unclean, it is what comes out,” (Matthew 15:11) and that we’re going to have to give an account of every careless word we utter. (Matthew 12:36)
One of my favorite books is When God Is Silent; in it Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on the story of the Incarnate Word:
In the beginning was the Word; with God and in God and God. All things came into being through this Word- life and light too. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. . . .
When the Word became silent on Golgotha . . . .the world shook with grief. Rocks made the only sound they could, splitting open with small explosions that were their best versions of tears. The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, with a sound of such ripping that those who heard it thought it was the sky. The whole inanimate world leapt in to fill that silence, while poor, dumb, humanity stood speechless before the cross.
Later, after three days of complete quiet, the Word rose to break the silence. That familiar, beloved voice was once again heard on the earth, only briefly this time. Go. Make disciples. Teach. Proclaim. Go. Ready or not, it was the disciples turn to speak. The Word had come back to entrust them with the Word. Then he disappeared for good.
His words did not disappear. They lingered in the air, still pulsing with power. All they needed to do their work was someone to speak them. . . . Who was going to be the first to try on his words? They might as well dress up in his clothes and put his shoes on their feet. Who was going to pretend to be him?
Teach. Proclaim. Go. There was no way around it. The Word had willed them his words. And so the disciples entered the cloud of sacred speech. Peter was first . . . . but the others were not far behind. Before long they were all saying things they had never heard anyone but Jesus say before. Quoting him, they began to sound like him, and remarkable things happened around them when they did. People were healed, freed, fed, transformed. People called them gods and laid garlands at their feet, which gave them a chance to explain the difference between the Word and servants of the Word.. . . . .When the disciples spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their words became acts. There was no vacuum between their saying and God’s doing. When they spoke in the name of the Word made flesh, God came to earth all over again.
So. Can I use my words to good purpose? I can call my representatives, and remind them that a bill that supports universal background checks is still sitting on a certain senator’s desk, even though it has been passed by the House. I can also remind my representatives of the latest Marist Poll on universal background checks as quoted by Tamara Keith on the PBS NewsHour August 5, 2019: “It is — you have got 96 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of independents. That is — I mean, I don’t think that many people support apple pie.”
And here, for a start, is how I will use my words, so that Christ may live again in them. I have a relative that posted an opinion I do not share on my Facebook page. It took me a day to come up with the gentlest response I could: “Check your facts,” and then I followed with the data to illustrate the sequence of events we disagreed on. Did it take time? Sure. Did it irritate me? Of course. Did I want to just ignore it and privately think disparaging, judgmental thoughts? You bet. Do I think this will have precisely zero effect on how either of us thinks? Heck yes. But is it necessary for relationship and love? That is the right question to ask.
Then the Word will become flesh again, in us. Then all our words will reflect the Word who called us into being. Then the words of our mouths will be acceptable in the sight of our Rock and our Redeemer.
 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XII (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1998) p.206.
 When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications, Cambridge, MA, 1998)pp. 46-48