Monday, January 07, 2008

Words Really Do Matter

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”
- Luke 6:45 (New Living Translation)

In a New York Times op-ed this morning, Bill Kristol made the following observation about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:

“Huckabee went on to pay tribute to Obama for his ability “to touch at the core of something Americans want” in seeming to move beyond partisanship. And, he added, Senator Obama is “a likable person who has excited people about wanting to vote who have not voted in the past.” Huckabee was of course aware that in praising Obama he was recommending himself.”

The phrase that really struck me was “to touch the core.” I think Bill Kristol got it!

Ever since Mike Huckabee began to rise from obscurity in the campaign, pundits have either been trying to explain him or explain him away. The truth of the matter has been that the phenomenon has been less about the candidate and more about what’s at the core of millions of Americans responding to his message.

In his victory speech the other night he alluded to the prairie fire that’s being kindled here in America’s heartland. For the powerful and connected in this country that may not have meant much, but to many of us it registered powerfully. Something’s being kindled in our hearts. When he says his campaign isn’t about him, but about us, we believe him. When he repeats those wonderful words, “We the People,” something stirs in us. Mike Huckabee’s speaking to our hearts!

The other night I listened to the Democratic debate. Hillary Clinton, in a feeble attempt to ward off the power of Barack Obama’s stirring oratory, said that it is deeds, not words, which matter in this campaign. That’s true – deeds do matter. But, those words, coming from what appeared to be a soul bereft of true belief at its core, fell to the ground. They never hit their mark. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the ability to inspire, if she ever had it at all, and it’s evident in her rhetoric. That’s no match for true belief, being expressed by a true believer. Barack Obama has stirred something in the hearts of the Democratic Party’s faithful, in the same way that Mike Huckabee has stirred the hearts and imaginations of many Republicans.

There’s a powerful truth being played out here. Words do matter. Hillary Clinton can dismiss them. Pundits can try to explain them away. But, words do matter. If they didn’t, why on earth would the prophets of old have spoken from the pits of despair or at the gates of Zion? If words didn’t matter, why did the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah cut so deeply to the quick of a nation that had abandoned its call to be a “light to the nations?” If words didn’t really matter, why on earth did John the Baptist march up and down the Jordan River calling sinners to repentance? Why did the hungry, thirsty, downtrodden, sick, weary, the grieving, the heavy-laden, or the lost respond so overwhelmingly when Jesus uttered simple words like “Come unto me.”? If words don’t really matter, then the Sermon on the Mount is nothing more than a set of flowery catch phrases with no real meaning at their heart.

Words do matter! The words of our Declaration of Independence matter. The words of the Gettysburg Address matter. The words Abraham Lincoln spoke at his second inaugural matter. They’re transcendent. They speak to our hearts.

Words do matter. To a nation gripped by fear, Franklin Roosevelt’s words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” mattered. To a nation on the brink, Churchill’s words, “We shall fight them on the beaches” mattered. To a nation weary of cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation John Kennedy’s words, “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” mattered. To America, mired in racial strife, Martin Luther King’s call for us to realize the dream of national brotherhood mattered. Words do matter.

Words do matter, especially when they’re spoken from heart to heart.

What Hillary Clinton and many pundits have not been able to grasp is that this campaign isn’t about them. It’s about us! Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama have begun a heart to heart dialogue with the American people. The communication is direct. They’ve bypassed the chicanery and the political tricks. There’s no triangulating. Their words matter because they seem to understand that we matter. They understand that the stakes in this election are far higher than who is going to be powerful, control the dialogue, or who is going to occupy our national mansion. They understand that this election may well indeed be about our heart and soul.

I suppose that Obama, Huckabee, and those responding to their words can be dismissed as idle dreamers. Those who do so do it at their own peril. From Joseph being sold into bondage by his brothers, to the prophets, to Jesus, to the apostles, to our founding fathers, to Lincoln, to J.F.K, to Martin Luther King, the dreamers and their dreams have always prevailed. Their words have become memorials, testimony to the truth that words really do matter!

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