what our words say… (Rodger McEachern)

What our words tell us about how important Jesus is to us.

There are over two hundred thousand word entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. It is estimated that the average person, and I include myself in this, know about twenty thousand words and uses two thousand different words in a typical week. Now this explains a couple of things. One, I’m not very good at cross-word puzzles. And two, the words I use likely reflect my interests and bias, and not just my lack of vocabulary. Let me explain.

In 2013 David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed column for the New York Times. Two years before, in 2011, Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. From this database, you can do a word search; one of the things you can discover is how frequently a word or words were used at different times. Brooks suggests that the frequently of use of certain words over time can suggest shifts in culture.

For example, he cites three studies that examined usage of certain words that reflected three issues over the course of the twentieth century: the rise of individualism versus community values; demoralization versus moral virtues; the rise of governments and experts to solve problems. Now the interesting part is Brooks conclusion. He writes,
So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

Now his applications of this conclusion are interesting but for us not the application that I want to make. Brooks summarizes writing, “these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.” Wow! Here the point I want to make! The words we use reflect our interests, values and what is important to us.

This is the take away for me. Think for a moment the words we use daily, with our family, friends and such. Do they reflect our faith in Christ? Our desire to be a people of worship and prayer and holiness? Think about the words we use with other Christians, or in our churches, or in the publications and reports and plans that our churches produce? What do those words tell us about our interests, what is important to us, and more significantly the place of Christ in our lives and in the affairs of our churches?

The words we use tell a lot about ourselves, and by extension, our relationship with Jesus Christ.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
(Matthew 21.16; New International Version, 2011)

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language. (accessed 22 April 2017).
David Brooks, What our words tell us, The New York Times, May 20, 2013.

Rodger McEachern

Callingwood Road Presbyterian Church