Words have consequences

I love words, and I notice when they are used well and when they are used badly. Words matter – this is one of the reasons I don’t use profanity. It isn’t that I wouldn’t like to rip off a cuss word every so often – life can make you want to do that sometimes – it’s that the English language is full of amazing and meaningful words and phrases that can be used in remarkable ways. The tongue, as the Apostle Paul wrote, is a deadly weapon. It can offer curses or blessings.

My love of words began as a child. I had a lot of difficulty reading and writing, and my words were often inadequate. Then, one day, I remember watching the original movie of the classic story, “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1950), which starred Jose Ferrer and Mala Powers. This was remade in 1987 (Roxanne) with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah in the lead roles. Both were well made, and both included an amazing scene in which the Cyrano, after being insulted by some hunky guy over his looks, used words to eviscerate his opponent (Jose then did that with a sword as well). 

Words matter, and how we use them matters as well. We should be careful when we use them to make promises, but we often aren’t. We should mean it when we say “I love you”, but those words are often used for nefarious purposes. We should be careful that we mean what we say and say what we mean, but, all too often, we use words as a way of hedging our bets. When the UCC came up with the idea that our congregations should offer an invitation of radical inclusion, many took the phrase, but not the challenge. When a church proclaims that “all are welcome”, they should mean it, or put an * with a disclaimer at the bottom. Too often, we use words but don’t mean them. For the church, words aren’t just something we use for ad campaigns.

When our congregation became the first Open & Affirming congregation for 40 miles in every direction, some folks left. We mourned, but we had to move on. The following year, I did 2 same-sex weddings, and 4 more people left. I called them and asked why, and they said that they could “live with” being ONA, but marrying “those people” went too far. My response was simple: when we said “all”, we meant all. What does that word mean to you? There was, as you might expect, there was no response. 

Our congregation isn’t perfect with this concept. I was approached once by a man who was legally labeled as a sex offender, and I had to tell him that, legally, he couldn’t be in our building when children were present. I offered space for him to start a support and healing group at a time when no children would be present, but he declined for a variety of reasons. Even our radical welcome has its *. Still, we mean what we say, and our words have consequences, so when we tell people that all are welcome, we had better mean it. If we don’t, we are just like everyone else who makes promises and then breaks them. That doesn’t look good from a Jesus point of view.

Prayer – Holy God, we are striving to do our best, and need to be called on it when we fail. Be our guide, and forgive us when we fail, so that we can try again. Amen.

Today’s image is of Jose Ferrer as “Cyrano De Bergerac”. A great movie.

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