Today's post is by Nik at A Pilgrim's Process.
Perhaps it begins with language: as humans, we trade in words. Language - the use, misuse, abuse, and care of - is important. A few words poorly chosen can lead to war. Words carefully selected can capture a moment and hold it up for eternity. There are famous last words - 'they couldn't shoot an elephant at this dist...' - forgotten, unheard words, and words conveyed more by gesture than by sound.
Words are important: they build up, they break down. Words warn of danger, ward off evil, include, exclude, hold the warmth of welcome. Finely honed words in the poet-craftsman's hands can reach the heights and depths and breadths of the human heart, have the capacity to lift us out of our cares and woes and, perhaps ironically, leave us in speechless wonder. Words woven together tell of lived experience, creating a story from our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. Words underscore identity, belonging, where we have come from, where we are, where we hope to be, and who accompanies us on our way. Words are amazing, terrible, beautiful. They should come with a warning: 'danger! handle with care!'
In light of the sheer power of words, how then do we handle them with care when engaged in discussions that evoke strong opinions, discussions that light the blue touch paper of passionate debate? Where does grace come into our conversations? Perhaps the topic of words is a well-worn theme of mine and yet, I continue to ponder the ever-increasing use of polemic in on-going debates in the kirk. It is too easy to fashion words into pointing fingers of accusation; too easy to criticise and condemn; too easy to be embroiled in dehumanising, not re-humanising discourses; too easy to employ words that grate, not words of grace.
I've been pondering a pic a friend had 'liked' on facebook - I happily agreed with the sentiments expressed in the picture, but the tag-line [not placed by said friend] troubled me. It was along the lines of let's stick it in the eye of 'homophobic bigots'. While I agree that there are people who both face prejudice and are prejudiced, I find myself in an odd dilemma. My problem is with the use of language to point and shoot, choosing language that dehumanises, language that harks back to the name-calling of the playground. Using language in this way does nothing to progress dialogue, nor does it add anything useful, merely further polarises viewpoints. The dilemma, is therefore objecting to folk utilising polemic who are, technically, standing on the same side of the fence as I happen to be, who are, in effect, attempting to try and express solidarity with me. And even then, I dislike the language of 'fences' and 'sides', but there it is.
Let's not play a tit-for-tat game, rather, let's try for some civilised discourse, regardless of what language other people might choose to use. Just because someone said 'xyz vitriol' does not mean it is fine and dandy to respond in like kind. Here, I feel, is the problem of being so caught up in ideology that the person behind the 'issue' is lost to sight. Reprehensible words that jar and shatter are flung about and the hurt and damage caused by this is too costly. In this, I am as wary as liberal fundamentalism as I am of right-wing fundamentalism as ideologies - and no, 'liberal fundamentalism' is no longer an oxymoron. So, what is the way to words of grace?
I am not sure, and I can't speak for everyone - that would be impossible and also a tad arrogant! So, then, how do I, in my small corner, attempt in action and in word, to work towards a lived grace? One thing I do know is that when faced with being called 'an abomination', I am still called to love the one who calls me that. I don't have to accept the label, I don't have to remain silent. I can challenge, but to challenge does not mean wound, harm, destroy the one who tries to wound. This should never be some war of attrition, nor should the language of 'winning' and 'losing' have any place in the discourse. The choice then, is to find a way of engaging in a way that builds up and doesn't tear down, that doesn't return hate with hate. It does not mean becoming a doormat.
It is very difficult, this business of trying to live in grace, but when the rubber hits the road, I destroy and dehumanise myself if I respond in a way that dehumanises and destroys others. Perhaps the attempt to live in grace, by action and in word, not only challenges myself to be the best that I can be, but it might, in and of itself, be a challenge to others. Hmmm, 'physician, heal thyself' comes to mind, as does the very old song 'let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.'