Don’t judge a book based on the cover.
It is a true sentiment, but sometimes I do it. While strolling through a bookshop, I am innately drawn to the beautiful, leather-bound books, particularly if they look old or have a bookmark sewn into the spine. Gold etching adorns the spine of the book and I cannot help but think there are few joys I hold more closely to my heart than the book I excitedly cradle in my arms.
There is power in the printed word. I’ve been told this and have experienced the truth of it. I’ve discovered that writing fills a longing and desire in me that cannot be met in any other way. My ability to express myself is best if I can write the words rather than speak them. At times I am jealous of the way other art forms can express themselves. One can admire a painting for several minutes, incline an ear to an intricate selection of music, gaze at a photograph with delight, or take in the rapture of a play. But the written word must be read and unless one is including pictures, there is little to call extra attention to the black words on white paper. The words, to be sure, speak for themselves, but there must be time and attention given to them. Quite often, the words are overlooked.
At times I speak too little and other times I speak too much. If you don’t know me well, I can come off as quiet, standoffish, and serious. More time can reveal different qualities or attributes, ones not readily ascertained by a quick appraisal of the cover.
The words used matter. I have a difficult time convincing my students that using the appropriate and precise words theologically are crucial. To them, saying nearly the same thing is close enough. Even when they are explaining concepts and ideas verbally, they find themselves slipping very easily into something nearly true, yet in the end still wrong. With a barrage of words surrounding them, they seem to find it difficult to say what they mean and mean what they say.
A closely related problem is honesty. It has been a long time since I’ve consciously lied. Sometimes I say things that are false out of ignorance or misinformation and other times I mean what I say but forget to follow through or am prevented from doing so. Yet it seems as a culture that we find it too easy to say something false. What is perhaps worse is that we are quick to defend ourselves or to minimize the seriousness of the situation. It wasn’t a serious matter that we lied about or it was simply easier to say a lie than to explain the truth. We absolve ourselves before we’ve contemplated our error. If one insists upon the truth, one can be seen as being too scrupulous or moralistic.
Words appear simple and unassuming. We can judge them to be of little value or worth when we tell a lie or do not care to put in the effort to be precise. Yet we are also well aware of the power of words when we hear a moving talk, listen to sharp criticism, or hear someone say “I love you” for the first time. Words have a potency, a vibrancy that is found within the way they are paired with one another and printed on the page or spoken out loud. Do not be fooled by the humility of the written or spoken word. Though they be small, they have power. Use them well.