Posted on September 16, 2018


I woke up from my Sunday nap with a start, hearing the words of a child, singing to her departed pet, “I can’t wait to see you on the other side.”

It was such a sad little song, but the little girl wasn’t crying, just talking to her dog, so very sure that they would be reunited eventually, in heaven of course.

There was in the child the absolute trust that her God would see to it that her pet would be just fine, and their sadness at being separated was but temporary.

I don’t know what put that phrase, “on the other side,” in my mind. I thought perhaps it was from an old Negro spiritual, referring of course to crossing the River Jordan, after one’s death, into the Promised Land.

I had read a bit of Scripture earlier in the morning from 1 Corinthians 15. It is a wonderful, uplifting, filled-with-hope passage by the Apostle Paul on the Resurrection and its meaning for all Christians.

And that, in turn, got me off on another thought, related to words and what they convey to us. Everything, of course, right on through all of life, from ideas to expressions of love, hate, and literally (overused but useful word when employed with some care and precision) every emotion, thought, or experience that we go through.

We have adages, sayings and even nursery rhymes to try and capture the meaning of words, such as the overworked, and, BTW, incorrect, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” On the contrary, words are so much more powerful than “sticks and stones,” that one wonders how this one even got preserved in our cultural baggage.

The Apostle James noted in his book that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity . . .  it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and it is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

Get on the Internet and listen to Adolph Hitler’s speech at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1934 captured in the film Triumph of the Will. Just listen to it. You don’t have to speak German to hear hate in the words of Hitler. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust with that voice and its words forcing them into the gas chambers.

On the other hand, in Christianity at least, words can a healing and liberating balm, a benediction, a confession of faith, a testimony to your determination to be a follower of Jesus, or, as many readers will recognize, the road to salvation.

Words also rule in the politics of the world. Whoever has the power to label more than often wields real power.

Take the word “terrorism” for example. One man’s terrorist is another man’s “freedom fighter.” The “reign of terror” set in motion by the French Revolution in 1789 was meant to purge the ongoing Revolution of Counter-Revolutionaries and critics. If you were labeled an enemy of the Revolution, it was off to the guillotine. Over 15,000 Frenchmen, from the King on down, lost their heads to the executioner before the terror ended.

In the Conquest of the Americas by Spanish adventurers in the sixteenth century, the Spaniards wrote the history. So we read about the heroic Christian warriors subduing the pagan and heathen Indians who practiced human sacrifice on a massive scale (in Mexico at least) to obedience and civilized Spanish rule and religion. Reality was often far different from the Spanish record.

The rule of the word comes right down to today. Radical ISIS jihadists are Muhammad’s devoted warriors restoring the true faith on earth. To the rest of the world, they are crazed fanatics bent on destroying civilization as we know it.

If you are Christian, the jihadists also are likely to be labeled heretics and false prophets, meriting destruction by the forces of the one true God. Sometimes “Crusader” is thrown into the pile of words, reminding the Muslim world that at one time Christianity and Islam were locked in a titanic spiritual warfare not simply of swords but also of words.

Our own experience with homegrown Communists during the purges of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s was a spectacular display of the war of words. “Card carrying communists” and “fellow travelers” were spit out as epithets convicting American communists of subverting their country’s values.

Words have power.  Be careful how you use them, since you can build up, or, conversely, destroy people and reputations.

Published as “Words are powerful–be careful with them,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 2, 2018





Posted in: words