Language! taking care of our words in public

Normally I would save political posts for my other blog (where I shall cross-post this). This one, after all, is devoted to things liturgical. However, sometimes there are resonances between public liturgy and public life.

One of the things good liturgy does is teach us something about the use of language. Most specifically, it gives us words to use to speak to God. These have usually been crafted with care, drawing on the depth of the tradition, however updated to be able to make sense in the present. People take care shaping the words of the liturgy, because what we say matters. In so far as we can speak truth about the God who is beyond our full understanding, we want to speak truthfully to, about, and for God.

Reflecting on yesterday in parliament, and much that I have seen recently on Twitter, I have to say I would like to see politicians, the Twitterati, and indeed the public alike, taking more care over their words, and trying to bring them into some greater relationship with the truth.

Among the habits of speech we learn in the liturgy, is using words to say sorry. Our political and public life would be immeasurably improved if it drew on those habits, and people were a little bit quicker to take real responsibility for what they say and do. “Sorry” seems to be a word demanded from those we disagree with, and never offered for our own actions.

It may just be coincidence that as society has ceased to be familiar with Christian ritual, it has also mastered the art of the non-apology apology: “I deeply regret that you took offence at what I said.” Learning the habits of repentance, learning to see ourselves as sinners, is one important (though not infallible) bulwark against both self-righteous indignation and the political pieties of virtue-signalling.

On a Sunday, we almost certainly say words of penitence for our own wrongdoing in congregations which include people who voted Remain and still wish to remain, people who voted Leave and still wish to leave, those who have changed their mind, those who are fed up, and those who wish it would all go away. “All alike have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

Is it only because we barely talk about Brexit that we are able to say “The peace of the Lord be always with you”? Is it only because we have never asked what our neighbour thinks that we can receive the sacrament together?

Or does the liturgy help us to see each other as more than the opinions we hold, however strongly we hold them. Does it make a difference to how we disagree with one another when we see each other as beloved children made, and as sinners being remade, in the image of God. Does it make a difference to our speech, if we have learnt to be careful with words?

One thought on “Language! taking care of our words in public

  1. Pingback: Language! taking care of our words in public – In ten thousand places

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