May 4, 2020


I pay attention, as I think you do, to language.  I am curious about word choice and its impact, whether intended or unintended.  Some words we find ourselves using these days in the course of conversation:

“Stay At Home Order” (sounds like something out of a Dostoevsky or Ayn Rand story)

“Essential” (referring to a worker, business, activity…but what defines essential in a given week?)

“Shelter in Place” (used to refer to surviving hurricanes but is used more broadly)

“Social Distancing” (oxymoronic but aptly descriptive)

“Heroes” (selfless service comes in a variety of mostly mundane packaging)

“The New Normal” and “The New Non-normal” (language that maybe begins to show an acceptance of change)

We notice word choice in “news reporting”, how frequently a word can become accepted shorthand for a complex reality (ex. “insurgents”, “extremists”, “environmentalists”) and thus gradually flatten our understanding.  Linguistic decisions can be used for pejorative ends in barely noticeable ways.

Word choice often reveals a speaker’s emotional commitments even when s/he purports to be speaking “just the facts”.  Younger generations are particularly suspicious of the sales pitch and manipulation through words, maklng them skeptical of religious claims and “accepted truth”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life. …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory.” (Gospel of John, chapter1)

God’s Word, God’s communication or expression, became flesh and blood.

We might say God did this so that we could clearly understand God’s intended message.  We can actually see and touch the Word of God in Jesus (1 John 1:1).

Paradoxically, incarnation made God’s expression all the more difficult to objectify, hard to boil down to a universal dictum. As the song from Rent says, “How can you measure a life?”  So even the embodied Word of God is subject to interpretation and misunderstanding because the eternal Word was made historically particular. Some people loved Jesus, some thought he was a flake, others saw him as a serious threat.

As you pray or meditate today, what is God’s word to you now?  One word. One word of grace, love, or invitation.  Hold this Word of God today.

Written by Bill Hoff

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