Along came Henry. Henry was a British lieutenant who developed a hollow cannonball that could be filled with sharp metal fragments which, when after travelling a distance, would explode and wreak havoc on opposing soldiers by spraying the sharp, hot objects over a wide area. It was designed as an ‘anti-personnel’ weapon, (a weapon aimed at people, not buildings or other resources). As a weapon, it was broad, indiscriminate and messy. Over time this concept was adapted for use in rockets, cannons, and even hand grenades as well as other artillery. The objects delivered via this method, we call ‘shrapnel’, named “in honor” of its developer, Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel.
Shrapnel - a hollow projectile containing bullets or the like and a bursting charge, designed to explode before reaching the target, and to set free a shower of missiles.
Why am I writing about shrapnel? Well, I have been thinking about how words are used to attack/hurt people. Our Western culture is awash with insensitivity and downright meanness. From television talk shows, to ‘reality shows’, to awards shows, etc. ‘Telling it like it is’ is the flavor of the day. But are we telling it like it is? Or are we just venting and humiliating others for the sake of making ourselves look better? I knew about shrapnel, but I didn't know it was named after its inventor. How great is that? You become famous because of your contribution to the brutality of war. Not such a great legacy, huh?But, isn't that how some people are making their name... even within the Church?
I have also been thinking about political correctness. It is a warped way of dealing with insensitivity. But it has its roots in a good concept... pushing back against those who don't care about the feelings and well-being of other people. 'Thought police' are usually ridiculous. But if people will not police themselves, someone will have to police them. Some people say things that hurt other people. Other people don’t like it. So, a battle develops. Regardless of who is right or wrong, these battles rarely have winners. And the ones who use inflammatory language (on both sides) usually know they are picking or continuing a fight. How can words do this?
Words are simply the way we communicate our thoughts. So, if the thoughts are unloving, it makes sense that the words would be as well. Jesus said, ‘It isn’t what goes into the mouth that corrupts a person. It is what comes out. And what comes out, comes from the soul.’ So, yes… you did mean to say what you said. You may not have meant for someone to call you out on it… but you did mean it. I guess this is doubly discouraging when we consider that a good deal of 'verbal shrapnel' comes from people who claim to follow Christ.
The mouth, according to the apostle James, is a world of evil. It contaminates the whole body. The tongue is the hardest part of our body to control. Our mouth is as powerful as a weapon. A flame-thrower, if you will… or maybe a grenade launcher. People who are insensitive and hurtful, are following in the steps of Henry the Lieutenant. They are sending out artillery that will spray their opponents with sharp objects. Their words are broad, indiscriminate, and leave very messy results. Sometimes people use the shrapnel method at close range, but often it is just propelled out into the culture, hurting whoever is standing around.
Why do people launch verbal shrapnel? There are advantages to the long-range shrapnel shell. It can be detonated beyond range of the attacker. That way, the attacker doesn’t get hit with their own fragments. Naturally, this enables the attacker to keep distance between themselves and the ones they are attacking. More distance between combatants means there is less likelihood you will reach a peaceable solution with a person you dislike. You don’t have to be very talented to throw a verbal grenade. You don’t have to know anything about your opposition, strategy, or how to diffuse a situation. You just lob it in and let it do what it does best. It hurts people. Remember, it is ‘anti-personnel’. You don’t have to be accurate or right… you just have to be within range of the person. Some people are pros at opening a door, rolling a grenade into the room, and walking away. This is cowardly. God’s people shouldn’t do it.
(A personal relationship with Christ and other people is a great way to avoid a volley of verbal grenades.)
Don’t for one minute think I am advocating a weak exchange with those who oppose truth. But truth is best shared when it is shared in love. I would also say it is best received when shared in love. Paul charges Christians, to employ a pattern of speech that is palatable. In other words, don’t try to feed something to someone else that you wouldn’t eat. This doesn’t mean others will always swallow the truth. But it shouldn’t taste poisonous. Jesus taught that we should treat others in the same way that we would like to be treated. This is simple. Basic… maybe too basic. We teach it to our kids, but do we live it? Would I want someone to throw a verbal grenade at my feet… at my kids’ feet? Would you? I didn’t think so. If I wouldn’t want that for me or mine… why in the world would I toss one at someone else?
I know the PC patrol is full of hypocrites. Many speak about justice, but are really pushing another agenda. There are lifestyles and activities that are clearly wrong, and need to be addressed. And I think a good argument can ride in the cart of wit, sarcasm, humor, etc. But I also know truth isn’t delivered best in a shrapnel shell. Rather than worrying about being politically correct, why don’t we just concern ourselves with being correct? And that means presenting Godly truth in a Godly way. 'God correctness' carries a much higher standard of respect and dignity than does 'political correctness' any day.
Here is a thought from King David, who was a warrior at heart…
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
(Some may be choking on this note and thinking, ‘what about Jesus? He seemed to toss a few verbal grenades during His ministry.’ Not really. Jesus did get into verbal confrontations with the religious leaders of His day. But He wasn’t broad, indiscriminate or messy. He spoke directly to His opponents about specific principles and sin, and He was not ugly in any way. He also had the distinct advantage of knowing the hearts of all men. He went out of His way to oppose without unnecessarily offending. He wasn’t a jerk about things. When He dealt with people He was trying to reach, He was engaging, truthful, and inviting. There is our example.)
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.