“Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of demons.”
“Words matter.” With that comment, Jim Maza, my friend and our VFCC college attorney summed up his perspective on the importance of legal documents saying what we intend them to say. But as I have heard him repeat those two words, I have also come to realize that “words matter” whenever we are trying to communicate something.
For years I have been quoting a famous saying which I credited to St. Francis of Assisi. I always thought he said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” I like that because it captures the idea that “behavior matters” as well as words. But, in a recent message I heard Dr. Dick Brogden say that it cannot be proven that St. Francis ever said that, especially since he was known as a person who talked to everyone about his faith, even the animals. For St. Francis, words mattered as well as behavior.
Since “words matter,” no wonder the words of Kristeen Young and Kendra Turner have generated quite a firestorm. About a month ago Kristeen Young sang a song on the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson titled, “I Wish the Virgin Would’ve Had an Abortion.” When I first read those words I could hardly believe what I was reading.
If that was the title of the song, I wanted to know the rest of the lyrics. I did try to listen to Young sing it but I couldn’t understand the words. But as I researched further, I found them. They begin, “I never knew I was a girl until they stopped to tell me; I never knew I was disturbed until they dropped three volumes on me; But in the Bible/Torah/Quran there are really no good roles for me except concubine and wash woman.”
With all of the freedom our country allows, Young belted out those words which caused very little concern that she was offending Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That might be because not too many people watch that program. I don’t either.
She went on with, “I used to be the sad one now I just want to stab them…” and she ended with a direct slam against Jesus, “…I only wish the virgin would’ve had an abortion.” I think most followers of Jesus would be deeply troubled by those words.
Then there are the two words of 17-year-old Kendra Turner from Dyer County High School in Dyersburg, Tenn., who was suspended for saying “Bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed. Evidently her teacher said that kind of talk was for church and that she was “not going to have godly speaking in her class.”
When I read that story I could hardly believe what I was reading. Now we know that there are two sides to every story and we have learned that the teacher had a list of words on the board which her students were not to use: “Dumb; Boring; I don’t know; Hang out; My bad” including “Bless you.” We also know that outbursts of any kind during exams or other quiet assignments can be disrupting and distracting.
I also want to mention that there is some difference of opinion about what happened. The principal, Lynn Garner, tried to navigate the delicate challenge of honoring the privacy of a student while also trying to be as supportive as possible with this teacher, a 40-year respected veteran of the school system.
But whatever happened in that classroom, it appears as though a teacher made a huge issue out of a casual, quasi-religious remark. Whether it is a vulgar rock musician profaning the sacred or, apparently, an innocent young woman saying “Bless you” after a sneeze, this we know: “Words matter.”
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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