In Caring for Words We Must Also Care for One Another


I scanned my bookshelf recently and came across a title that I’ve always loved. This time, my eyes fixed on the book anew with a new sense of urgency:

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Rest on these words for a minute….

They form the title of a powerful little book written by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in 2009, but it speaks to me just as profoundly today. McEntyre winsomely argues

“Caring for language is a moral issue.”

And caring for language is intricately tied to our care for one another. McEntyre explores this moral issue through twelve “stewardship strategies.” I can’t help but think how these strategies may be the most powerful witness we can offer this moment on our campuses, in our neighborhoods, and in our political discourse. Consider their weight here and now:

  1. Love words–“We care for words when we use them thankfully, recognizing in each kind a specific gift . . .”
  2. Tell the truth–Be precise, free of hyperbole. Be careful to say what you mean and be sensitive to how it will be heard.
  3. Don’t tolerate lies–Confront lies by being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do so in love, in truth, and in humility.
  4. Read well–Reading is a morally consequential act. Reading is “manna for the journey,” and a tangible, profound way to the love God with our minds.
  5. Stay in conversation–Conversation is a communal act; a mutual commitment to stick with the topic and one another and see it to the other side. Don’t flee when the conversation gets hard. Stay. Be curious about other points of view.
  6. Share stories–Stories connect. Stories help us cultivate compassion, taking us to places we otherwise wouldn’t go.
  7. Love the long sentence–In an age of 140 characters, to persevere through the long sentence cultivates a mental grit that allows us to sustain thought beyond the clickbait headlines of our day.
  8. Practice poetry–Poetry draws us into paradox; it draws us into play. All the while we are stretched and challenged to understand the complexity of life. You can’t speed read a poem. You must sit with it for awhile. [pro tip: Start with Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver]
  9. Attend to translation–Translation considers for context and culture. Translation takes care to be understood amid difference. It’s an effort to communicate effectively with others.
  10. Play–Play with words.”To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks–what we are called to do in the world–with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider . . .”
  11. Pray–Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are. It uses the gift of language to commune with the Giver of language. It instills a respect of language and from where it derives.
  12. Cherish silence–Silence is not the absence of noise, but “a place we enter.” It’s not empty. Rather, silence is FULL. Silence can restore our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be more caring with our words.

To embody these twelve strategies is to care for words in a culture of lies. To embody these twelve strategies in an election season is to steward our words in such a way that we honor others. This may be the most powerful lie-busting tool we can offer.

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