Friday, March 14th, 2014 – The Second Friday in Lent

Words Matter


I love singing along with Josh Turner on Long Black Train:

There’s a long black train comin’ down the line,
Feeding off the souls that are lost and cryin’.
Rails of sin, only evil remains.
Watch out, brother, for that long black train.
Look to the heaven’s, you can look to the sky.
You can find redemption staring back into your eyes.
There is protection and there’s peace the same:
Burnin’ your ticket for that long black train.
‘Cause there’s victory in the Lord, I say.
Victory in the Lord.
Cling to the Father and his Holy name,
And don’t go ridin’ on that long black train.


It’s fun singing along. The tune is uplifting (check it out). And, yet, I pause and wonder about how I am influenced by the subversive message in the language. We have long associated black with sin and white with virtue. Consider these many terms: black mark, black sheep, blacklist, blackball. I embrace diversity; I love the opportunity to grow through the varied ways of approaching life, of celebrating life, of being in this world. And, yet, when I sing along with Josh Turner, am I somehow enforcing a deep-seeded notion in my white psyche that black people are less and white people are more?

Back in seminary, I attended Anti-Racism training, a requirement for all people in the Diocese of Chicago going through the ordination process. One particular exercise stands out for me, one I continue to think about. We were broken into two groups: white people and black people. We were asked to discuss how we describe our culture. When we came back together, the black people had much to share about their music, their food, their clothing, their language, and their social interactions. Us white folk were stymied. We didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know how to describe ourselves. In essence, our problem was that we didn’t know how to describe what to us is just so “the norm”. Whoa, scary stuff to face my ignorance.

How am I influenced by the norms of our language? Our lives are all about our relationships with one another. We connect through words. Words matter. How do my words hurt? How do my words help?


– Jeanne Stewart


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