We’re all guilty of it: the drive-by verbal assault. You know what I’m talking about, right? The facebook rant, the youtube comment war, the snappy text, or the email bomb. Unkind, unthoughtful words propelled toward another human mediated by a screen. We think we are defending our position or advancing a cause or stirring a call to action. We think our elegant rhetoric or our pointed discourse will bring the other party understanding. We may even think we are protecting the faith. But really, with the protection and relative anonymity, (even if we sign our name) we’re just throwing mud at each other.
You see, if we’re not really careful, we’re all Yankees fans. The humorous clip below is from the Jimmy Fallon show. I’ll warn my readers that there are some beeped out profanities on this clip. While I am not approving the language used, no video could better illustrate my point. Watch how quickly a person’s speech changes when confronted with a real person.
The video is both funny and pointed. What we see played out on the street in New York happens countless times every day online as we post and send emails and texts to each other. What we would never say to each other face to face we type without as much as pausing to consider our words. Why? Because screens reduce all of us to cardboard cutouts, they remove our humanity. But as soon as we are face to face, something deep in our souls reminds us that each of us carry the image of God - something to be treasured and respected.
Let’s go on a brief journey through Proverbs and James together.
Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. Proverbs 11:11
The power of words is obvious in this verse. And I believe the city the writer was referring to works as a fine example for our school community.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. James 1:26
James reminds us that our words are at the heart of our faith, something we need to take seriously.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24
Our words don’t have to be destructive, in fact they can bring health.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,
slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
In this way, we model the loving communication of our Heavenly father (see Psalm 103:8)
Finally, consider Proverbs 10. From this chapter, we read that the words of the wicked and the fool conceals violence and hatred, invites ruin and punishment, spreads slander, is of little value, and invites ruin and death. In contrast, the words of the righteous is wise, spreads knowledge, finds favor, is like choice silver, provides nourishment, and a fountain of life. James and Proverbs strongly reminds us of the centrality of taming our tongue, but many of us have not applied this to our modern context and tamed our fingers as they type.
For the BCS community, this is a missional issue. Here’s our mission statement again: Berks Christian School partners with families to create a community of learning that educates the whole student and cultivates Christ-centered lives. Family partnership and a community of learning create the foundation that all of our teaching and discipling is built. Healthy words build up and grow this foundation, unhealthy words tear it down. How we use our words with each other plays a central part in the success of our mission.
So Berks Christian Community, can I encourage us to enter into an agreement? For the sake of our students, and for the Glory of our Father, let’s work towards healthy words with each other both in type and speech. Let’s agree to always acknowledge the image of God in each other every time we communicate. Let’s agree to have the hard conversations face to face (or at least voice to voice) rather than screen to screen. Let’s agree to pause and be slow to respond in anger or frustration, and quick to listen to each other - especially when we are typing.
I have to admit, this is a hard thing to do. I have many times sent an email out of anger, even to some of you reading this. For that I ask for forgiveness and grace. I have sent words of complaining to a colleague or forwarded a communication that should really be qualified as gossip. So when I am asking to agree not to type our complaints, our gossip, or anger or frustration, I am the first that will need to work hard on this commitment.
To further illustrate, we need to consider in what contexts typed communication (especially email) functions best.
Goals in which email is a good tool to utilize:
Goals in which email is a poor tool to utilize:
Next time I have the urge to post a facebook rant, a youtube comment, a snappy text, or an angry email, I’m going to first stop, pray and wait. Then I’m going to set up a time to meet or talk to that person directly. Will you join me?
Next post, I’m going to explore two more implications of this concept: how it affects what we teach our kids and how it contributes to bullying.
Grace and Peace to you and friends! (thanks for hanging with me on the really long post)
I look forward to continuing to build our community face to face.
And now here are some of my recommendations for new reading and viewing.
(see more recommendations for teachers, parents, and students on my rec reading pages.)
Here are three new recommendations:
Philip S. Warner, administrator of Berks Christian School.