Words define us, they can make us feel great and without them, we'd be a bunch of thoughtless grunters. The scratches of ink on a page can create meaning, reveal new worlds and light fires in our minds.
Over summertime I read a few books and I've been transported on epic journeys of heroics and scandalous drama. I've learnt things, I've been able to imagine and dream about new ideas thanks to words I've soaked up while lying in the sun, sometimes under a tree.
I love a good descriptive author, and story can be a powerful instrument. I do have a degree in communications, but I'm not here to complain about our lack of language skills in the west with the rise of txt talk, tweets and paraphrased sound bites (although that is a little worrying).
Rudyard Kipling says "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." However, I'm not here to explain again why the pen mightier than the sword. In this article I want to look at how words shape us, how we can misinterpret them, and why at the end of the day unless words are backed up by action they can count for nothing.
Wear words tie us in nots
I work for a communication company that uses TV and Radio as our medium. To get a message across we need to be concise and clear, and the listener or viewer is always in mind. Can they hear and understand the message properly? Our job is to convey entertainment, meaning or information clearly using words most of the time, and that's not always easy, things can always be taken then wrong way and as conservative as our company can be, people will still misinterpret things and get upset at times.
There are countless examples of this in history of words being misinterpreted and misconstrued. When Italy and Ethiopia signed the treaty of Wuchale in 1889, one mistranslated verb started a war between hundreds of thousands of men. In the case of New Zealand, our treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 was a classic case of misinterpretation over exactly what the Maori people were signing away. Those mistakes have led to apologies and the reimbursement of land still going under the Waitangi Tribunal today.
To quote the famous wordsmith William Shakespeare, "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." Our interpretation is everything. In the bible penned words about war, women, creation, environment, poverty and money (to name a few) have been misunderstood, taken out of context, and caused all sorts of divisions! Maybe that's why the protestant church has over 30,000 denominations. I feel like if we sat down and took a little more time for open and honest dialogue, if we had a little more grace for open debate and discussion our misunderstandings could be less.
Jesus was found as a young boy debating and contemplating scripture at the synagogue with religious leaders, this was something he seemed to enjoy, and something the Jewish tradition relished and deemed healthy. The Jews use the term 'midrash' which was the process they used to unravel and discuss a text, especially a difficult text where they'd have to read between the lines.
Similar to the theological term of hermeneutics; they would look at the text from different angles, discuss ideas and thoughts about passages that weren't always clear. They did this so they could come up with a balanced interpretation that often complemented each different angle. They would always look a verse or word as part of a whole narrative, and never take the first interpretation or idea and leave it at that.
If only we in the Christian tradition throughout history were able to be so diplomatic in our understanding and interpretation of the bible. Maybe our history would have been more peaceful?
Jesus was the word
I don't think the Bible was ever intended to be read one verse at a time. I don't think we'll ever all agree on every word in the bible, and luckily I don't think Jesus came to give us a systematic list of things to obey. Jesus used words, but they weren't above us, they weren't too complicated, they met their audience where they were at. He told stories about foxes and birds, about children and farmers, about coins and lost sheep to get his message across. The meaning behind the words were more important.
As a kid I memorised the beginning of the gospel of John where it says that Jesus was the word who became flesh. It is slightly strange he was called 'The Word,' and I've never fully understood (and still don't) the exact extent of what that means. Jesus is described by many names, but in the beginning of the book of John, he says he was the Word and the Word was God. He was the Word who then became flesh in Jesus.
He showed up on earth to show that words alone don't cut it. Jesus lived in the now, and he showed you need experience and a relationship. He was the fulfilment of many words, but he proved that no dogma, liturgy or proclamation of words will trump the 'way the truth and the life' that came through his presence among us.
Even though there's a contradiction in that I'm using words right now to describe this, I believe that Jesus' presence in the 'now' back then, is a lesson for today. He demands that we ask similar questions. What's in front of me now? Who can I help now? How can I seek his kingdom in the present? These questions are more important than mere words alone, they demand we act.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html