Last week, I made a post on my own social media page and used a certain word that has an endeared meaning for me. I was then told by an acquaintance that I should not use this word because it means something different to another group of persons and may be taken as offensive.
Sounds familiar, right? This is the daily existence that we are all living in our current world. We are tiptoeing around our lives because every little thing about them might offend someone else, even someone that we are not in fellowship with and are unlikely to encounter in our day-to-day lives or, at least, when we are in a position where we are using said word. Still, we know that ripples run wide and all it takes is a rumor that you use such a word and all of a sudden...
Now, the word that I used was not a bad word. If you were making a list of the thousand most offensive words in the English language right now, this one would probably not have been on it. It's a word that is actually very rarely used in general. In fact, if you used it, a lot of persons would probably look at you strangely for a second and then ask you what you mean by that. It's just not a common word.
But it's a common word for me. And here's why:
This is a word that connects into my story. It's a word that a very close friend of mine used jokingly to talk about how he used to think of me before he got to know me. Our lives were adjacent for many years before we actually met and then, we became friends. The kind of friends who borrow tools from one another and don't hesitate to go into each other's houses and help out and who share produce from our gardens. The kind of friends who stand around talking when life happens and the kind of friends who have a beer on each other's porches (okay, he has the beer; I don't drink, but he's had a drink on my porch and always invites me for one on his).
The point is - we're friends. And this word that he used on that one occasion made us both just start laughing about how easy it is to get the wrong idea of someone else and at the same time, made us both appreciative of the very real friendship that we have developed. So when I use this word, it's an important part of my story and my identity. It calls to mind for me something that helps me to become more of who I am. It is, through and through, an encouraging word.
And here was this acquaintance telling me that I should not use this word ever again because it is offensive to others who have a different history with it. It is, she said, a cultural word and deeply wounding to the soul.
Now, I don't want to wound anyone's soul. I really don't. If you know me, you know that that is true. But am I really supposed to edit every scene out of my own story, every scene that makes me who I am today, even the encouraging ones that inspire me to greater things, because someone has a different cultural experience than I do and this means something different to them?
I kindly told my acquaintance that I was not willing to edit out meaningful parts of my story for someone else's offense (to which she responded that it was "such a small thing to just not use that word" without comprehending the very deep and rich meaning that word has in my story - very ironic, considering she was just telling me how much that word could mean). I know that it sounds harsh. It sounds like I'm saying "I don't care who I offend; I'm gonna live my life." But that's not at all what I said, and that's not at all what I meant.
Because there are two things at play here, things that we're going to talk about a little bit more this week.
First, she was asking me to defer my life to a group that isn't part of it. She was asking me to edit my story for the sake of those who aren't written in its pages. This wasn't the plea from a friend who was stung by my words; it was the staunch self-righteousness of an advocate (who isn't even part of the group herself, we must add) who was concerned about persons who aren't present. But our stories are written with the persons with whom we actually have fellowship - not with 'culture' at large. So if I'm using a word that might be offensive to someone I'm not likely to come into contact with, it's hard to justify that I should throw out that part of my story on those grounds alone.
But second, and more than that, I believe in redemption. And I believe that our words can be redeemed. I believe that we need to stop making our world smaller for all the broken things in it and start claiming wider pastures. I think that if you hear someone use a word that is painful for you and you hear it in deep love, it can change your experience of things. No, it doesn't make that word not painful for you, but it allows you to put it into the proper context of your story. It invites you to connect more intimately to your own experience. I hear others use words all the time that I think to myself that I would never use, but the way that they use them, the context in which they speak them, makes me realize that some words are bigger than my experience of them.
I just believe that there's room for grace and that things that are broken don't have to be broken forever and that we can't live our lives by throwing out permanently all the broken, painful, wounded things in them because that will never get us to redemption. I believe this life can be redeemed, every single breath of it. Every single moment. Every single word. If we're willing.
And I think that anyone, even those in the group that this acquaintance was advocating for, would not be offended if they heard the way that I used this word in my story, in its proper context, in the way that it was spoken and made meaning for me.
Okay, so we're going to talk about this for a few days, and we're going to pick up a little bit of Paul along the way because he talks about this sort of thing quite eloquently.