The power of words

“When I was a child I spoke like a child…” 1Cor 13:11

Part of my Lenten reflection has been focused on language. This self examination has brought both some embarrassment and a sense of growth. When I think about the things that I said when I was much younger, I cringe. Yet, when I think about the transformation of my language (by the grace of God and the patience of others), I humbly rejoice.

Words matter. There is no truth in the childhood rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words are powerful. They can cause great pain or great affirmation. It’s not a matter of what is often referred to as “politically correct.” It’s about “respecting the dignity of every human being” and “seeking and serving Christ in all persons.”

Whether it be sexist, racist, homophobic, or being passive aggressive, words can often be a weapon to demean or diminish. Yet as importantly words can inspire, enlighten, clarify and provide identity.

As part of my Lenten discipline, I asked some folks to help identify some consistent words they heard me say. After we moved beyond the “Brian Priorisms”, the feedback was Episcopal Church in Minnesota, God’s mission, ministry, resource, collaboration, help, and support. You might be interested to know that part of the feedback came from people outside Minnesota. All of these are things I am incredibly passionate about.

Words do matter. Realistically, I have and will inevitably say something that will be painful to others. For those words it is my responsibility to ask for forgiveness and to seek amendment of life to change my language.

In the end, my hope is to passionately, as Paul tells the Ephesians, “Speak the truth in love.”

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2 thoughts on “The power of words

  1. How embarrassing to realize that I recall reciting that childhood rhyme of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!”
    There have been times when words have hurt.
    Now, that I can see thru “the glass more clearly,” that is not within my thoughts and words.
    “Speaking the truth in love” feels soothing to say as well as being more helpful to a hurting world, a worthy goal.
    Blessed to be a blessing,
    An elderly friend who also celebrates Oct.16th !

  2. Thank you for that reflection,Bishop. Also, the language in common usage helps to define and shape us, which underlines the importance of using it thoughtfully. Take the word “race,” used historically mainly to mark others. It emerged in our culture coincident with the idea that skin color reflected it, whereon the dominant group claimed to be “white,” its self-image reinforced by positive metaphorical qualities, which descended to “black” in dictionaries. Then “science” set about to prove it, and we believed it for more than three centuries before biologists challenged it and anthropologists conceded it a myth. Still, we of European descent claim whiteness for the Census, albeit a misrepresentation of our true shades, and it quietly reinforces institutional racism in many ways. A subject for dialogue: How can we strategically initiate positive changes in our language?

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