The world belongs to whomever can name it.
Word before World
Had another thought provoking day in seminar with Bishop Willimon. This guy is certainly probing thinker. Here’s what I’m chewing on from today.
Think about that. You’re in a brand new situation. Maybe it’s an unknown situation. Maybe it’s an awkward one. Uncharted waters. No one knows quite what to think. And somebody stands up in the midst of the naked moment and gives it words… fitting words… appropriate words… the right words for the right time. And everyone nods in affirmation. At that moment, the world belongs to you. Think about Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. He stood up at a very precarious time and named the moment. This happens all the time. The coach in the locker room. The minister in the tragedy. The wife at the dinner table. They dress a bald moment with words. They gave it a name and thus gave it meaning.
If there’s anything we can thank Post Modern philosophy for it’s this: words provide life with meaning. For, would life have any meaning without the words we give to it? You don’t have an experience just because it happened to you. Willimon said, “Our experiences provide the crude data – very crude – that the mind must make into something worth knowing.” Have you noticed that when something happens to you and you don’t know what to call it you feel a bit lost. I think that’s why people who are sick search and search until they get a diagnosis and once they do it settles a lot of things for them. It’s named. Having words constructs space for us to deal with anything that comes our way. Willimon says, “Word precedes World.” And he says as preachers you’re constructing a world for your people… an alternative world… a biblical world. A world with all its particulars. It’s kind of like a student in a chemistry class… once you learn the words a whole new world opens to you. You become a chemist. In a sense, there’s not a world for a small child until you give them words for it.
All cultures are custodians of language… like the baseball world, the mechanic world, the journalism world, the church world. That’s what preachers are… language custodians of the church. They keep the language clean. They polish them up. They guard them. They showcase them in the right ways. It’s been said that the biblical prophets are best thought as poets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and all the prophets were not great innovators… they just were scripture saturated, trafficked in the mother language, and were able to name the moment with the right words.