Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.
This well-known ditty was first published in 1862 in the African Methodist Episcopal Church journal, The Christian Recorder. It’s purpose was to empower children in the face of name calling, to help them keep their good nature and resist retaliation. I’m not sure it’s used much anymore. Clearly the instances of name calling and bullying among teens has never been higher or more insidious.
But there are many ways that words hurt people, particularly in the life of the church. The temptation to be “right,” to put another person in their place, to use shame as a weapon, and, the ultimate abuse, to use the Word of God in ways that end up pushing people even further away from His love, mercy, and peace—each one of these distortions of language and meaning ends up hurting not only the individual in a given moment but the whole Body of believers for as long as we live out our faith in this life.
When the words of Scripture are used correctly—with no other intention than to bring comfort to a troubled soul and magnify the light of Christ—they will always lead to healing and wholeness.
They will always lead a person Home.
This is one of the most important reasons to read Loaded Words. To make sure you know the true meaning of some of these words—sin, repent, confess, Hell, submit—that are commonly used to hurt people. To be an ambassador for proper use and understanding, so that those who stand outside of Jesus’s love may be drawn in by his very essence, the Word. So that we can break the cycle of using biblical language to break people’s hearts or keep differing cultural groups at arm’s length.
Sticks and stones will break your bones but the Word of God will never harm you. Loaded Words is a safe place to learn and grow in your understanding of God’s eternal truths. May it be, in some small way, a blessing to the 21st century conversation.
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“We live in an era that is reliant on words, but our words are no longer reliable.” So it says in the opening chapter of Loaded Words, setting the foundation for the book itself. How can we know what anyone means when they choose to use a certain word? Are they choosing it for clarity? Manipulation? Oppression? Are they using it correctly, with integrity, and good intentions? In 21st-century America, few people–even regular church goers–have a firm grasp on many of the most essential words in the Bible. Sin. Repent. Confess. Submit. And for most people in the culture these words explode like land mines upon hearing, leading them even further from any Grace they may need or seek.
In January of this year I formed a new partnership with a classmate, Leann Luchinger, from my MA Theology program. We hoped we might use some of what we’d learned to help clear the air on some of these key words. Breaking them down into small, easily accessible chapters. Stripping away the misuse and abuse. Restoring the words to their original Hebrew and Greek so that people could see the true meaning for themselves. Then trying to make them understandable to people who weren’t raised with the Bible–or worse, were raised with a Bible that was used more as a weapon than a gift from God.
Most books that play out in the faith world are broken down pretty tidily by audience/genre/target, but Loaded Words speaks to everyone at the same time, in the same room, with the same message, that we may all learn, grown and reconsider together. Pastors, that they may better understand the semantic obstacles that prevent their messages from getting through; church members, many of whom still cringe at the sound of some of these words and lack confidence in how to share them; those outside of the faith, who just can’t find an entry point to Jesus because words (and the people who use them) stand in their way.
If you get a chance to read it, please let us know what you think—what spoke to you, what you learned, what you still struggle with. If you think it might be useful, please recommend it for your own book club or small group (there is a study guide at the end of each chapter).
I would forever grateful, a word that, by definition, leads us back to the heart of grace.
People often asked me what I was going to do with my MA in Theology. I told them I had no idea but that, at the very least, it would give me new tools to use in my writing. Has it ever. Today as I launch the first book that I’ve co-written with my icktank partner, Leann Luchinger, I’m grateful that we are able to use what we’ve learned——and the particular gifts of language and messaging each of us already had——to help remove some very significant obstacles that stand in the way of people and the Living God. Let’s face it: a lot of church language just makes you want to cringe——even if you’re a church goer. So it is also for these that we write: for the people of faith who need to go deeper and wider in their understanding so that they may help others go deeper and wider, too. And finally, we address the manifold forms of behavior and speech that have abused Jesus’s words and, in doing so, forced them to carry so much social, political and doctrinal baggage that people can hardly hear them anymore as instruments of Grace.
We hope this book helps begin any number of healthy conversations. And this is where you can help me. If anything about this subject interests you I hope you will buy a copy, read some or all of the 12 short chapters, and then let me know what you think——either here, on amazon, on Facebook, in person. If you’re part of a small group at church, consider using it for a study. If you don’t know anything about anything about Jesus and want to know more, let me know——I’ll try to connect you with some good people in your area who can come along side you as you grow. If you’ve learned anything from this book that is useful to your experience in the human condition, I hope you’ll pass it on.
If nothing else, I pray that we may all come away from this book with an awareness of how to use these words more thoughtfully, accurately, and, always, with in the Spirit of truth.
I find inspiration in many unlikely places. This morning on Facebook there was a quote by the playwright John Patrick Shanley. It was posted by an actress who is deeply committed to teaching theater in New York. I met her this year at a reading: she brought a wonderful short, short story and I read some passages from my new book, Elijah & the SAT. I smiled when I saw that the quote was from Shanley because my daughter has been assigned one of his scenes for her acting class. I’ve been trying to track down an old copy of Moonstruck all week so she can see how his gift of language plays out in a larger work.
I don’t know if it was his intention but Shanley has, in this short verse, captured the essence of Advent. In theological lingo, we would say it is a conversational way of delineating the blessing of repentance. Repentance or, turning your back on old ways, is part of the gift of Advent. We will ourselves to let go of the dark things that cling to prepare out hearts for a new joy to come, the joy of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This is an idea that has deep roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition. For many, the beauty of repentance has been ruined by too many extremists using all the wrong words, in the wrong tone and spirit, to communicate about the love of God that comes to us in Jesus. But just as the wrong words can close the door, the right ones, fresh ones, inspired ones, can open it again.
Thank you, JP Shanley, for these wise words:
“Run the old stuff down, run it out, toss the weight of trash in your heart into the fire. December is the ruthless month. Pick up all your heartbreak and fling it out the window. Call everybody. Make peace and move on. Let those who wish to linger, let them linger and grieve. They will run and catch up to you if you move on. You are the leader when it comes to joy. Move forward towards joy.”
Preparing for joy,