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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Year of Civil Conversations Religious Leader Reflections: "Words Make Worlds" | by Rabbi Jill Maderer

Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

Krista Tippett is constantly expanding my mind and soul to new meaning about theology and about humanity.  In her book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery of Art of Living, here is what Tippett says in her second chapter called "Words: The Poetry of Creatures:"

"The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others.  From Genesis to the aboriginal songlines of Australia, human beings have forever perceived that naming brings the essence of things into being.  The ancient rabbis understood books, texts, the very letters of certain words as living, breathing entities.  Words make worlds. 
We chose too small of a word in the decade of my birth -- tolerance -- to make the world we want to live in now.  We opened to the racial difference that had been there all along, separate but equal, and to a new infusion of religions, ethnicities, and values.  But tolerance doesn't welcome.  It allows, endures, indulges.  In the medical lexicon, it is about the limits of thriving in an unfavorable environment.  Tolerance was a baby step to make pluralism possible, and pluralism, like every ism, holds an illusion of control.  It doesn't ask us to care for the stranger.  It doesn't even invite us to know each other, to be curious, to be open to be moved or surprised by each other. 
Here are some words I love, words that describe presence rather than means towards an end: nourishing, edifying, redemptive, courageous, generous, winsome, adventurous, curious, tender.  ...I always rush to add qualifiers when I use the word civility -- words like muscular or adventurous -- because it can otherwise sound too nice, polite, and tame."
I think I find so powerful Tippett's qualification of the word civility because of the critical distinction between civil and polite. I believe the deepest truths and the most profound relationships are born out of difficult conversations.  For me, those are the most honest conversations because life is in fact, difficult.

And I so appreciate Tippett's list of the words she loves.  Her list is wonderful and evocative on its own.  And I also hear her favorite words list as an invitation to contemplate our own favorite words.  Consider: what words do you love?  What words help you to feel deeply, to see clearly, to open your heart or to challenge yourself?  What words move you to sense a more profound connection with others in this world?  May our own souls' poetry inspire us to greater meaning.

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