Words of Life, Words of Death
The other day, I was listening to my youngest son rail on about how much he couldn't stand a particular football team and also couldn't abide specific football players on that team.
He went on for a few minutes in a rant that became uncomfortable for the rest of us sitting in the room. At that point, I caught my wife's eye, and she gave me a knowing look that could only be taken one way:
"Do you know who he sounds like?" The look posed this as a question that was soon followed by an answer: "You."
Her look said it all, and she was right.
My son sounded exactly like his old man, who is often known to rail on and on about sports-related inequities, rivalries, and other assorted issues that matter not one whit in the grand scheme of things.
Also, if you know what I mean, I tend to say some pretty awful stuff when my ire is ired. I don't exactly mean to, but it's in there somewhere inside of me and comes out in moments of weakness or frustration.
Listen, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. There might be a few saintly folks who read these who never say a bad word about anyone, and God bless you for that.
Despite the biblical teachings on watching our mouths and governing our speech, many of us have more moments when we don't.
Sometimes, we are even aware that the words coming out of our mouths are hateful and hurtful, but they are released into the universe before we stop them. I can't tell you how many times I've said something awful only to follow up with, "I didn't mean that."
That last bit isn't entirely true, however. There is always a part of us who meant to say what we said that was hurtful. But when we hear the words spoken, we often realize what we've done and instantly regret it.
Theologian Martin Buber once wrote:
You should utter words as though heaven were opened within them and as though you did not put the word into your mouth but as though you had entered the word.
Jesus had a lot to say about the power of our words. He took it even further and connected harboring hateful feelings in the heart with murder. He was asking, "Where do you think murderous actions come from? Murderous thoughts."
And to the point of our speech, he once taught that if you speak killing words that seek to extinguish the image of God in another, you can become consumed by the hate that you are breathing to the point of death.
The book of Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures tells the story of how God gave A-dam the task of naming the animals, which is a nod to the power of speech within humankind and how speech can enable us to be co-creators with God.
When we speak life, we see life flourish. When we speak death, we see life wither, both within us and all around us.
In this new year, let us find ways to speak life as often as we can. May we also find the strength to let our negative and killing speech grow silent. May it be so. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.