Say Only “Nice Words” to Speak Truth

It goes without saying that we’re living in a time of great division and for people of color, Muslims, and Jews, a time of great fear. Where do we find hope? What gives you hope about how to make the world a better place? For me, hope comes from knowing that God has empowered God’s people to “be the change you want to see,” in Gandhi’s words. The apostle Paul struggled with bringing hope to new churches while also telling them hard truths about themselves that would encourage them to grow in God. In his letter to the Ephesians: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members one of another . . . Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4: 17 – 5: 1)

UCC author and pastor, Anthony Robinson, wrote in’s daily devotional, “Lots of attention these days, rightly so, goes to things that pollute the air, the water, the soil. Paul knew, and reminds us, that there is such a thing as verbal pollution. Moreover, its consequences are serious. Careless words, distortions and lies, fracture trust and destroy life. … Figuring out what is true, listening for truth, speaking truth; it’s hard work. It requires something of us. Often today we settle for some odd substitute, something Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” “Truthiness” is something that sounds true, something that we (or someone) wish were true but is not, not really. It only sounds like truth.”

In Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn McEntyre provides a list of characteristics to help us distinguish truth from its many facsimiles:

  • “Truth is elusive.
  • Truth avoids institutional control.
  • Truth tugs at conventional syntax.
  • Truth hovers at the edge of the visual field.
  • Truth is relational.
  • Truth lives in the library and on the subway.
  • Truth is not two-sided; it’s many sided.
  • Truth burrows in the body.
  • Truth flickers.
  • Truth comes on little cat’s feet, and down back alleys.
  • Truth doesn’t always test well.
  • Truth invites you back for another look.”

Paul is not asking us to say only “nice words.” He is calling us to something harder and better; to listen for, struggle to find, and work to speak truth.”

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