Another Look: To Be Well-Spoken
Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
• Jeremiah 23:29, NRSV
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One of my personal goals in life is to be well-spoken.
I am tired of “lingo.”
I reject group-imposed boundaries around how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m considering. I want to find a way to say it so that it grabs, sticks, bites, hurts, heals. First, in my own heart. Then, if anyone should listen, in theirs.
Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.
Bounded, insider language is a Christian problem (and a problem for all “tribes”).
Words create worlds. We live in those worlds and they define us. Someone using different words doesn’t fit in our world. We can’t listen to them. We find it hard to take in their foreign phrases, to translate them into something we can grasp. We summon the auto-immune response and reject them out of concern for safety. We watch, we listen to, we read those whose language fits the preconceived notion. We deem them “safe.” They will not disturb our world.
In this world, we get together day after day, week after week, year after year, and say the same damn things to each other! Imaginations atrophy as we sit there safe, sipping our iced tea.
These gated worlds!
I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!
A coworker once gave me information about a new patient and his family. Baptists, of the independent, fundamental variety. King James Only. White shirt, dark tie. Nothing but the blood Baptists. Straight as an arrow. Locked in a narrow world.
“I can speak that language, ” I said.
I made the visit. I asked the standard introductory questions, using their terms. I inquired. I listened. I showed respect. They allowed me to enter their world because I could verify the passcode. I knew the secret handshake.
But once inside, the conversation shifted. I sat in silence where one might have expected a platitude. Then I spoke a single turn of phrase that caught them off guard. Tears welled up. For a brief moment, a slice of raw humanity appeared through a crack in the gate. Their pain bled out a little. I’d like to think a bit of healing took place.
In that moment, no shibboleth was spoken. No Christianese. No lingo. Just a human heart bleeding and a wordless moan.
Many of us are not ready for that. I wasn’t, not for years. Even today, there are times when the reality is too sharp, too uncomfortable. Discomfited by the heaviness, I blurt out some cliché. And my mouth tastes like dust.
The authors and speakers and friends I love rarely if ever fall into this trap. I never know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to say it. They speak epiphanies. They build metaphorical worlds that carry me away and I am along for the ride: rising and falling on an open sea inhaling sharp salt air one moment, feet sinking into a spongy forest floor the next. It’s fairies and rabbit holes, wardrobes and windswept plains, ball yards and small town backyards, hobbits and desert saints and boarding school wizards, slums and palaces and log cabins and creaky old Victorian mansions.
But it’s not just the pictures they paint, the metaphorical worlds they create, it’s the medicine they give: words fitly spoken. Words that turn my head, that cause my jaw to drop. Words that make me stop and turn around. That make me shiver. That wrap me in a warm sherpa throw. That make my heart bleed ’til it’s whole again.
Not the same old lingo. Not tired trade language. If ever they use such words, they do so only as a foil for that which is clearly genuine.
Don’t let me settle for it, Lord. Put fire and hammers and balm and blankets in my mouth. Heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the brokenhearted. Make the story real and build a new world.
What a gift is language!
Oh, to be well-spoken!