The Magic of Words: Language in an Emerging and Fractured World
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Zooming, social distancing, lockdown, flattening the curve, containment, PPE, herd immunity. A new vocabulary has accompanied the devastating global pandemic of Covid-19. Words that a month ago I rarely said or didn’t even know have entered my daily language. In fact, the linguistic impact has been so dramatic that the Oxford English Dictionary has taken the unusual step of updating its contents to include Covid-19 and words related to it.
It’s a reminder of how much the words we use matter. The theologian Frederick Buechner expresses it like this:
The magic of words is that they have power to do more than convey meaning; they make things clear, they make things happen.
There are Covid-19 slang guides and articles that ask me if I speak ‘Corona’. Alongside this, perhaps there’s another language that I – and we, the Church – need for this time.
All our relationships have had to adapt to major change, with the inevitable tension that can bring. Meanwhile, as a society, some of our inequalities have been exposed as never before. Some food banks have seen a 300% increase in demand and poorer areas of cities have had the highest infection rates.
Archbishop Justin Welby has a vision for the Church to be a reconciling presence in the midst of conflict – in our communities, on our streets and in our homes. We all are called to be those who cross divides through authentic relationship, who notice injustice and show a different way is possible through the way we live our lives - bringing healing to the brokenness of our society and in our everyday relationships. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
According to Paul, the coming together of what is broken is the defining story of us, the Church. But do we have the language and practices to tell that story well? I wonder if I am living out a story of reconciliation in my own relationships. God invites me, He invites us – the Church, to make this our lived reality here and now: speaking and living the language of His renewal, hope, justice and restoration. As we do this, we too speak into the longstanding fractures that existed before the coronavirus and are intensified in its wake.
As part of Archbishop Justin’s reconciliation ministry, we have launched a movement called Difference (difference.rln.global). It is a movement for any Christian anywhere. Difference considers the fracture and brokenness around us and explores the power of our faith in a hurting world. At its heart are three core, gospel-rooted practices:
Be Curious - listening as often as I speak
Be Present – bringing my whole unique self
Reimagine – finding hope by glimpsing God at work
These phrases have grown to mean more than simply words, they are shaping my behaviour, becoming practices I am pursuing, building into a rhythm, in the hope that they become holy habits. And my understanding of the words themselves is changing in the process.
What if being curious didn’t have to mean killing the cat, over-stepping people’s personal boundaries or exhausting them with endless annoying questions? What if we could be curious in a way that expressed the infinite worth of the other person – someone I wouldn’t ordinarily consider, someone I previously might have crossed the road to avoid, or a group of people I have been inadvertently ignorant of.
Launching on 28th April, Difference are running a 4-part webinar series, exploring these three reconciling habits – Be Curious, Be Present, and Reimagine.
You will hear from expert guest contributors and discover practical ways to be part of God’s renewing work in our churches, community and everyday life. Join us as we uncover the power of our faith and how an ancient call to be reconcilers resonates in a hurting and emerging world.
Register for the webinars at: difference.rln.global/webinars
Director of the Reconciling Leaders Network for Archbishop Justin Welby, bringing you Difference.