Wednesday, April 08, 2009

When Words are Worthless

Like just about every pastor on this planet, I'm pondering the coming weekend. Tomorrow we celebrate Maundy Thursday, then on through Good Friday to Easter Morning. This is the highest point of celebration for those who are called the Sons and Daughters of God, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, conqueror of evil, defeater of death, Hope and Life for all who believe.

If there is ever a weekend for which we need to choose our words carefully, this is it.

But we live in a world in which words have lost their power and punch. Words, which used to represent Ideas and Meanings, are now just one more tool in the hands of lesser people known as advertisers. Words have been co-opted to mean much less than they used to mean.

Take the word "epic." What should "epic" mean? Epic once meant Heroic, Grandeur, Historic, Grandly-Sweeping-Across-The-Land. Epic would describe Hercules, Epic would describe a few hundred soldiers fighting back tens of thousands of their enemies. Epic might describe Neil Armstrong stepping upon the plains of the moon.

Epic has been co-opted by the Outdoor Adventure Crowd. Now, "epic" means a nice bike ride down the side of a mountain, or a freefall before the parachute opens, or even a bungee jump. I get it - people who do these things do so because they want more than the mundane office-and-SUV life, and living these adventures helps them feel like part of something so much more alive, so much bigger than 'normal life.' But still. . ."epic" would once mean once-in-every-ten-generations; today, thousands of men and women are having 'epic' adventures every single weekend of summer.

Even worse are the way words have been twisted and tormented in the hands of copy-writers trying to get you into the mall or the grocery store. Amazing now describes a new pair of shoes, Powerful now describes an mp3 player, and, perhaps most troubling, Miraculous can now describe a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

Words meant to describe the mind-bending, the truly out-of-this-world, the particularly rare or great are now attached to the common, the fad, the fleeting, in order to convince the purchaser that they are somehow taking part in something important.

But then, I flail about looking for a word to describe what happened Easter morning. I quickly become disheartened, for if all the BIG WORDS no longer mean BIG THINGS, what will people think when we use those same BIG WORDS to describe the one truly BIG ACT of history? If people translate Miraculous as "chocolate chip cookies," what will they think when I describe the empty tomb as miraculous? If people equate Epic with a bike ride through the woods, what will they think when I describe Christ's life as epic? If Amazing, Awesome, Stupendous all describe cars, stereos, and soup, how can those same words describe the King of the Universe laid dead in a tomb? How can they ever hope to describe a tomb now empty, and Life Everlasting poured out upon the universe?

If our language has been co-opted, twisted, and destroyed. . .what ever is left? What language shall we borrow to describe our dearest Friend? How do we get beyond that false set of assumptions so insidiously implanted by Madison Avenue and Hollywood?

When words have been gutted of their worth. . .what is the Preacher to say?


Beth B said...

Great post, Dan.

"If our language has been co-opted, twisted, and destroyed. . .what ever is left?"

Perhaps that is why we have been given a Meal...

Come to this sacred table . . . not to express an opinion, but to seek His presence and pray for His Spirit.

Christ's blessings be yours this Holy Week, Dan.

Ann said...

You're hitting our culture where it hurts - in the emptiness of meaning, where words are not filled with depth, breadth or integrity. Excellent!
I wonder if there's a metaphor here in the parallel features we're witnessing: the demise of newspapers which report truthfully via solid investigation and the rise of endless verbosity on TV and the internet? More words, less truth, commitment and meaningfulness. Less willingness to pay truth-tellers (buying a reputable publication, e.g.), and more like-opinionated community building?