Caring For Words in a Culture of [Political] Lies
By Drew Moser
In mere weeks the citizens of the United States will head to the polls and cast their votes for our next president (and a whole host of other state and local races). In the ramp-up, our Facebook feeds are flooded with clickbait and Saturday Night Live is relevant again.
It’s a cyclical thing. Elections do what they do with words: torment, twist, and terrify (every so often, oh so rarely…they inspire). Words become nothing more than a commodity to be traded and exploited for political gain. Like a horrific traffic accident, we are equal parts repulsed and compelled by the spectacle.
In recent weeks I found myself waging an inner battle with my own engagement of the process. I’ve often felt righteous frustration that led me to dive in to the political conversation, head and heart first, in hopes of making an impact. Nearly every time I come out of the scrum licking my wounds and scratching my hanging head.
And turning to my evangelical sisters and brothers only aids to the confusion. I have friends who are voting for Hillary, friends who are voting for Donald and friends backing Gary or Evan. And I have few friends who are choosing not to vote. “The evangelicals” it seems, are not such a monolithic voting bloc after all.
I scanned my bookshelf a few days ago and came across a title that I’ve always loved. This time, my eyes fixed on the book anew with a new sense of urgency:
Rest on these words for a minute….
They form the title of a powerful little book written by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in 2009, but it speaks to me just as profoundly today. McEntyre winsomely argues
“Caring for language is a moral issue.”
And caring for language is intricately tied to our care for one another. McEntyre explores this moral issue through twelve “stewardship strategies.” I can’t help but think how these strategies may be the most powerful witness we can offer this moment in America. Consider their weight here and now:
- Love words–“We care for words when we use them thankfully, recognizing in each kind a specific gift . . .”
- Tell the truth–Be precise, free of hyperbole. Be careful to say what you mean and be sensitive to how it will be heard.
- Don’t tolerate lies–Confront lies by being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Do so in love, in truth, and in humility.
- Read well–Reading is a morally consequential act. Reading is “manna for the journey,” and a tangible, profound way to the love God with our minds.
- Stay in conversation–Conversation is a communal act; a mutual commitment to stick with the topic and one another and see it to the other side. Don’t flee when the conversation gets hard. Stay. Be curious about other points of view.
- Share stories–Stories connect. Stories help us cultivate compassion, taking us to places we otherwise wouldn’t go.
- Love the long sentence–In an age of 140 characters, to persevere through the long sentence cultivates a mental grit that allows us to sustain thought beyond the clickbait headlines of our day.
- Practice poetry–Poetry draws us into paradox; it draws us into play. All the while we are stretched and challenged to understand the complexity of life. You can’t speed read a poem. You must sit with it for awhile. [pro tip: Start with Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver]
- Attend to translation–Translation considers for context and culture. Translation takes care to be understood amid difference. It’s an effort to communicate effectively with others.
- Play–Play with words.”To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks–what we are called to do in the world–with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider . . .”
- Pray–Prayer reminds us of who God is and who we are. It uses the gift of language to commune with the Giver of language. It instills a respect of language and from where it derives.
- Cherish silence–Silence is not the absence of noise, but “a place we enter.” It’s not empty. Rather, silence is FULL. Silence can restore our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be more caring with our words.
To embody these twelve strategies is to care for words in a culture of lies. To embody these twelve strategies in an election season is to steward our words in such a way that we honor others. This may be the most powerful lie-busting tool we can offer.
McEntyre, M. (2009). Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Drew Moser is editor of ACSD Ideas. He's also Dean of Experiential Learning and Associate Professor of Higher Education at Taylor University.