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Words That Hurt; Words That Heal


One of the most common responses to our catastrophic loss has been “There are no words”. It is a genuine and good thing to say… But I think the truth is that we can’t find the words.
And we can’t find the words because we are not practiced at it.
And we aren’t practiced at it because our culture is rational and forward thinking.
So, we always want things to get better. We want to fix things. We think we must say something that will help.
We are trained to have ideas and to share them. But we aren’t the best at intuition or listening. As a result, unwittingly, and without intention we can be judgmental rather than compassionate.
Even the words, “Are you better?” can sound more like ‘aren’t you better yet?’ To the ears of one who is hurting. Should I be better?
“Why don’t you take a vacation?”
“You still have the rest of your family”
“I knew someone who said that work was good for him”
“God must have needed her”
“You won’t always feel this bad”
“You’re stronger than you think”
“At least you had her as long as you did”
Our focus needs to be turn from what we want to say to what a person needs to hear.
Our focus needs to be turn from what we want to say to what a person needs to hear.
One of the most touching things someone said to me was simply “I loved you son and I miss him terribly”.
“It is hard to see you hurt so much”
“This is a catastrophe – I’m so sorry”
“I don’t know what to say, but I care for you”
“I feel helpless in the face of this – and I love you”
Generally, I think we need to speak more from the heart than the head.
Our passage for this Sunday from James is about words mostly about how they can hurt. This passage follows James’ words on faith and works.
And he is identifying the tongue… words as dangerous and lethal
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless
Or wrongly placed word out of your moth can do that. By our
Speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw
Mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and
Go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. (The Message)
The Epistle of James represents a branch of early Christianity that was different and sometimes in opposition to Pauline Christianity. Most notably, while Paul was saying we are saved by faith alone. James said, faith without works is dead.
I have thought on occasion that for Paul a person’s experience and salvation was the focus of faith, while for James, wisdom and how we affect others was more important.
Parenthetically, Luther championed Paul’s perspective and wanted to toss James out of the Bible calling it an “Epistle of Straw”.
I am one who believes language is important
A while ago, comedian Trevor Noah made a joke saying that Africa won the World Cup because many of the French team are immigrants from Africa’
Note: 17 of 23 members
Note: Noah is from South Africa and is mixed race
The French Ambassador, Gerard Araud sent Noah a scathing letter saying that to deny their Frenchness is to legitimize the ideology which claims that whiteness is the only way of being French.
He went on to say that in France we are not hyphenated, meaning we are not African-French, or Vietnamese-French.
Araud said the team represented France’s diversity, to which Noah responded, More than diversity, it represents France’s colonialism. And Noah asked, why can’t they be both?
The problem with Araud’s words is that if an African immigrant is only French as long as he acts French. But if he starts acting too African or especially too Muslim, then he is no longer French.
The irony here is that to claim to be “color-blind” is actually to reject a person’s ethnic background, which is more racist
I believe it is important to identify and celebrate the different ethnic backgrounds that make up America, to refer to African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and to Euro-Americans – not white-Americans, Euro-Americans.
Words matter; even hyphens matter.
Is it really an effort to replace mankind with humankind? Or how about chairman with chairperson. At first it seems strange, but one gets used to it.
Now if someone says “chairman” it feels strange, and antiquated
I think how we refer to God makes a difference. If we use exclusively male words for God, we will see men as closer to God than women. And to say that it doesn’t make a difference is stubborn and unreflective.
Of course, it makes a difference!
I am apathetic enough to want Nominations Committee not to be changed into the Leadership Selection and Development committee, but I understand that including the word “development” changes the image and the purpose of the committee.
With this in mind, I have problems with the phrase, “people of color.” It sounds…. PC. But are white people not a people of color too?
The phrase says that there are people who are white and there are people of color. It subtly validates the belief that white is normal and then you have all the other colors. It’s like the return of the “flesh” colored Crayola crayon
Does this sound nit-picky?
Well then, I choose to be nit-picky in order to use words that do not hurt or discriminate.
Words can hurt, and words can heal
I have never believed in the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I can count numerous times in my life where I was hurt by words. I won’t count them out for you…. And I bet you can count your own.
When I was young the most common insult was to be called an MR.
Our public discourse today is full of words that hurt
The name calling
The attack ads
The lies and truthiness
Have we no shame?! Well, no…..
Fundamentally, I think we must reflect on whether our words hurt or heal?
To ask, are these words about judgment or compassion?
Are we speaking from the head trying to solve things?
Or are we speaking from the heart with empathy?
As I understand it, people who complain about Political Correctness want to be able to use the words they have always used in the name of freedom or free speech without being criticized or judged.
This is ironic – that people do not want to be judged for being judgmental.
Is it OK for Don Imus to call a women’s basketball team “Natty headed Hos?”
It isn’t kind or compassionate
Is it so hard to move from “Oriental” to “Asian” because that’s what Asians prefer to be called?
It takes a little practice, but changing “disabled person” to “person suffering from disability” is an easy change to make and it makes a difference to those who are suffering.
The insistence to use “illegal alien” instead of “undocumented immigrant” is about wanting to continue to vilify immigrants. And the phrase “anchor baby” dehumanizes. Why would we use such as term in the face of suffering?

Why do we want to freedom to use words like, pussy, slut, bitch, dike, fairy, coon, wop, cracker?
Yes, we have the freedom to say what we want, but not without being criticized for it.
And all the fuss over “Merry Christmas!”
There is no “War on Christmas” It’s just a war on ethnocentrism and bigotry
Actually, it’s not a war, but it is simply about R-E-S-P-E-C-T and basic kindness.
In the end, complaining about political correctness is simply a means to excuse being mean, dismissive and racist. It gives permission for people to be judgmental
and not compassionate.
Words are important – critical – they can hurt or heal. In James’ words,’ From the same mouth come blessing and cursing
The next part of James’ Epistle, after he has warned us about our “tongues” is about ‘two kinds of wisdom’.
One is from above and it is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield,
Full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy it is full of compassion
The other is rooted in bitter envy, selfish ambition; it is boastful and false to the truth.
From the Message translation:
Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.
It’s the furthest thing from wisdom – it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving.
Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better
of others, things fall apart, and everyone ends up at the other’s throats.
Maybe I should tweet this… if I had tweet….. Facebook?
If our eyes are the window to the soul, oOur words reveal our souls.
How hard can it be to avoid saying things like, ‘natty headed hos’ or saying ‘hos’ at all?
Or slut, or pussy or that’s so gay!
How hard can it be to say undocumented immigrant? People who suffer from disabilities? when these words convey respect, while ‘illegal aliens’ coveys judgment if not hate?
How hard is it to speak with compassion and kindness?
Are we so full of guile as to resort to name-calling?
How hard can it be to say Euro-American rather than white? Are we so proud? Or just myopic?
James wants us to have wisdom – not just to be saved, but to live our faith and speak our faith, not to be smart or knowledgeable, having the right answers so that we can fix things; but a wisdom of the heart.
That is pure, peaceable, full of compassion and empathy
And to that end to use words that heal rather than words that hurt.
How hard can that be?


Pastor James Clarke

Words That Hurt; Words That Heal. The Sermon for Sunday, September 16, 2018. Scripture: James 3:1-1

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