The Words We Use
With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. James 3:9-10a
I love being a dad. It is one of the true blessings in life. One of the reasons I love being a father is because every day is a new adventure into uncharted territory. For instance, last week I was driving in the car with my three kids when Jude (7), my youngest asked, “Why is stupid a bad word?” “You say things are stupid all the time, but when I call someone stupid or say I am stupid, you get mad at me.” To this I said, “when we call someone stupid we are putting them down, making them less than us. When we call someone stupid, we are saying that we are smarter than they are and better.”
Then he jumped to a hotter topic. He asked, “Why can’t we call people gay?” Remember he is seven and trying to figure out the rules of life. I told him that the word gay actually means happy and carefree, but people have used the word to classify people and try to make them less than they are. I went on to say there are some people who are gay and who identify with that term, but often, people will call things “gay” as a way of meaning stupid or dumb. And that sometimes people call other people gay in an attempt to put them down, to make them feel like there is something wrong with them, and that is why we typically don’t use the word gay, because most of the time it is associated with putting people down.
We went on to talk about the word “retarded” and how that is actually a musical term meaning to slow down, and how it was attributed to people who were slower, but now it is used as a word to make fun of people. We discussed the phrase “you throw like a girl,” which in the movie Sandlot is considered the worst insult to a boy baseball player as if there is something inferior to the way a girl throws compared to how a boy throws.
Our conversation continued the entire way to school and as my kids got out of the car, it made me really think about how words are used. As I went about my day, I put the conversation behind me, until I got home that night and was making dinner. I was reading a recipe and for one of the ingredients it said, “you can be a little more liberal or conservative depending on your taste.” It made me laugh since typically in our society you are identified as a liberal or a conservative, and when someone calls you that, it generally is used to identify and separate, not a term of inclusion or to make things better.
The book of James has a whole section on this very issue. He says the same tongue that we use to praise God is the same tongue that we also use to put down and curse each other. Since James wrote his letter almost 2000 years ago, things haven’t changed much. His words are for those who follow Christ to act and speak differently, to use words to build up not to put down, to unite not separate. I encourage you to think about the words we use, the phrases we say. If we find ourselves using words to put down and separate, to preach hate and negativity, remember that it is with the same mouth, we praise God and tell people how great He is…so what does that actually say about us and what we believe about God? Are we really praising God when we use words to make those who, like us, are created in His image, seem like they are less than us or inadequate simply because they are different from us?
We are told that we all have gifts and are created uniquely in the image of God. So it shouldn’t matter what our race, gender, nationality, or political views we have, we are all Children of God, and we should treat each other in that manner.