The delete key can be your best friend. Assigning one’s writing on a word processor to the recycle bin can be a liberating, exhilarating act.
Our words count. They matter. They matter more than we acknowledge.
The incomparable professor of homiletics (the practice of preaching) Dr. Fred Craddock once preached a sermon based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 12: 36-37: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” In that sermon Craddock implored pastors, whose calling involves employing many words, to use their words judiciously; clergy have a profound responsibility to speak compellingly, carefully, authentically and truthfully.
But Jesus’ cautionary words were not originally addressed to clergy. He issued his warning to the multitudes, i.e., to people in general; thus his stern warning applies to every speaking person.
I would go further. Were Jesus to have spoken to a group of bloggers, journalists or columnists he would have warned, “…you will be held accountable for every careless word you write…”
I reflect on these severe words of Jesus as I decry the so-called news channels where people shout past each other, impugn their opponents and set up straw men to tear them down, yammering and yelling with great sound and fury. I reflect on these severe words of Jesus as I decry shoddy journalism and faux journalism whereby writers/reporters no longer make an effort to get it accurate. I reflect on these severe words of Jesus as I read columnists who fill space but have little to say productive, creative or original.
I include myself.
For almost 40 years I written and spoken billions of words. Have they been careful? Have they been truthful? Have they been grace filled? Have they reflected the love, mercy, justice and judgment of God? I shall be called to account for all of them.
This past month I have been composing a letter in response to a church group complaining about how bad things are in the United Methodist Church. I see things through a different lens than they and for weeks have been painfully honing and carefully editing my response. Earlier this week I abruptly realized in a flash, perhaps with the help of God’s clarity, that my words were laced with sarcasm and self-righteousness and could not redeem or advance a debate that genuinely needs to happen.
It’s not that I suddenly agree with those on the other side. I don’t. It’s not that I shouldn’t respond. I should and shall. It’s that my first effort included words, sentences and even paragraphs which were careless, thoughtless, blustery and demeaning.
The delete button became my friend. I’m starting afresh on my letter and hope the second draft will be more grace filled. Words matter.
Self-discipline is easier on a word processor than in everyday conversation, where prayerfully chosen words are sometimes hard to find. As all have discovered by experience by the time something is said carelessly the delete key is no help.
Creede Hinshaw of Macon is a retired Methodist minister.