Current Events Monday: How Can We Talk to Each Other More Effectively?

James Hassell   -  

Note: Pastor James recently wrote the following reflection on Psalm 20 for the Center for Congregational Ethics.

Some faculty and staff of Stanford University may not have experienced the happiest of holidays. On December 20, Stanford’s “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” recommendations drew the ire of many who investigate signs of the current, supposed dystopian age. Stanford seemingly tripped upon Jacques Derrida’s “post-structuralism,” the idea that we never catch the exact meaning of a word, so comprehensive wordplay would allow for more conversational equity.

After the recent firestorm, some at Stanford may identify more with Augustine, who wondered about refraining from speech altogether. He eventually reasoned that he must speak despite the obvious problems with lingual exactness. Augustine’s reasoning applies well not only to those at Stanford but also to those who give Christian counsel amidst the discordant and unintelligible advice around every New Year.

An examination of Psalm 20 provides timely insight into communication challenges. Note especially the interplay between God, the king/leader, and the people through indiscriminate use of the identifiers “I,” “he,” and “we.” When challenges arise, we are in them together. We also trust that God can both work through and overcome the difficulties we experience in our fallenness. “Trust” refers not only to our remembrance of God’s past victorious dealings, but it also indicates our understanding that God has been at work in our present problems long before a solution becomes apparent.

God therefore is the Main Actor when we consider wise wordplay. An evangelistic church will support and work with her leaders to posit the “name,” or authority of the God through careful consideration of how our neighbors may most effectively understand the gospel. Some may trust in archaic and unrelatable metaphors, but Psalm 20 prepares us to weigh our words carefully before a Holy God, despite our rough edges.