Words Have Meaning

Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

Matthew 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Keeping your word is important to God. The ability to speak, to make agreements, and to make things happen with words is one of the ways in which we were created in God’s image. He created through speech, and He relates to us by speech. When God spoke, the universe was. His interaction with us has primarily been through the spoken word and its fulfillment: the prophets, preachers, and most importantly, through the Word made flesh in the form of Jesus.

When we speak, like God, we make things happen. We create. We can change the universe by opening our mouths. “If you will say unto this mountain, ‘Be moved and cast into the sea,’ it shall be done.” Notice that Jesus did not say if we ask God to move the mountain. He said we can speak directly to the mountain, and it will obey. Our words have tangible effects on the world around us. Even if you speak without intent, there may be power in the mere sounds. The more significant your words, the more significant the consequences are sure to be.

If you say, “This country is going down the tubes,” that might only be your observation of what you see around you, but it isn’t necessarily true. By putting it into words in that manner, you reinforce a negative outlook in yourself and the people around you, causing you to behave as if the country is already lost. You are making a statement of faith that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Don’t say that America is doomed and leave it at that, especially not if you believe it to be true. Rather say, “America is doomed if we don’t repent and return to God and His Law.” You will accomplish three things by modifying your speech in this manner:

  1. You will reinforce in yourself and those around you that there is a way out for America. If Nineveh could be saved, then so can America.
  2. You will reinforce belief in the truth that America’s redemption will come only from God, and that He respects and rewards nations who obey Him.
  3. Your words, spoken in faith, will have power to change reality.

Remember that your positive faith is in competition with the negative faith of millions of others, so it is important for all those who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to speak in unity and in favor of repentance and obedience. We must not allow the voices of unbelievers to dictate our future.

In the end, it is possible that America’s demise is necessary in God’s overall plan. In that case, there is nothing we can do or say to prevent it. Like the national repentance of Israel under Josiah’s leadership, the most we could accomplish is a reprieve. That isn’t reason to give up hope, because we don’t know what the future holds. That generation or two of delay might mean the ultimate salvation of millions and the greater glory of God’s Kingdom.

Be careful what you say. Don’t speak hopeless negativity against yourself and your people. Let your words be full of encouragement and hope and repentance.

Words have meaning, frequently more meaning than we will ever know.

Resolving Conflicts in the Nation and Family

Moses, an example for all leaders

Moses, an example for all leaders

In his comments on Matot this week at Aish, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highlighted the conflict between Moses and the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who wanted to settle on the east side of the Jordan instead of on the west with the other tribes. Although the narrative in Numbers 32 is probably very condensed from the actual events, Rabbi Sacks points out how the story illustrates good conflict resolution strategy:

The negotiation between Moses and the two tribes in our parsha follows closely the principles arrived at by the Harvard Negotiation Project, set out by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their classic text, Getting to Yes.(2) Essentially they came to the conclusion that a successful negotiation must involve four processes:

  1. Separate the people from the problem. There are all sorts of personal tensions in any negotiation. It is essential that these be cleared away first so that the problem can be addressed objectively.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions….By focusing not on positions but on interests, the question becomes, “Is there a way of achieving what each of us wants?”
  3. Invent options for mutual gain….the two sides usually have different objectives, neither of which excludes the other.
  4. Insist on objective criteria. Make sure that both sides agree in advance to the use of objective, impartial criteria to judge whether what has been agreed has been achieved….

Moses does all four. First he separates the people from the problem by making it clear to the Reubenites and Gadites that the issue has nothing to do with who they are, and everything to do with the Israelites’ experience in the past… The problem is not about this tribe or that but about the nation as a whole.

Second, he focused on interests not positions. The two tribes had an interest in the fate of the nation as a whole. If they put their personal interests first, God would become angry and the entire people would be punished, the Reubenites and Gadites among them….

Third, the Reubenites and Gadites then invented an option for mutual gain. If you allow us to make temporary provisions for our cattle and children, they said, we will not only fight in the army. We will be its advance guard. We will benefit, knowing that our request has been granted. The nation will benefit by our willingness to take on the most demanding military task.

Fourth, there was an agreement on objective criteria. The Reubenites and Gadites would not return to the east bank of the Jordan until all the other tribes were safely settled in their territories. And so it happened, as narrated in the book of Joshua…

The history of Israel (and every other people, really) demonstrates that a nation is an extended family with a common history, language, religion, & culture. The makeup of a family, like that of a nation, can change over time, but the family only remains so long as those things which define it as a family remain. Without the cement of common ideals and a common mission, you can’t have a family.

Like a national leader, a father must spend a great deal of time and energy resolving conflicts. If he is to be successful, he must decide what really matters and what doesn’t. Since each family is different, with its own quirks and challenges, I can’t tell you exactly how you should govern your family or what specific things you should prioritize. However, I can speak to some things that are common among all families.

A father must keep his family’s first principles in mind, those things which define them as a family: blood, faith, mission, etc.

Everyone in the family must be related by blood or covenant. If anyone is free to walk away when things aren’t going the way he prefers, then he can’t be considered real family.

Everyone in a family should subscribe to the same religion. There can be differences of opinion, of course, even of expression, but the basic tenets of faith must be essentially the same among all individuals, or the family will experience serious trouble in time.

Everyone in a family should be working toward a common goal. Remember that Jesus said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s true of churches, commercial enterprises, nations, and families. Each person must have their own personal missions and aspirations, but they cannot be at odds with each other. If a father’s mission is to teach responsible life skills to inner city children, his wife’s mission cannot be to keep those same people dependent on government handouts in order to use them as political pawns. Or, rather, those cannot be their missions if they desire to remain a family.

Conflicts in themselves are not bad. Like all of life’s challenges, they are the exercises we need to develop relational and spiritual strength. So long as each member of the family is willing to place the needs of the family above their own needs, almost any conflict can be worked out to a favorable resolution. Fathers, remember your family’s first principles. Remember your covenants. Remember your mission. Remember God.

Ray Bradbury and the Minority Defense League

In light of the recent controversies over the SFWA’s internal censorship policies, consider these excerpts from the author’s afterword to Fahrenheit 451:

“About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea…to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail…complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I ‘do them over’?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped….

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Every minority…feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blancmange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty…described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever….

If the Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters….If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my ‘Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ so it shapes ‘Zoot,’ may the belt unravel and the pants fall….

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch, I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.

I wonder what Mr. Bradbury would think of an organization of science fiction writers that expels and campaigns against other writers who dare to pen words and ideas that offend some members of some minorities.  Not very much, I suspect.

Here are some other thoughts from prominent SF writers on this topic: