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A sin of verbal artistry


Well, yes, there's the birds of a feather thing. And, two peas in a pod. Or, cut out of the same bolt of cloth. Maybe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Even more, what is trending right now, brothers from different mothers. And, a host of other clustering colloquialisms that group us humans by preference or other similarity. The people at Urban Dictionary define this tendency as "peeps with similar likes, appearance, or behavior hanging together as in a clique". When this kind of verbal artistry is used to marginalize a person or group of people it's often called painting with a broad brush. You know, like saying all Muslims are terrorists or all Democrats are pro-choice or all Republicans are bigoted, racists pigs. It's been one of the sins of verbal artistry during this past election cycle.

Painting with a broad brush isn't always such a destructive and demeaning stroke. Sometimes complicated data can be summarized with broad brush generalizations that help neophytes grasp minute details beyond their pay grade. Say for instance an explanation of quantum physics. Someone has painted this study in a sentence: it is is the study of the movement of particles at the smallest level possible. Now, that makes a little sense to a retired non-scientific pastor like me. Once I asked my friend Curt to give me his teaching strategy in a sentence. He said, "Easy. What? So what? and Now What?" That's broad brush talk that registers. Wish I had thought of it!

So, painting with a broad brush doesn't always entail the spread of nastiness from a central character to the people aligned with him or her. Well, except in politics, where truth and reality are often hiding in the fine lines obscured by such broad brush semantics. In this particular arena painting with a broad brush is seldom constructive, complimentary, or commendatory. In elections it is used to reduce a person's personal standing and worth as a candidate for office. In the 2016 election, right up to this very day, we've been given doctoral dissertation verbatim in slinging mud and defaming the people on the other side with our broad brush characterizations. Beyond the rubrics of the political parties there's been page after page of ruinous rhetoric about the various candidates and those who vote for them. Much of it has been slanderous, distorted, exaggerated gossip and rumor. We've laughed it off as politics as usual. But, it's wrong at several levels, especially for believers. Our speech is a consistent theme of Scripture, the truth of our words and thoughts. Think about several prominent New Testament passages---

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the

evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the

heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45, ESV

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for

building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29, ESV

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place,

but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4, ESV

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it

is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

Ephesians 5:11-12, ESV

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know

how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:6, ESV

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to

this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9, ESV

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says,

he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

James 3:2, ESV

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made

in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My

brothers, these things ought not to be so.

James 3:9-10, ESV

Because painting with a broad brush is an expected evil of political seasons and campaigns is another warning to the Christian community about our mimicry of world systems. Two verses are notable here---

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is

greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they

speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever

knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this

we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:4-6, ESV

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your

mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and

acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2, ESV

As said before on a number of occasions, this political campaign has been the nastiest of any in my sixty-seven years. Perhaps the information age has escorted us into a new era of verbal artistry where painting with a broad brush is the new normal. I do pray not. Hanging over the entire process has been a reminder that---

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the

head, into Christ.

Ephesians 4:15, ESV

Now, that's verbal artistry, speaking the truth in love.


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