Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Value of Words

Words, words, words... They're everywhere. There are so many of them! And their numbers are growing. In fact, according to the English Oxford Dictionary there are currently well over a half million words in our language. Up from about 50,000 total words in the 1600s. (Making new words is a big business!) As the number of words go up the value of each individual word appears to go down. Less and less people pay attention to all this verbosity. Why? Because the more words we use the harder it is to communicate. Seems backwards doesn't it?

Think about politics for a moment... Imagine the conversation that you often see and hear between politicians? How would you characterize it? Most likely you would say they use a lot of words! Words that are politically correct, influenced by special interest groups and full of rhetoric. After a while most people tend turn it off or look the other way.

Think about marketing… Look at how many words are turned down, turned away from, or flat out ignored every day in advertising. For example: I live in a development called ‘wildcat ridge’. There are no wildcats. (At least there haven’t been any in a while.) And there is no ridge. The development’s name is used for marketing... to make the area sound more exotic… to entice those who are looking for a home. (Apparently a bunch of families moving into North Phoenix find it appealing to raise their young children around mountain lions?) After a while most people realize that the development’s name means very little.

Think about how we talk… For example: Our society uses the word 'love' often. I even do it. I might say, “I love playing football.” And that’s true but not like I love being with my kids. Or I might say... “I love chalupas from Taco Bell.” Yeah, I love chalupas, but not in the same way I love my wife. (And the truth is I really don’t love chalupas I just love saying the word… try it...) No doubt after time we diminish meaning as we misuse the word 'love' so often. (Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book entitled, "When God is Silent", that has some of the best thinking about ‘words’ that I’ve read. It’s not a long book. I would highly recommend it.)

One last example… look at how many words it took me to get to this paragraph which is really at the heart of what I want to say! (418 up until now if you haven’t been counting)

Often our words matter very little. The way we live our life does matter. A common temptation among those who call themselves Christians is to hide behind words. We hide behind them because it’s easier to do that than to figure out what they mean and really live them. Or as one of my favorite quotes along these lines goes… “There is ambiguity between terminology considered as words about the faith and words as faith incarnate in living men. Our task is to bridge this gap, preserving both creed and meaning. It challenges us to clothe mere words with life.” Mildred Bangs Wynkoop.

”Clothe mere words with life…” think about it… that’s what God did when He created this world. He spoke and life was created. That’s what Jesus did when He walked this earth. He was the Living Word. His words were valuable yes, but it was His life backing up those words… living in congruence with those words… that changed all of history.

So, what should I do with words? Two things God is teaching me. 1) Use them less. This really smart guy in the Book of Proverbs says, “Where words are many sin is not absent.” 2) Most important I think... make sure my words match my life.


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