The View from Bolton Street

Living Words and Dying Words

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If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. 1 John 5:9-10a. 

Do you have a ‘testimony in your heart’? 

I recognize this is very Evangelical language, which may be triggering for some.  So let me try and phrase the question a different way, borrowing some language from Iona:

“Has God sent you out as a living letter to the world?” 

This blessing from the community of Iona, perhaps the oldest mystic community in the British Isles, captures the essence of the message of the first letter of John perhaps better than anything I have seen. God Loves us. And so God sends us out as living letters, incarnate words, to the world. 

Just as Jesus was ‘The Word’ made flesh/incarnate, so are we to be living words to the world - examples of Christ’s love, compassion and salvation to all those we meet. 

Now sometimes our common life can get a little prickly. In Church we can get annoyed that the music wasn’t quite right, that the sermon wasn’t to our liking, or that an announcement was skipped, a program dropped. In the world we can be upset with someone’s political opinions, who they voted for, who they support. We can be upset with any number of things and our words can get ‘spiky’. You know, spiky words right? 


Baby Killer.





Whether these words are ‘true’ or not. They inflict so much damage that they are rendered almost useless in conversation among people in disagreement. Such words come ‘pre-loaded’ and when we deploy them we know (or should know) that they are liable to shut down rather than further conversation. 

These are not ‘living words’ but ‘dying words’. And they can kill conversations and relationships.  Now sometimes things need to die! Sometimes we need to cut off communication because the abuse and hurt and hate is just too much. And when we do that, we should do so conscious that we believe in the resurrection and with a prayerful hope that resurrection may come to that relationship sometime in the future. 

But we should also work to use ‘living words’ more fully. To find the words God has written on our heart to share, not the words that a perpetually angry 24 hr news cycle has embedded in our brains. So that we can be kinder with each other, and with those whom we disagree more fully with. Particularly among fellow Christians and fellow Memorialites we should always assume the best in each other, and seek to offer living words to each other so that we may be living water to each other. 

But in order to due that - we must dig past the first layer of emotion, past our skin and flesh. Past the bones and get to the heart of our belief. The heart of our faith. We must know what we believe! 

That you (me, us, all of us) are beloved Children of God. That we have collectively made so many mistakes and yet God loves us anyway. And that Jesus Christ died on the Cross so that we all be reconciled — not just with God but also with each other.  So that together we may find eternal life. 

That ‘living letter’ is written on my heart. And there is a letter written on your heart; with a different tone, texture, and sentiment; but hopefully a similar message, that you can share. 

Whenever we engage on an issue of import - be it the style of worship in Church or the character of the President - we do so fully immersed in that belief - and the belief that the person we are engaging with is a child of God, deserving of our love, respect, care, concern and our trust. Because in that moment we are nothing less than Christ’s emissary. A living letter in his own hand that is being shared with the world.