Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word Peace

Words are as strong and powerful as bombs.
Dorothy Day, journalist, social activist, pacifist

Let the truth be your delight … Proclaim it, but with a certain congeniality.

St. Catherine of Sienna, contemplative, server of the sick, reformer, mystic

These quotes from two sage women touch on the effects of being outspoken—its impacts on others and ourselves. In the past week, I heard about two clergymen who risked their jobs and flocks to speak their peace. A friend urged me to blog about it. I hesitated, because this is more controversial than my normal fare, but following the lead of these two brave men, I felt it was worth the risk.

How do we deal in the modern world with deeply held beliefs, even those we consider matters of life and death, while honoring those who disagree with us? When do we simply have to speak out—and how?

Practice Makes Perfect, Not Practicing Makes War
The American presidential election gives us plenty of opportunity to practice what we do with our differences of opinion, both religious and political. On the broader world stage, these differences often lead to bombs of the literal variety. But as Dorothy Day observed, we volley the first bombs in our words.

Word bombs, incendiary debates, and inflammatory e-mails have no place on the path toward peace on earth with the possible exception of venting frustration among our sounding-board intimates—not aimed at those with opposing views. The longer we live, the more younger people look up to us and even our peers take our opinions more seriously. They know what we think is seasoned with a fully built character and a lifetime of experience. If anyone should watch our words, it’s those of us considered older and wiser. I am a work in progress when it comes to keeping my cool in hot debates. If anything, I tend to take the more cowardly route of avoiding them.

Example of a Heated Debate—Same-Sex Marriage
Here in California, the State Supreme Court has opened the door to same-sex marriage, determining it is unconstitutional to deny gays the right to marry. As we are infamous for on the Left Coast, we self-govern by ballot initiative. Proposition 8 would overturn this Supreme Court decision, if it passes next month.

I was wowed by the way a local Sacramento minister and a priest in nearby Fresno spoke their consciences on this subject, even though they hold opposite views of Proposition 8. One is for overturning the Supreme Court decision; the other is against it. Both respect and welcome gays into their spiritual communities. Their courage and heart give me hope that love is overcoming fear in our world. In case you haven’t heard of them, let me introduce you:

Rev. Rick Cole is pastor of a huge, conservative church in Sacramento called Capital Christian Center. While he supports Prop. 8 to overturn same-sex marriage, he is disturbed by the hateful rhetoric around it. His sermon drew tears as he talked about his sense of duty to speak out. "Jesus addressed the issues of his day," he says. "But he spoke with gentleness and compassion." The
Sacramento Bee contains the full details of his moving pitch to treat all people by the Golden Rule.

Fr. Geoffrey Farrow was pastor of Saint Paul Newman Center on the campus of the University of California - Fresno. I say was, because predictably, when he came out against Prop. 8 and out of the closet as a homosexual, all in one homily at Sunday Mass, he was summarily dismissed from his priestly duties. He knew he would be. A day later, the new pastor’s bio was already on the Center’s website. Fr. Farrow could no longer remain what he considered “an accomplice to moral evil” in denying rights to gays. That he is gay, himself, he believes is a secondary issue. Here are details of his
homily. For those interested in following up on the aftermath, visit Fr. Farrow’s blog.

“We Should Worry Less about How We Love and More about How We Hate”
An acquaintance of mine said this to me when, to her surprise, she discovered she was gay. This happened long after she was divorced and still co-raising children with her ex. If people get so upset over love between consenting adults, how do we control our passions over the truly life-and-death disagreements such as abortion, euthanasia, and war?

Protest the War of Words
I am not here to persuade you toward my worldview, which is moderately left of center in most matters. I do encourage you to think about how you use words.

Here are some examples of what I see peers doing that do not promote peace and some suggested alternatives:

-- Abstain from name-calling and mud slinging toward political candidates. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, railing and playing “ain’t it awful” with your friends against the candidate you dislike has little purpose but to keep you riled up and vibrating with negative energy. (After awhile, if you’re forwarding endless emails poking fun at one candidate or fomenting fear, rather than sharing objective information, you may want to reconsider.) Why not do something positive with your passion, like volunteer for the party of your choice or send a financial contribution to help your candidate win?

-- Listen objectively to views opposing yours. Sarah Palin does not lack intelligence, even though she may be uninformed about things some voters consider crucial. Barack Obama is not some sort of “Muslim Manchurian candidate,” a great summary of the latest flap by Jake Tapper, Senior National Correspondent for ABC News. And even if you think John McCain is too old and out of touch to be your choice, he gets my vote for making the most compassionate political move I’ve observed of late. He asked people at his town hall meeting to tone down their inflammatory rhetoric about Obama, who thanked him for it publicly.

-- Take political humor with a grain of salt. My husband and I love to watch
Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Bill is liberal to the extreme. Sometimes hyperbole helps a person solidify where they stand. I respect many of Bill’s conservative guests and often take their points, even though their views differ from mine overall. I am unhappy, though, with Bill’s rants against people of faith. He thinks all people with spiritual beliefs are childish idiots, who cannot think for themselves. This is a mild paraphrase of language he uses on his show. According to his bio, Bill’s father was Irish Catholic, his mother Jewish, and he was raised Catholic. I relate to this combo and some of the angst it can cause (raised Catholic in a Jewish neighborhood. Talk about guilt!) Bill could have become a man of true tolerance with his exposure to two religions. Instead, he has thrown out the baby with the holy water. He makes fun of believers, insisting they cannot be both intelligent and spiritual. Still, one of my friends who suffered much pain because of religion finds his humor hysterically healing. I would have, too, at a different phase in my life. I am lucky to have worked through my early religious traumas—to have put them in perspective. I don’t feel like seeing his film, Religulous, no matter how tongue-in-cheek or funny. To see his movie would be a vote for intolerance and misinformation—a step back to sulk in old pain—even though I support his right to make it and even to make fun of me. But is it peacemaking? Maybe, ultimately, for those it helps heals, but not for me. On political topics, Bill criticizes the current administration relentlessly for what he considers warmongering. Maybe he could make peace by looking at his wordmongering.

What You Say Matters
I have been on a spiritual quest most of my life. It has taken me to the doors of many different churches, temples, and mosques, whether as a seeker or visitor. It has helped me appreciate the gold in many faiths and how so many of the core teachings are the same. Same God/Spirit, different flavors—like the Baskin & Robbins of Beliefs. All ice cream tastes good. Why would we diss and hiss at people who like Fudge Ripple instead of Vanilla Bean? You could argue this is oversimplified, but one’s spiritual path, or lack thereof, is really a matter of taste and resonance.

Same goes for politics, the other heated topic. My example of the same-sex marriage decision in California brings politics and religion together. It’s becoming more difficult to separate them, even in a country founded on the separation of church and state. I’m not sure where we draw the line. Most of our politics come out of our ethics, formed for most of us by our spiritual beliefs. What both Fr. Farrow and Rev. Cole have done is to speak their truth with congeniality, as St. Catherine advised, with respect toward those who disagree with them. This echoes the same kind of peaceful protest I was first exposed to, as a child, by Rev. Martin Luther King.

Perhaps the best “between the eyes” commentary on our habit of letting our emotions and language run wild was spoken by a fictional politician, Senator Robert McAllister, on the TV show
Brothers and Sisters. Played by Rob Lowe, Sen. McAllister angrily asks his wife’s high- drama family to stop acting like children who blurt out everything they feel unedited and to “get some filters.” That’s what grown-ups do, even if it’s difficult.

Words are our medium of communication and understanding. We make or break peace every day by how we use them. I invite you not just to visualize “word peace,” but also to verbalize it in every sentence you speak.

In the powerful words of an unforgettable song,
Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me.


Beverly Mahone said...


This is a very thought-provoking post. Our words can make all the difference and how we choose to use those words in various settings has an even greater impact.

Sadly, there are way too many negative words used when it comes to politics. It is offensive and degrading and, in some cases, blatantly racist.

If we are ever to come together and let peace be the ruling factor, we are definitely going to have to re-think not only the WORDS we use--but also our ACTIONS.

Joyce Mason said...

So true. They say actions speak louder than words. I think they are a two-step. That reminds me of a funny but unwittingly profound malapropism my mom used to say. (She had a hearing loss in one ear and often misconstrued her words, because she didn't hear things right.) She said, "It takes two to tangle." One person has to start the change: not take the bait, not let emotions overcome them, be willing to look hard at any internal process that their words and actions might reveal. Whether racism, sexism, or any other dehumanizing attitude, it all comes down to Us and Them. Us versus Them is what we have to heal. Here's where I love the words of the Desiderata: "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here." We form a constellation of twinkling, talented humanity when we can find our own shining star and believe in the light reflected back from others. I'm glad to be in your galaxy!

Pam Archer said...

We indeed need filters for our words. Many are spoken in carelessness and with selfish motives.

I don't however, believe that we can ride the fence on matters relating to God. As a Christian, the Bible states that there is only one true God, Jehovah Jireh, and that the only way to Him is through his son, Jesus, who gave his life for the remission of our sins.

The Bible also says that we aren't to judge others, because by the same measure, we will be judged. I'm so happy that He will judge, and not us.

Eileen Williams said...

Oh, Joyce--

You should be commended for this personally courageous and self-revealing post! Your words ring with such truth for me. I am constantly amazed by the "black and white folks" who totally know without equivocation that their beliefs are 100% accurate and right. The USA gains its strength from the fact that we are composed by a rainbow population. We all stem from differing creeds, races, religions, and backgrounds and our uniqueness comes from a celebration of one another's point of view. Inclusiveness and respect are the keys to peace and we should never forget this.

Betty Lynch said...

I love the quote, "Words are as strong and powerful as bombs." I wished more people took that quote to heart.

Great article and thanks for giving me something to think about.

Claudia L. Meydrech, CN said...

Joyce, you put so much thought into this post, and were willing to share things that are on your heart. Thank you.

The Bible talks about a narrow way to God, but once we are there, within the fold (I like how He speaks of us as sheep and Himself as our Shepherd) there is such freedom, His guidelines help us know when we've "blown" it and what Jesus did on the cross provides us forgiveness when we fail...what a wonderful life!

On the other side of the coin, rather than stay within those wonderful happy boundaries, many, including some preachers, chose to change the words of God or make up words of their own so that there are no boundaries. This appeals to the flesh part of us more than the spirit, I believe.

There is a freedom in the boundaries that God who loves all of us and doesn't want any to be lost, has set for us. Those boundaries include things like being loving, slow to speak, slow to be angry, they fit right in with you are sharing about "Word Peace". I did a Bible Study a while back called "Conversation Peace" that was all about the tongue, and how it can be miss-used, there is a good bit about that in the book of James in the Bible, especially chapter 3.

I love the study that was done with a playground full of children...once with a fence (boundary) around them, and then without. The ones within the fence ran and played freely and happily within the whole play area, the ones without didn't know what to do, tended to huddle in the middle and were confused. I do think because of our desire to do things that aren't necessarily pleasing to God, and some teach what they believe from their own thoughts, or wish was true to please their flesh rather than nurture their spirit, rather than teach what God teaches, there is a tendency for some to be confused, and perhaps ultimately lost.

I hope you don't mind me sharing those things, and hope it made sense.

What a wonderful topic of discussion you have opened with your post!

God bless,

Lady Lynn's Boutique said...

Well said Ladies and thanks for the post Joyce! We are all too quick to speak our words. We often carelessly speak how we feel giving little consideration to others feelings. Joyce Meyer's book Me and My Big Mouth is excellent reading. I find the same thing comes with sending emails. We are often too quick to type words without giving careful consideration to how they may come across to the recipient. Learning not to judge others opinions & values is a sign of spiritual maturity. Judging anyone or their differences is God’s job and surely not ours, ever!

Joyce Mason said...

Beverly, Pam, Eileen, Betty, Claudia, and Lynn:

Thank you for your Comments and sharing your personal beliefs with kindness. We each believe our way of seeing the heaven-to-earth interface is the right one for us. Some of us believe ours is the only right one for everyone. Others believe there are many paths, equally valid. In all cases, thanks for reflecting the mutual respect that is the cornerstone of peace. I appreciate your participation. Since this is a subject than can be divisive, I always think it’s important to remind ourselves not to get too serious, even though it’s a serious subject. I have always believed we are closest to God when we are laughing, because laughter is so joining. That’s why religious and political jokes are so popular. As writer Anne Lamott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” Uh oh. I think I feel a post coming on sometime next year on laughter and spirituality. Save up any of those good priest, minister, and rabbi jokes for me!

May all your days be blessed,