We all know that words matter.
It’s why we choose not to use certain derogatory terms to describe persons of particular races or sexual orientations or nationalities or genders or religions. It’s why we’re careful about how and whether we use words like ‘crazy’ and ‘hysterical’. It’s why we’ve had passionate discussions about using the phrase White Supremacy Culture to describe the dominant experience of race in the United States of America—and in UUCC.
Words and language and phrasing also matter in more subtle ways, because how we express ourselves affects our own experience of the world.
There’s a difference between “I have children” and “I am parenting children.”
“I am very busy” vs. “Life is very full right now.”
“I cannot come to the party” vs. “I will not be at the party.”
“I don’t have time” vs. “I’m choosing to invest my time elsewhere.”
“I had a bad day” vs. “I had some challenging experiences today.”
And the one that is especially on my mind right now, because it’s a newer lesson for me:
“Those people…” vs. “Those among us who…”
The Republicans vs. Those among us who are Republicans.
Unvaccinated people vs. Those among us who are unvaccinated.
Asian-Americans vs. Those among us who are Asian-American.
The mentally ill vs. Those among us who live with mental illness.
The under-privileged vs. Those among us with fewer resources.
The differences often are subtle—they may even seem insignificant or insubstantial. But for those among us who have ever been on the outside of the dominant culture of a group, the phrasing matters. It matters in whether we feel we are noticed and included—whether we belong.
And it’s especially important in a congregation like ours, in which we say we intend to draw the circle of welcome ever wider. Does our rhetoric undermine our intention? Do we speak in ways that exclude those among us who are not middle class, who are Republican, who choose not to go to college, who are neurodiverse, who have non-Christian backgrounds, who serve in the military, who are food and housing insecure, who are newer to the community?
Who are we, anyway? Who is among us … now, and unseen?