My friend’s observation stripped me bare.
“I can’t tell whether you enjoy writing or photography more.”
In that moment, I realized that I had been not just seen, but seen through.
“I’m scared of words these days,” I told her.
I think that’s why I haven’t posted anything here since the final week of 2017—a full seven months ago—a veritable lifetime in blog years.
That lapse surprises me, because I love to write.
Even more, the act of writing is how I figure out what I believe, how I make sense of the world.
Struggling to put thoughts into words, crafting word by word in search of that fleeting joy that comes when you get things just right—the thrill of trying to show someone what you saw or noticed—not so that they live your experience, but in the hopes that your story will open them to their story—that your description of the world will allow them to sense the world around them.
I love that about writing. And my questioner, also a lover of words, knew that about me. But she had noticed I was sharing photos lately, and not words.
“I feel as if you cracked the code,” I told her.
I had turned to photography because I needed a creative outlet, and I have come to enjoy looking at the world through the camera’s lens. But the main reason wasn’t just my new-found love of photography. No, it was the growing reality that words now scare me, because words no longer work the way they should.
It doesn’t matter these days whether you craft a perfect sentence and say exactly what you mean. Too many people determine what you will say based on who they think you are. Your actual words don’t matter to them.
If you’re an older white male…they know what you will say.
If you’re a conservative…they know what you will say.
If you’re part of the church…they know what you will say.
If you’ve left the church…well, you get the idea.
In that environment, words no longer matter.
We now pre-hear what someone says, whether they actually go on to speak those words or not. Your words are layered with meaning, and unless the ones who hear them are very careful listeners, there is no guarantee that the message you intend is the one they will hear.
This fear is ramped up even more when my words are spoken in my official capacity as a pastor. As God told the prophet Jeremiah, some words plant and others pluck out; some build and others destroy.
We preachers try not to think about it too often, but we live with the reality that there is always the chance that you will have to deal with the fallout your words create. That sort of comes with the territory.
What really gets me, though, is when I have to deal with the fallout of someone else’s words—especially their words about God.
I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Maybe you’ve noticed, but there are a lot of people speaking in the name of “Christian” whose words sound nothing like what the way of Jesus reflects.
They speak not of forgiveness…but of retribution.
They don’t reflect the struggle of how to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. No, they say, enemies are to be destroyed.
They don’t talk about the beauty of grace to make all people new—but rather they talk about their own goodness, their moral superiority, and you get the sense that they believe they have no need of a Savior.
And even it’s because people don’t listen carefully these days, I still have to spend my time cleaning up their words.
“That’s not what it means to be Christian,” I tell people.
“I know that’s what they say, but there are a bunch of people who don’t believe things that way.”
“No, Christians aren’t just judgmental, non-thinking bullies who insist on getting their way.”
I’m just cleaning up the words that others speak about God. And you have to do it too, I’m sure.
And I guess that’s why I plan to start writing again.
Because if the world needs anything from you, from me, it’s a true word in a world of lies, a healing word in a world of pain, a kind word in a world of anger, a word of hope in a world of despair.
Pictures of sunsets and deer and bears surely point to such things.
But while pictures are sometimes worth a thousand words, sometimes…well, sometimes you just need to write.