I have mentioned Caroline McIntyre‘s book “caring for words in a culture of lies“ many times over the course of this podcast’s five years. It was, upon first read, a formative and grounding resource; it continues to be.
In part because I have historically had a tendency to talk too much, putting too many words on the table and muddying the connection that better words, more thoughtful words, might have otherwise forged.
Similarly, McIntyre warns that misuse or careless use of words disconnects us from the heart of the things we were talking about; that, if I truly love a subject or an idea or experience or a truth, it is my responsibility, through language, to communicate that subject or idea or experience or truth in a way others might come to appreciate it as well; that when there is a disconnect between a thought I am moved by and the ability of someone I care about to perceive it, that gap is my problem and is a problem of language.
In short, Caroline McIntyre suggests that language is a primary expression of love; love for the things I take interest in and love for those I am living life with.
And in so far as that is the case, that language is an expression of love, how important it is that I recognize the often tragic limitation of language. My words, your words, can never quite capture or enlighten every aspect, angle, and nuance of Life and the particular elements of life in which we find joy and pain.
Which is part of why I am so often moved by the courage of those who are willing to put the best of their words on the table while knowing those words can only do so much. It is also why I am often moved by the courage of those who, after a time, find and apply new words to older conversations in which we’ve grown maybe too comfortable with our language gaps and the divisions we settle into because of them.
For instance, I’ve marveled at those who have faithfully approached the language “God is love” and have been not only consistent enough but humble enough to allow a phrase like that to become less about particular conclusions and more about possibilities.
Which is often what I see in stories about Jesus when, as the conversation about the Love of God hits the table, ends up handling questions like “who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus offers a story that has layers of cultural implications and a much broader set of possibilities than the “conclusions” his audience had learned were associated with “God” or “Love.”
The possibilities and pathways available in the Divine will always be infinitely more interesting and beautiful than the language we use to point at them; which leads me to think that perhaps the best we can do with our language is hope to point others (or even our own souls) at the Good, True and Beautiful and then trust not only the fuller reality of those things but even other people’s experiences of those things to fill in “the gap.” Maybe everything else is an exercise in control?
So, I think of recent writers like Rachel Held Evans, I don’t find any kind of real scandal in the conclusions she was trying to get people to come to (if there really were any of those); I think the “scandal” of her legacy was the constant and wild suggestion that the love of God is actually for everyone and that, whenever someone has left off of that “everyone,” we’ve come up against a limitation of language and human will and can do better.
I love that.
I really do.
Namely, because I really do believe that if I am not actually scandalized on occasion, I must not be actually paying attention to God.
Great religious language points us to possibilities beyond the words we are currently using and then invites us to trust the rest of our process to the Divine who desires far more than the understanding and cognition we chase with words, but desires, instead…
relationship; an ongoing, evolving, growing, and deepening relationship that is far beyond understanding.
So, maybe we can take the pressure off ourselves and those we’re giving our precious attention to by not having to trust so deeply the messengers, specific. Instead, perhaps can we learn to trust the larger process that the messenger is part of.
Links For Justin:
Order the new book – It Is What You Make it