Monday Meditation: On Good Language

Last week we read about what David Dark says characterizes “Bad Language.” This week, we see the other side of that:

“But there are other utterances that counter the power of dis-membering death with wonderful words of life, words that serve to RE-member, restoring membership and belonging when they’re spoken or sung aloud…Maybe we have to pray for the wit and imagination to RE-member people again and again. The hardened heart, I imagine, is the one that won’t (or can’t) RE-member, that won’t quite grant a deep, personal reality to other people, the heart that finds it necessary to not RE-member others in order to survive, the heart no longer in tune with the notion, affirmed by every living religious tradition, that there is no available life in the universe that isn’t connected to the practice of RE-membering.

The good words remember and represent. They repair our visions by making all things new. They make the world-at-large reappear in dazzling new light, as if we didn’t quite know, till the words came, what we were all about. When they are spoken aloud, we describe them by saying things like, ‘That’s music to my ears.’ The good language uplifts the way bad language degrades. It’s the life-giving authority of poetry. The Canadian literary scholar Northrop Frye speaks of poetic authority as the ‘authority which emancipates instead of subordinating the person who accepts it.’ Frye isn’t talking about an authority confined to libraries and bookstores; he’s talking about the authority that redemptively rearranges life as we know it.”

-David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, “Questioning our Language”

How can we RE-member with our language, that is, create a sense of belonging for those we are speaking to or about? How can we use language creatively in the world, instead of settling for what seems to be the “least offensive”? Have you ever felt powerfully the impact of good speech? When was it, and what was so striking about it? How can you be a proliferator of emancipatory language? For yourself? For others? For your community?

Our language always casts the world in a certain way, so in a sense we are all poets, and prophets. If we accept this as a challenge, we will be aware of the effort it takes to do the creative work required to be a good at a vocation we all participate in by mere speech.


Monday Meditation: On the Possibility for Offendedness

“Admittedly, we all walk around feeling comforted and assured by specific certainties, but our sense of assuredness as true believers (whatever it is we claim we believe) need not preempt the possibility of feedback. ‘We condemn as unacceptable…’ is the opening phrase intoned by various groups in response to all manner of pictures, programs, or prose they view as offensive. Are we unwilling to endure the pain of a drawing? Does the pristine intensity of one’s faith require that any question or jibe pointed toward its content be ruled as impertinent and out of order? If we won’t entertain disagreement, how can a conversation ever occur? What is anybody’s faith for? Isn’t openness to the dangers of feeling offended a prerequisite to an actual relationship?”
-David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

In this election season, look around. Who are your friends? Who do you spend your time with? Its it only the people you agree with? If so, why do you surround yourself with these people? To feel understood? To feel affirmed? To feel loved? These are not bad things. But, it is hard to imagine that much learning or teaching occurs without some sort of dialectic. And, furthermore, what if your friends change their opinions? What then? is the relationship over? Can we only draw near to those who say we are right? What does this do for us? What does this do for the world?

One time Jesus said, “What credit is it to you to love those who love you?” Love your enemies (political and otherwise). Be crazy. This is the kind of radical hope that our world needs–and it is perhaps more intensely persuasive and instructive than any kind of polemic.

It may feel absurd to hurt for those who “lose” on election day if your team “wins”. But it is possible to live in that kind of tension–though the world provides few examples of this for us. You can condemn ideas and love people. It is possible. Though, perhaps, among the hardest things we can undertake as humans.