We just returned from 4 days in New York City, a sort of mini-vacation that was a gift from the folks in our church who were wise enough to know that a change of pace can do wonders for your soul. While we were there the news was filled with talk about a story put out by Newsweek that mentioned US troops flushing the Koran down the toilet as a tactic to get some prisoners to talk. The story incited some rioting in Afghanistan and 17 people ended up dead. The sad part is that the report turned out to be unsubstantiated and the incident most likely never happened. So who is to blame for the 17 deaths? Primarily the radicals who got violent and directly caused the rioting, but the reporters and publishers are not without blame. The thing that saddens me about today’s media is that while believing they have the freedom to inform and influence, they do not seem to want to take the responsibility for the weight their words carry. Someone’s right to know or tell all is supposedly more important than any effect that information might have.
I have had the misfortune of saying things to people in an unwise and untimely manner and having them tell me later that those words haunted them for years and years. Man, someone just tell me when I say something inappropriate so that I can apologize! Just this week I heard a young man talk about his parents fighting a lot when he was growing up, and one day, in frustration, his dad said to him, “Don’t ever let a woman control you!” Those words became a curse that, along with some other factors, drove him into a homosexual lifestyle that it took him 10 years to break free from.
I have trapped myself in many restrictive patterns by creating a prison with my words: I can’t swim. I don’t speak French. I don’t like living here. I am not interested in politics. I don’t drink or dance. I don’t have what it takes to do that. I don’t have the money. I am NOT like my sister. I don’t eat meat. I hate that song. Let me tell you about that one. Yes, every time I heard “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic, I used to say, “I hate that song.” Then I had to accompany some young performers at a festival who were singing that very song and I had the hardest time learning the piece, even though it is not a difficult one. After a day of frustrating rehearsal, I finally repented of my words and attitude towards it because that was keeping me from doing what I love to do: helping and supporting kids in the arts. And after that, I tried to be more careful about the things I said and the opinions I developed and expressed regarding the people and situations and music and movies and all manner of things I encountered on a day to day basis. On the other side of the coin, I have been accused of not having an opinion or not expressing it, and perhaps I am a bit too cautious in this regard, but I daresay it is a healthy caution most of the time. Words can change things, and I want to handle them responsibly.
I have heard many people say they hate George Bush. I flinch every time I hear that. Not only is it totally averse to the character of Jesus (love your enemies, remember?), but I do believe hatred clouds people’s ability to see clearly in that specific area.
On a positive note, I have told people some very simple things (“be good,” or “you will do well”) that have become their motto and given them the confidence to complete a difficult task. I still remember the words my father spoke to me as a gangly, awkward teenager struggling through puberty (“You are becoming a beautiful woman”). Those words had much to do in building the healthy self-image I carry with me today. I have made it a point to avoid using words like “stupid,” “idiot,” “moron,” “ugly” or any other terms that will hack at someone’s self-worth. Causing someone to feel inadequate is never funny. Truth can be painful, but it is never mean.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, God.