RANDY HUFF: Don’t Discount The Value of Words

Words. We live in a sea of them and can’t live without them. They vex us and bless us. We are too seldom “at a loss for” and too often subjected “to a torrent of … ” Technology takes words to new heights — or lows as the case may be – with a “chattering class” which makes much of little so the airwaves are filled with that of which we scarcely know and about and/or which we can do less. It can be overwhelming … , and then we use words to talk about it, with an ironic smile.

The late communications guru, Neil Postman, was prophetic on the matter. His book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” should be required reading, and its introduction is well worth the price. Postman compares Orwell “Books will be burned!” and Huxley “Books will become meaningless!” and lands with Huxley, predicting the information explosion will overwhelm us and “truth will be lost in a sea of irrelevance.”

It seems he was right. Words pour forth with no end in sight and knowing the actual real truth is almost an afterthought. “The truth will set us free” indeed, but where is it? In exasperation we resort to believing what we want to believe, various competing truth claims left aside. And so it is – all but unavoidably so.

But we dare not leave it there. Our lives emphatically are not in that sea of words but in our homes and work, with friends and neighbors. Here words can be real, truthful, meaningful, attached to the lives we know, verified and lived out. Here words really matter.

Do you know the value of a word? I marvel when I think how powerful words can be, for good or ill. A high school teacher once offered a simple compliment, at the right time and in the right way. That word still feeds my soul 40 years later. An older schoolmate once yelled at me: “Do you have no brain?!” It was cruel and I still feel the tears. Words matter.

The New Testament writer, James, is plain, practical and wise on this point. In the opening of chapter 3, he asks (paraphrased): “Do you know someone who never makes a mistake when they talk? If you do, that person is perfect!” Then he throws down on the value of words, using three metaphors to illustrate the weight of words: a bit, a rudder, a flame. A bit guides a horse, a rudder directs a ship, a flame burns a forest. Each has power vastly greater than its size.

This is leverage, power, and weight. We should hold in awe the ability we have to take a breath, express that air through tongue and language, and change the world.

Words — each one of them – change the world. This is the truth of never putting the toothpaste back into the tube, or never finding the feathers scattered to the wind. Words are easy to speak but impossible to retrieve. They have great value and require great care. They change the world, for good or ill.

Yes, we live in a world of words that can be mind-numbing and truth-dulling. But we can bring healing to this large-scale problem by giving our words value, backed with simple integrity, filled with grace and truth; thoughtful, careful, intended to bless. When you think about it’s a tall order but a happy opportunity.

We should all learn to live it.

Randy Huff

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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