What Do Words Matter?

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This past weekend I had the chance to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And I was filled with questions. Deep, philosophical questions. I love to write. But what does it matter? Why do we write? What’s it for?

These are the kind of questions that are perfect for a festival on faith and writing. And here’s what I came away with: we write to sort out, to inspire, and to proclaim.

My friend Shannon wrote a piece on the Network about being tired of reading about justice, and I appreciate her frustration. We can be pretty good at talking. We can be pretty good at writing some pretty words and walking away. But talk needs to propel us out. And when it doesn’t, it’s just words.

But good talk, good speech, good writing does just that, I hope. In fact, I’m kind of staking a claim on that hope as a writer of sermons. There has to be some response, but there also needs to be the call. And some of us, the kind that take three days to sit in a conference on writing, think one of our jobs might just be to be the call-ers. Writing helps us sort out what the call is. And it’s also the way we proclaim that call.

And so at the conference I heard that call in all kinds of ways. I heard Jen Hatmaker proclaim that you need to be bold, proclaim love, and embrace your identity in writing even if it is different or challenging to others.

I heard Fleming Rutledge tell us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the good news — was a lot of things. It was incarnate as the Word was made flesh. It was physical, as Jesus touched person after person. But it was also a word event. Jesus came with something to say, something to proclaim. And the gospel writers wrote those words down. The New Testament writers wrote letters about what it all meant. The gospel, said Rutledge, was a speech event.

I heard fellow pastors, friends in a variety of professions, wonder about words. How we use them and how we share them and where they go.

I talked with my friend Shannon and we wondered about words. Words thrown at us in challenge, words we use to respond. Words matter — the right words can help to speak a new world into being. And words also have the power to tear things down. Words can build and connect a community. Words can also hurt us. Words have power. We are called to use our words wisely, for each other, and for the Kingdom we are called to proclaim.

I love the line from 1 Samuel 3:19 that says: “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.” (NRSV) If just one word we write, say, or share somehow, helps the Word not fall to the ground, then we writer types have done something. Something I am proud to be a part of.

My advice to you is the advice I’m learning to embrace myself: write boldly about important things, ruffle feathers, speak your truth, love God, be propelled out, build community, proclaim Christ!

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I love this post! Thanks for the challenge and invitation to write boldly.