It’s good to be back from vacation and it’s good to be doing all kinds of things getting ready for the fall. One of the things I got to do this week is to witness the power of words spoken from the heart, out at Amber Valley yesterday. I asked a group of people if they would support two young people as they made vows to love and honor and support each other. The folks that were there to witness these vows almost thundered their response of I Will to the question of “Will you honor the commitments these two young people make today. It was really touching, the power of these words on the two young people. Loud words spoken in truth and love and wisdom, but also with pride and deep conviction.
I think that those words were spoken in the true sense of the good news that Jesus and James were trying to share. Sounds like these two men were on the same page when they thought about what people say out loud. Which shouldn’t be too surprising since James was Jesus’ younger brother. How often did they hear angry words? And how often have we too been on the brunt end of angry words or lies or slander and envy? Probably more that we’d like to admit. But James also asks us to examine our own words and actions, not just dwelling on what we hear others say.
This week I heard others say things ranging from insensitive to angry to downright insulting. Sometimes it was about someone not in the room, sometimes it was to someone’s face. Sometimes it was on the news and caused international discussions, sometimes it was right here in Athabasca. And sometimes it was so subtle that one had to really think about what the person had said before it came home how hurtful the intention was. Sometimes it tried to hide behind humor, and sometimes it even came out of my own heart and I didn’t realize it until it was out of my mouth. Whoops! And Yikes!
Sometimes it was the words that did not get said that hurt, like how for many folks, Pope Francis did not say enough. Sometimes it was the words said to a person so hurting that they over reacted. Sometimes it was words that brought up memories of other words that hurt.
No wonder Jesus talked about the heart, the interior emotions causing what he called uncleanliness. Koino-ew, in Greek, meaning dirty, common, and unholy. He and the religious scholars of the day were all concerned about anything that would separate them from God, but they were divided as to what that separation was caused by. What builds walls between us and God? The Pharisees thought it was made by what people did or how they did, but Jesus and James thought it was caused by our interior states. That sometimes we are not 100% logical, and that sometimes our words are clear symptoms of the state of our interior selves. As one psychologist put it,
“Bad news, friend: you are not a rational person. Turns out most of your opinions and decisions are made up of an unsavory soup of prejudice, first impressions, old hurts, snap judgements, and fantasy, with some actual fact and reasoned thought thrown in for spice. In case it makes you feel better: same here. Same everywhere. We tend to think of humans as highly rational, but it just isn't so. Google "are humans rational?" or "do facts change minds?" Dig one layer down past the fluff pieces and listicles and see what science actually has to say about our minds—not that I expect any of the information there to change yours, if you're like the rest of us.”
That can be a pretty bleak way of looking at ourselves, and it would be easy to give up. We are full of what Steven Covey called the 5 cancerous ways to talk to others – complain, criticise, compare, compete and contend. All five of these tend to tear down community, to tear down peoples souls, to destroy hope, to undermine love, and to sabotage faith. They are addictive and habit-forming and can grow out of control, hurting everyone who hears them.
But James and Jesus both paint a picture of better things. Of words spoken that can build each other up, that can strengthen communities, that can help our faith grow.
Words like “I do” and “We will” spoken with passion, conviction and hope. Words spoken out loud where other people will hear and witness what has been said. Such is the power of the Serenity Prayer, which has been used in many different versions for over 80 years to help folks with wounded hearts. Folks that some people would label as unclean or unable to change. Simple words that have helped people look into that mirror and truly see themselves for whom they are. Flawed humans struggling to deal with the cards life has handed them, and who humbly and gently rebuild themselves with words from the inside out.
God Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
When I get down and discouraged from hearing complaining and criticizing words, or thinking that I can’t change the world I live in, I am going to do my best to remember yesterday. Because that noisy crowd of folks wearing plaid shirts, cowboy hats and john deer baseball caps, with hip flasks, cowboy boots and running shoes, looking like the reddest of red neck Albertans, whooped and hollered and cheered and vowed to support the two lovely brides as they exchanged kisses in front of all their guests. What a gift to that young couple that said I do, that their families and friends supported them regardless of their gender. So when I think or we think that what we do or say in this country, this province and this town doesn’t matter, know that Jesus and James would be proud of how our witness to love is building a safer world for all kinds of people that were once thought as unclean. God wants us to live in hope and love and truth, not anger or fear, and when our hearts are centered in hope, love, truth and wisdom, it is contagious, we do make a difference in this world.