Sacred Speech/Verbal Pollution
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members one of another . . . Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4: 17 – 5: 1
Lots of attention these days, rightly so, to things that pollute the air, the water, the soil. Paul knew, and reminds us, that there is such a thing as verbal pollution. Moreover, its consequences are serious. Careless words, distortions and lies, fracture trust and destroy life.
Truth is elusive and hard to come by. Figuring out what is true, listening for truth, speaking truth; it’s hard work. It requires something of us. Often today we settle for some odd substitute, something Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” “Truthiness” is something that sounds true, something that we (or someone) wish were true but is not, not really. It only sounds like truth.
In Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn McEntyre provides a list of characteristics to help us distinguish truth from its many facsimiles:
“Truth is elusive.
Truth avoids institutional control.
Truth tugs at conventional syntax.
Truth hovers at the edge of the visual field.
Truth is relational.
Truth lives in the library and on the subway.
Truth is not two-sided; it’s many sided.
Truth burrows in the body.
Truth comes on little cat’s feet, and down back alleys.
Truth doesn’t always test well.
Truth invites you back for another look.”
Paul is not asking us to say only “nice words.” He is calling us to something harder and better; to listen for, struggle to find, and work to speak truth.
Lord where I might settle today for half-truths and easy words, help me struggle for the deep, many-sided truth that draws me back for another look. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.