Friday, November 9, 2007

Deadly Weapons

I'm hardly the first to observe that the playground chant, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is only true insofar as it refers to direct physical injury. If words were completely harmless, there'd be no need for the verse! Not only does it take exceptional self-confidence to remain truly unfazed by vicious mockery or angry accusations, but words can cause real physical harm indirectly, when they damage a person's reputation or incite listeners to hatred.

It's particularly sad when those who claim to represent nonviolence fling brutal invectives at their opponents. Even Christians ignore the "hate sin but love the sinner" principle and freely label others as "perverts," "heretics," "baby killers," "corrupters of our children and nation." Perhaps we deserve it when those on the receiving end of such talk retaliate by calling us "hypocrites."

The Bible has a good deal to say about the power of words, but particularly relevant here is Peter's admonition that we should speak even to our enemies "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). Victory through nonviolence is the unique mark of the Christlike soul.

Sharper than the knife that slashes,
Tearing flesh and joint apart,
Is the tongue that sneers and slanders,
Cutting through a breaking heart.

Harder than the fastest bullet,
Speeding toward the point of death,
Is the insult flung in anger,
Fiery as a dragon's breath.

Stronger than a hundred lashes,
When it comes to causing pain,
Stronger than a club or hammer,
Is the jeering taunt's refrain.

You who march to end all warfare,
You, who gas and guns oppose,
Do you think to watch the weapon
That is fixed beneath your nose?

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