This is developed from material written for my memoir, The Lie Called Cancer, but not included in the book. (A four-minute read)
I’m a big believer in the power of language. This would seem obvious because I’m a writer and a speaker, but I mean more than simply using language for description. I want to go beyond making sense, into cultivating sensitivity. Spoken and written words do more than motivate; they carry great power to create: a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere, an attitude.
In truth, the words I speak over myself affect how I feel and what I think about.
A simple example
I’ll be 65 in a few weeks. This isn’t necessarily a remarkable thing, but it is an age where many people (far too many), speak of themselves as old or infirm. I read a Tom Clancy novel recently in which the author referred to someone 60 years old as ‘elderly’. SMH. Or as the elderly might say, ‘Tsk tsk’.
I don’t do ‘old’, I only do ‘bold’. I’m never ‘infirm’ or ‘unwell’, instead I just say that I don’t feel like I want to feel. Only people who don’t know me well would dare buy one of those birthday cards, or bring a handful of black balloons, or joke that I’m 455 in dog years.
Speaking About the Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us speak, and the way some of us think. Certainly the way some of us live. New terms have entered the language, a few of which make no sense. So I don’t use them. My least favorite is the ubiquitous and useless term, ‘social distancing.’
Maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or avoiding direct contact, even to prevent potential infection is not a ‘social’ activity. It’s actually ‘anti-social distancing’. Or perhaps more accurately, ‘social equi-distancing’. It smacks of the Newspeak out of George Orwell’s 1984.
Here’s another one: Lockdown. Used to be that a ‘lockdown’ was limited and temporary. An area might be ‘locked down’ for a short time while police search for a suspect. Or a school would be ‘locked down’ because someone was seen nearby with a gun. Lockdown shouldn’t mean months-long involuntary quarantine of an entire population, 96% of whom have absolutely nothing to fear.
Forget ‘lockdown’ then. Instead let’s call it ‘exile.’ Like Israel’s exile in Babylon, we were all taken away from the lives we were used to. Only in our case it wasn’t because we messed up and received promised punishment (see Deuteronomy 28). I’ll refrain from offering further criticism of government policy decisions. It’s always easy to cast blame in hindsight. None of our opinions about it matter anyway after the fact. The deal is done. It’s all over but the whining.
What’s important now is how we come out of exile. How do we re-engage with one another? This is especially important for the church to consider, not only within itself, but with its relationship to the world. Read the post-exilic books for some clues (Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Do we ‘build back better’ to borrow a phrase, or do we go back to the same old sins?
The leaders and prophets in these five books continued to tell the people where they were corrupt or astray, and called the few believers among them to a life of holiness. That’s the key for believers today: that we set ourselves apart and not sink into the secular post-pandemic muck that’s sure to come.
I’m particularly struck by the book of Haggai. Twice in the opening prophecy, Haggai warns us to ‘consider our ways.’ 1 The word translated ‘ways’ is the word derek, which could easily be rendered in modern idiom as ‘lifestyle.’ As the world comes out of exile, I should be careful to consider my lifestyle.
Exile is a hard, lonely and uncertain place. It’s length is unforseen. Exile can create fear and anxiety, and these can be tough to shake off. But there’s an upside to exile. Good things can come out of exile, after we re-emerge. Take heart from Jeremiah’s ‘Prayer of Confidence’.
‘The Lord says, “Now I will show them my power; now I will show them my might. At last they will know and understand that I am the Lord.” 2
If I carefully consider my ways, I’m confident this will be true. If not, it will still be true. But I won’t like it.
- Haggai 1:5-7
- Jeremiah 16:21 (NLT)