Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sticks and Stones Break Bones---Words Do, Too

vi·o·lence noun \ˈvī-lən(t)s, ˈvī-ə-\
Definition of VIOLENCE
1  a : exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse (as in warfare effecting illegal entry into a house)b : an instance of violent treatment or procedure
2  : injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation: outrage
3 a : intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force
b : vehement feeling or expression : fervor; also : an instance of such action or feeling
c : a clashing or jarring quality : discordance (from

I'm not sure there's anything more narcissistic than to ascribe blame for catastrophic events. We all do it. Something awful happens and we want to know why. What makes it narcissistic is that the blame we place gladly is always elsewhere...usually on the diametrically opposite pole of where we are in life or the world view we hold thereby propping ourselves up as the paragons of virtue, truth and supreme importance while "they" are the embodiment of evil, corruption and that which must be purged lest the Republic fall. Whether or not the blame is real or imagined, when we do such a thing we enjoy the presumably safe cover of taking easy shots at those whose positions we abhor.

And when that happens we perpetuate the violence--just of another sort.

It's happened too much since last weekend.  It's easy.  It's petty.  It's tacky.

So self absorbed is the media about how a mentally ill person did what he did from which connections are drawn based on what one hopes is the reason rather than what really is (something which may never be known), that shattered bodies are not even  yet cold before we skew what is ultimately important about a tragic situation.

He's a Commie.  He's a Nazi.  He's a liberal.  He's a conservative.  He's influenced by cross hairs on a map.  He's influenced by the moon.  Who's knows?  It's Sarah Palin's fault.  It's not Sarah Palin's fault.  And today the term "blood libel" was used--which does not help.  I wonder if she knew what that meant historically when she said it.  My hope is she didn't. Because if she did, the cycle of violence continues.  

To have this tit for tat argument now bespeaks the larger issue.  There's murder in Tuscon, but look at me!!!!

Everybody, SHUT UP!

We do violence of another kind if, for now, we do anything but offer prayers of comfort and support for the grieving, and prayers for healing and wholeness for the injured.  If, for right now, our focus is more on a blame placing "why" than it is celebrating the profound courage of those who rose up and ended this murderous spree before more bullets could fly then we are revealing our true intent, and it is not noble.

But there's a conversation that must be had...someday, and soon.  While not drawing a causal relationship between what occurred in Tuscon and the ways in which differing sides speak to their constituents about others ---anyone who honestly thinks our lack of civility in matters of public discourse has nothing to do with heightened tensions isn't listening.  Speak "violence" enough, be it overt or coded and muted, how then can we be surprised when violence comes (as it does everyday all over the place) and causal relationships are not sought? 

We're better than this.  At least I think we are.  Well, I hope we are.

We all grew up with that old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  Sticks and stones do break bones, and despite our protestations to the contrary, words can break bones, too - just not always directly.

Words can inspire, yes.
Words can provoke, of course.
But words can incite, too.

Is speaking violence even when we don't mean it the best way to communicate a point?
Is constant hyperbole the best persuasive tool to shape hearts and lives, or does it, if left unchecked merely stoke the lesser angels of our nature?

Too often, chronic hyperbolic speech masks the weakness of the point one is trying to make.  And yet once said, we must live with the consequences of what hyperbole brings. Some of us can take it, measure it and contextualize it on the spot, thus, governing our reaction to it. And for some of us hyperbole so inflames us that we're guided by fear of what we'll lose if something dramatic isn't done right here and right now.  We can't process it.  It is what it is and our reaction is framed out of blind zeal rather than considered thought.

If I were to ever wonder how I sound with the words I speak and the manner in which I speak them, I've only to listen to my children instinctively regurgitate what I've conditioned them to say because they heard it first from my mouth.  Some of those words make me proud. Many make me cringe.

One of the great challenges of the journey for those of us on the Way is to match holy words with holy actions.  We are to match the language of love with love's actions in a broken world.  We are to match belief in forgiveness and justice with mercy from a loving God to be lived out in right relationships with those around us, especially those alien to us.  Whoever "other" is for you - that's your measuring stick.  Don't believe me?  Read the Gospels.

What words are you saying now?  Do they speak "violence?"
Dare we speak the language of a revolution based on love?

And let's be clear what we mean by "love."  It is the love of God that transforms the world. Sometimes that transformation means that our words confront the principalities and powers whose actions and/or inactions have propagated a violence against those whose lives have been determined to have less value than others.  But words that confront, from this standpoint, are prophetic words that bespeak the heart of God whose most earnest desire is for us "to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly."  Those words are revolutionary because they call us to be the living expression of God's love through Jesus in what we say and do.

I'm going to try something for the next month and I'm inviting you to be a part of it, too.  I want you to be very conscious about what you say and how you say it toward those whose positions you have the most problem. And right now in our country to say nothing of our City and County, there's polarizing issues aplenty.  Seek to avoid the language of violence.  Seek to avoid dehumanizing "the other."  Let your love for the One you call Lord guide your words and actions more than those seeking to incite.

If words matched with actions can break bones, maybe they can heal, too.

I believe they can.

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