I have three brothers. I an the youngest of four boys. My brothers and I are all very different and sometimes I wonder how we all grew up under the same parents.
I have a brother who wears graphic tees, flannels, and hats and is one of the most talented artists I’m aware of. He’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He’s also, last I checked, an Atheist. I recently had a discussion with him as to whether we, as humans, are anything more than brains. What about energy? What about those mysterious hidden realms? No, he thinks we are all brain. I love this brother an incredible amount.
I have a brother who wears tweed jackets, and smokes a pipe. He as two Master's Degrees and and one PhD (more schooling than the rest of the brothers combined) and he enjoys all things British. I would say, last I checked, he’s on the conservative side of Christianity. I’ve had many conversations with him about art... and I usually run for the hills because I can’t keep up. He’s pretty black and white. I love this brother an incredible amount.
I have a brother who is somewhere in the middle of these other brothers (if middle is between conservative Christianity and atheism) and he’s probably the closest to where I stand. (As chance would have it, we were also born on the same day.) He loves science, reason and logic but also goes with “feeling” as pretty important. I love this brother an incredible amount.
So, I have 3 very different brothers.
This means at least a couple of things:
1. I’m rarely shocked that someone disagrees with me. Heck, I’m shocked if they don’t. I don’t know that there is one thing on this planet that the four of us brothers would all agree on in regards to politics, theology, art, sociology, culture, psychology, places to live, places to go, and definitely what a good movie is. We always disagree and we let each other know.
2. They have made me. I respect Atheism and I respect a conservative form Christianity. I don’t agree with them but I recognize I’ve come from them. I learn from them. I appreciate them.
I once fasted (from eating) so George W. Bush would be elected. I’ve fasted twice in my life and one of them was for the election of a politician. Unreal. If you know me now, you find that astounding.
At one time, I had a concealed weapons permit and carried a .45 caliber gun around town in a holster and in my car. I packed heat. If you know me now, you find that one of the most unbelievable statements on the planet.
I once cheered that the “gay kid” was thrown through a window by someone in High School. I’ve said things about homosexuality that I won’t even tell you I said, just because saying it isn’t worth it and I’m more than embarrassed of what I used to say and how I used to treat certain people.
I once felt nervous about Catholics, let alone Muslims and Buddhists, who were going to Hell and could pull me along if I wasn’t careful.
At best, I was a Republican, 2nd Amendment supporter, Protestant, proud heterosexual. At worst, I was a judgmental, arrogant, proud, bigot who knew the answer to everything in the world... or at least who to ask if I didn’t have the answer. And who not to ask for any answers.
And then I became the one I was not supposed to ask.
I have a cousin who brags to her friends that I’m one of the few people who has completely changed as an adult. It’s one of the coolest things anyone has ever said about me. (I don’t think I’m the only one by any stretch but it’s cool to be in that rare group.)
I don’t say all of this to say that I’m enlightened, or that I’ve arrived, or that if you are a supporter of the things I once was (besides being mean to any group of people) that I’m better than you. I don’t say this to say that my brothers are right or wrong or better or worse.
I do say it all to say... what changed me? What changes any of us? What makes them who they are and me who I am?
There are all kinds of factors, obviously, but at the end of the day, at some level, at a most basic level, it’s amazing to think the powerful part that some combination of words plays in all of this.
Just words. Words spoken, words written, words thrown back and forth in conversation. But, still, just words.
There is that little saying that sticks and stones can break bones but words can’t hurt anyone. It’s a pretty ironic statement: using words to help someone who has been hurt by words to feel better. The statement enforces the power of words even while trying to say they are meaningless.
We all know they aren’t meaningless. Words are, in fact, one of the building blocks of who we are and what we are. They are as essential to the universe as electrons and protons.
The first time that we officially started thinking about a new church, as a group of people, there were 10 of us in a living room and we all wrote down words on 3 x 5 cards. We wrote down words that we hoped would describe the new church-thing we were hoping to start.
After merging together similar ideas, we ended up with 4 words: safe, simple, risky, and giving. (We added together later.) It’s not that the words themselves are that amazing, it’s that organizations start with words at all and those words formed a group of people and their culture for years to come.
There is a fairly well-known story about Johnny Cash. His older brother died at the age of twelve in a terrible accident and Johnny’s father apparently blamed Johnny (who was ten at the time). A father told a ten year-old that it should have been the ten year-old who had died instead of his brother. Many, including Johnny’s kids, say it was those words that never left Johnny and made him the artist he was.
Just words. Haunted a man until his death. And formed him.
I have a friend whose father told her repeatedly that the world would have been better off she had not been born and another friend whose mother told her, repeatedly, it was a mistake she had been born.
There are stories that determine how I try to live, and I am not alone. More words. Myths, stories, fables have formed so much of our histories and progress it’s sometimes amazing to think what would exist if it were not for them. Anything?
I only say all of this because I have met many people who have had prisons built around them because of words. I’ve also met people who have been freed from prisons because of words.
Words - just words - are still affecting us. They are opening people up, making the world bigger, helping us all to be more aware, more optimistic, more inspired, and more creative.
Words - just words - are limiting people, making them feel small, creating wounds, and damaging societies and cultures and killing us all.
Just words. Harmless little words with no power compared to sticks and stones.
Humanity, often times in a religious nature, has used words in many of the wrong ways throughout its history. The words created a destructive and toxic environment to swim in. The effect of those words still lives everywhere in churches. And they are perhaps deadlier, longer, in those worlds than in other worlds.
Those words bother me more than any others. Their effect haunts me because I’ve seen what they do to people, first hand. I’ve seen the prisons, the spiritual insane asylums, and the devastation they reap. They are the Nazgul, the Dementors, the monsters of the night, terrorizing human beings everywhere. The Dark Words.
This is a book (bloog/blost post), obviously, made of words. I love words. I love speaking them and listening to them. I love how they are born and how they live inside each of us and our unique perspectives of this world.
I hope that wherever words have been used to trap you, haunt you, and cause you to be afraid, you can find some freedom, some inspiration and something new with other words, including the words that will appear here.