Monday, 29 December 2014

Strong Language

comes the warning as you switch on the TV.

Strong, eh? It turns out to be pathetically weak. The axiom seems to be, ‘Every time you feel stuck for a word, shove in a four-letter expression.’

It’s called realism. But it only reflects the impoverished world-view of many scriptwriters and media participants who seem to find it difficult to get original or imaginatively creative thoughts down onto paper. More encouraging was the comment made on television by the actor David Jason in 2006.

In the various TV series in which he has taken part (including the smash-hit success Only Fools and Horses), he declared that he was unwilling to accommodate scripts containing obscenities or sexual expletives.  Here was a refreshing illustration of the truth that an entertainer can be unbelievably funny without having to resort to ‘strong language’.

Other entertainers cannot always match this. Nor can some of our public figures. When a British politician can cheerfully boast to friends of having accepted the offer of a new cabinet post by uttering a single four-letter expletive; when participants in TV shows regularly engage in schoolboy lavatory talk, characteristic of Jones Minor of the Lower Fourth; when sexually suggestive language is confronting you every day, there is a case for empathising with writer Jenny Taylor’s experience at an African airport:
I had just spent two weeks with serious-minded Ugandans who were keen to learn and serve their people. They were grave, polite and discriminating, despite the harshest circumstances. My fellow-Brits on the other hand were proving an acute embarrassment. Noisy and restless, they were all sucking on something; ice-creams, beers or cigarettes. They tilted on the flimsy seating like big kids, pushing it to breaking point. They looked ridiculous, all red and bulbous like boiled lobsters in sun hats and T-shirts proclaiming ‘FCUK me’…..Britain is being pushed into infantilism by a culture that encourages us to have whatever we can dream of.  It turns Uganda into a gorilla theme park and the airport departure lounge into a play-pen’ (YES magazine,
Behaviour patterns reveal a great deal of a person’s depth, but speech shows up character as much as anything else. Blaise Pascal once wrote

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), brilliant French mathematician, physicist, theologian – and author of the famous ‘Pensees’

‘Do you wish people to speak good of you? Don’t speak!’ It was Archbishop John Tillotson (1630-94) who spoke of words – ‘which, when they are once out of thy lips, are for ever out of thy power.’

The Scriptures are emphatic: ‘No man can tame the tongue’ (James 3:7). When England lost its biblical world-view, no longer was an Englishman’s word his bond. Lies, leaks and secret deals resulted. Today one mischievous email can ultimately reach twenty million readers.

But we should learn from history. One person fired by the truth can reach untold numbers of people. Take Kate Booth, oldest daughter of

Kate Booth (1858-1955) - The Marechale – as theFrench called her, after speaking in the dives and brothels of Paris. (From a painting by Gustaf Cederstrom (1845-1933), in  the Kunstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden)

General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. She was a protagonist of the truth; one of the greatest orators, secular or religious of all time. Listening to her in the open air at Keswick in the North of England, a young Scottish church minister declared, “I couldn’t tear myself away from that market square. I never heard such speaking in my life. I never knew the English language was such a magnificent weapon” (The Heavenly Witch, by Carolyn Scott, Hamish Hamilton page 219).

It comes from within. I know a man who had been a social worker in London. In his workplace he was known as the most prolific swearer of all. But on the very day he became a follower of Christ, the profanity and obscenities stopped - like the turning off of a tap. The change was instantly noticeable with his colleagues. It had taken place within, by the renewing of the mind.

As in the case of Kate Booth, the English language can be a mighty weapon for good. But the truth is equally effective in Urdu, Luchiga, Spanish, Chinese or Swahili. First read and embrace the truth, then live it, and we will find ourselves - whether in a public or a private setting - living it and speaking it, in the style and language of the Gospel. There’s no ‘stronger language’ to touch and win the world. Nor is there any limit as to how far it can reach.