Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Difference Between Desire and Actuality

I want to write.

I want to write about love and hate, freedom and tyranny, theology and everyday life, thoughts I have and thoughts I should have had (and hope aren't copyrighted intellectual property), about education and its enemy schooling, about what makes me tick, about the Church and her Lord and the world it wants--wrongly--to leave behind.

But every time I start, something comes up. A new thought, a twist in the mind that changes how I feel, and the uncomfortable humility needed to express possible wrongness. I need to live under the general impression of rightness, we all do, but wisdom is recognizing the tenuousness of our positions, the need to rethink, to disagree with ourselves a year, ten years, or a few seconds later. But that is hard to do--with writing comes a commanding presence, a sit-up-and-implement to your audience that is difficult to retract. Even though I'm in no realistic position to start riots, revolutions, or rebellions, my words are still heard somewhere, even if it is only in my own head, where I tend to be the most impressionable. And what about my students? I'm not haughty enough to believe that any listen to me a second longer than they have to (many don't listen to me during the seconds required anyway), but what if? The power of the written word is not to be taken lightly, you never know where you are going to be quoted. Teachers have the harsher judgement, so do marketers, the teachers of our age, or at least the ones we actually listen to.

Think about that famous line from Isaiah: "My word shall not return to me void, but accomplish the purpose for which I sent it." The word, the message of God's love for the world so that He would sacrifice His Son, the message made tangible made flesh, the word saying "it is finished" with Isaiah not far in the background.

And yet.

I wrestle, in both my professions, with content-less words. In coffee, since taste is largely (but not totally) subjective, descriptors of coffee, of drinks, is tentative and sometimes plain misleading. The concept of quality has lost almost all meaning due to the collusion of national, lowest-common-denominator chains and poor excuses for independent shops claiming the high ground simply because they are trying to out-Starbucks Starbucks. In religious education, since the Bible has been misused every since the first word was spoken, by charlatans and the righteous alike--injecting meaning in the words to fit a preconceived paradigm inside of seeking the meaning-filling given to the words by the original authors (a process, it must be noted, that never ends, hence our endless obsession with having the words defined once-for-all for us by confessions, creeds, and traditions, themselves a process, woe!). Words thusly treated, whether by "baristas" or "theologians" become meaningless, but still retain power because they can mean whatever the more powerful want them to mean.

And yet.

The meek shall inherit the earth. The haughty, the prideful, the powerful shall be disinherited, not only from the Kingdom of God, but the earth as well, but the world of language as well too. Language is truly powerful when it most closely conforms to the usage of the Kingdom; when the Spirit fills mere human words with power to image the inSpirited Word; when 'yes' means 'yes' and 'no' 'no'.

Language only works for us when we reject the hubris of being God/god/gods and be humans, with all the interpretive difficulties that are part of our created nature. Inheritance implies power, meekness implies the lack of power, but the phrase makes sense since to think of ourselves as the prime meaning-makers of our words brutalizes the speaker and the listener, destroying the power that was sought after; whereas words properly placed edify--construct like the New Jerusalem--speaker and hearer in the presence of God.