We must choose our words truthfully

Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We live in a world where words seem to flow in endless disharmony. Words are too often misused in ways that do an injustice to truth. We are exposed to endless words in print, media and everyday speaking that do not build a framework of goodness and truth. We experience words that alarm, serve peoples own selfish needs, are untruthful, controlling, or seek to appeal in ways that do not speak the truth in love.

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Of course, truth is about not lying. On a personal level, what would happen if we quit lying and stopped avoiding the truth about ourselves, and our weaknesses? Certainly, honesty can leave us vulnerable and exposed. As a parent of adult children with severe brain disorders, I find that people frequently do not want to hear the truth, change their attitudes, or accept people with brain disorders and their caregiver families as they are. We are tempted to stick to our own version of truth. Truth often means saying things others don't want to hear. Such truthfulness is not always popular and can have consequences, especially when they are spoken to power.

The more power we have the greater our opportunity to use words in both good and harmful ways. Power can negate our ability to be a good listener. Power can easily be used to diminish others and thus diminish truth. We see all too many examples in politics, government, sports, industry and even in faith communities, of words and actions doing great damage. Thankfully the same entities can and do build up.

Words are often chosen for their appeal rather than their truthfulness. Campaign slogans can be a prime example. The Temptation is always before us to use words dangerously and at great cost to the wellbeing of others.

We live in a world, nation, state and community where there are many versions of truth. Groups are constantly screaming for their version of truth which may or may not serve the common good. If the power of self-interest takes control at the expense of truth we are headed for chaos. As Proverbs 12:17 reminds us, "Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but false witness speaks deceitfully."

Not only is it important to choose our words carefully, but we can benefit greatly by expanding the diversity of voices we are listening to. If the only voices we listen to are those defined as powerful, we lose touch with the majority of voices in our midst! Frequently those who speak without power are the very voices we need to listen to. For example, I find people who use our busy food pantry are frequently a wonderful resource of insight and truth in sermon preparation. Their life is grounded in a reality we all need to better understand. The powerful and capable Apostle Paul experienced some troublesome health limitation that sensitized him to a healthy reality that "power is made perfect in weakness."

As a society, the focus on power needs to be tempered by truth. God's purpose for us can get lost in the lingo of power. Issues can become so rhetoric laden that honest, moral debate can't happen.

Our challenge is to equip ourselves to think and act faithfully in the issues, relationships and situations we experience. There needs to be more voices that speak the truth in love in the middle of the many diverse viewpoints we hold.

The truth is begging to be heard. Sometimes we are the ones who need to make the truth known.

As we seek to choose our words carefully and truthfully, may we be a voice of compassion that listens to every voice in the choir of humankind.

• Larry Rorem is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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