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A Set or a Spike?


When I was young, the Taylor family back yard was an active place. The croquet set seldom sat for long without being planted in the sloping green expanse behind the house. A basketball goal anchored a level spot near the bottom of the yard. Croquet would yield to badminton every now and then. Towering trees afforded adventuresome children hiding places high up in the air or peaceful shade for the ones (like me) who preferred to peer heavenward through their lacy limbs. My older brother taught me to throw a pretty good spiral with one of his footballs. We active children became active teenagers at home, at school, and at church.

Volleyball was in the mix too. My sister was a better player than I, but she was taller. Still is. Dad played until he damaged a knee. I played just for fun and usually at church. On the volleyball court I learned the difference between a set and a spike, the former seeming so much gentler than the latter. Both served a purpose when properly employed. As with much of life.

Many years ago, I participated in Landmark Education. That required learning a certain vocabulary. One of the nuggets I gleaned from the experience was the caution to consider how our words "land." Yep. Like the difference between a set and a spike. What we say can be gently lobbed toward a recipient who might willingly take the toss because of its easy lilt. Or our words can be violently hurled in the direction of another whose probable response would be to dive or duck. Landmark Education hoped to train people to consider the impact of their words before they are launched into another's listening. Easier conceptualized than done.

Wise and wonderful William Sloane Coffin is quoted as having reported, "I remember years ago a freshman asking if he could give me some advice. 'Go ahead,' I said. 'Well, Sir, when you say something that is both true and painful, say it softly.' Say it in other words to heal and not to hurt. Say it in love." (Credo, page 152). How do those words "land" with you? Have you been stung by someone's true but painful observation before? How did you receive what came in your direction? And have you knowingly shoved your words at another intending that they "land" with a slam? What impact did the experience have on your relationship?

To heal. Not to hurt. To help. Not to harm. To liberate. Not to limit. To coax. Not to cripple. Slippery slopes to navigate in our relationships. But when we are ultimately on the same team (and isn't that God's intention), what matters more than the impact of our words?

This Sunday's Scriptures provide a fascinating frame for a picture prompted by the question, "A set or a spike?" Jeremiah and Jesus both discover the impact of God's call to speak and enact a divine word that needs to be heard, softly or otherwise. Join in and let our worship be an active place to be!

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