A Sunday Sermon

There is a reason why Rudyard Kipling said words are the most powerful drug used by mankind. Here’s why:

I am not who I seem to be, yet I am exactly as I appear. I am the wind, invisible and changeable.  I am a cautious turtle, retreating into the safety of my shell. I am a hawk, hunting prey.  I am a tiny ant crawling dazed across the floor. I’m a furry caterpillar and a furious beehive.  I’m a steamroller, flattening anything in my way. I am the warm sun, strong against your back and the steel knife that neatly eviscerates the carcass of an animal. 

I am the lips of a friend who comes to ease your loneliness and the caustic tongue of an enemy. I am the giggles of a two-year old and the angry thunder that makes you pull the covers tight around your neck.  I am slow as a snail and swift as a cheetah. I am the quiet wings of a butterfly and the excited shrieks of a chimp. I’m the voice in your head that cheers you on and the doubt that gives you pause. I follow the law and break the rules. I use words to say exactly what I mean to say and sometimes more. I am everything to someone, but nothing to most. Words describe me, limit me and break me down. But they can also seduce me and build me up.

I’m the freshmen who nearly failed college English. I am proof that tests only measure what you do not know, not what you are capable of. Some days I am weak, some days I am strong, some days I am both. I am evidence that all things are possible with grit and perseverance.

I am this and more–and you are, too.  As Carl Sagan once said we are all made from the same star stuff. We are all part of one river, one universe. We were made from the same ingredients, under the same temperatures and conditions. We are more similar than not, no matter how much we believe that we are different or unique. I am your sibling and your parent and your child and your spouse. I am Debbie Mitchell, but I am also you, your coworker, your countryman, your friend and your teammate.

I use words to build stories and to create arguments. I use them to ask questions that have many answers and sometimes no answers at all. My words are not just mine. They are yours and ours, too. We share the same language, the same thoughts, the same boundaries and the same potentials. Your words may sound differently, you may speak in French or Russian or Spanish or Farsi, but we say the same things. We feel and think and believe alike.  

For me, words are medicine; they bring structure and order to the chaos in my mind and in the world around me; there might be an app for that, but there’s a word for that, too. Did you know that the little stars you see when you rub your eyes are called phosphenes? We are not only continuously inventing new words, but also redefining and recycling old words. Language is alive, just like we are, and it will outlive you and me.

There is a reason why words are the most powerful drug used by mankind. They are certainly powerful for me: they entertain and explain; they define and they limit; they forgive and they change; they hide us behind lies and they expose our lies. They can make us cry, make us happy, even divide us, but their greatest benefit is that they can bridge and unite us, too. Words can be salves, medications, painkillers and remedies. They can even make us smile.

Our words can be hurtful or helpful. Today, let’s use them to heal and unite us. Let’s use them to make peace and spread love, no matter what we believe about God or the afterlife.


30 responses to “A Sunday Sermon

  1. Wow, Debbie — ‘wow’ and ‘wonderful’ where the first words that came to my mind. This is the most powerful piece I’ve ever read from you; incredibly well written.

    I like your Sunday sermons. Preach it sister. 🙂

  2. Words can be a tool used to bind us together in fellowship of understanding, care and love. They can also be used to divide us and tire us apart. My motto that safe-guard my use of words is: when love comes first, our disagreements falls on their right and proper place.

    Thank you for a powerfully building homily Deb.

    • @Prayson Daniel, I love what you wrote here! “…when love comes first, our disagreements falls on their right and proper place.”

    • Hi Prayson, I agree with your motto. For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to consider my motivation behind whatever I’m about to speak or write. This approach has worked flawlessly for me. Sometimes I override this internal litmus test because I’m angry or in a mean mood, and in those times nothing good results. I’m learning.

  3. Debbie, A day or so ago the Richard Dawkins’ site posted this: “From the inbox: What do you do if a dying family member wants to know that you believe in Jesus and god before their impending death? If you tell the truth they may hate you, but yet you don’t want to lie to them. What do you see as the solution?” I was absolutely appalled at the number of people who said “tell the truth, I’m not lying, they’ll be dead soon, etc etc.” I mean really, really caustic replies! [You would have thought they were asking to deny Christ 3 times!!!:)] So once again, I have to remind myself that just because a person is logical/intelligent thinking enough to be an atheist, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are automatically a better, nicer human being. In the end, it seems (and your column verifies it for me so eloquently) that there is only one true “religion” or path to follow and and that is love.

    • Hi Trishia, You and I agree on many things. Truly that is sad. It’s not showing love or mercy. This is a topic in the book–how to help the dying. It is not showing love, compassion or mercy to add to their suffering. Just a squeeze of the hand or saying, “I believe in many of the same things you do” is no skin off a nonbeliever’s back, but it brings peace to the dying.

      I could not agree with you more here: ” I have to remind myself that just because a person is logical/intelligent thinking enough to be an atheist, it certainly doesn’t mean that they are automatically a better, nicer human being.” It is something that has really troubled me over these past few years….

  4. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you Lisa and Jennifer….

    • Wow, just wow!!
      If I ever learned to master words like that…

      @ Trishia: Why would rationalism or disbelief be automatically connected to perceived niceness or why should it? Just because we atheist do not lie to ourselves does not make us sociable or…nice. What it does do is bring honesty to the equation – how that honesty is portrayed is up to each person and his/her skills as a social animal.

  6. I am the walrus.

    – John Lennon

    (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. This is a nice piece. I am also in love with words and language.)

  7. You’ve outdone yourself with this, Deb. One of your best, if not the best.

  8. I love this! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Deb Today’s post is inspiring and beautiful… Absolutely beautiful Happy week JP

  10. Thank you guys for your comments. I really enjoy writing, but I didn’t know if this was too “out there” to share. So I really appreciate the feedback@

  11. You were on fire with this post – outstanding!

    Speaking of “preaching it”, do you do public speaking appearances? Present your views and ideas in a public forum? If you speak anywhere near as well as you write, you’d be great as a spokesperson for the atheist perspective.

  12. Hi Deborah. Thanks for your blog, and for this post. I’m always really late to the discussion because I read your post and let it settle in my mind for a day or a week. I like to really consider the words I use. I work from home exclusively (writing computer code), and am married to a wonderful person. I have no other family, and no real reason to interact with others in the general public. In addition, I present a visually confusing image to strangers since I’m rather androgynous in appearance. In addition, the last thing my parents said to me 20 years ago was “you’re going to burn in hell forever and we’re happy about it!”. My point is that spoken language is sparingly used in my life, which has the effect of magnifying its effect. Sometimes that’s good but usually not. It’s a struggle for me to deal with negativity and decisive statements I hear in my very conservative area (Chattanooga, TN). For example, part of me wants to strike back verbally when I hear a local politician spew hatred or discrimination, but I’m very non-confrontational by nature. I feel that speaking out alienates me further and I’m sinking to the level of those with whom I strongly disagree, but that causes me to feel guilty for not being true to myself and other non-believers and comrades on the social fringe. If I say nothing, it is *always* assumed that I’m a bible-thumping christian and I really, really, hate that. Choosing a level of vocalness if really difficult but I’d like to achieve something I can be comfortable with. This post may not make sense (sorry for rambling).

    • Hi Andy, Thanks so much for your thoughtful response and for helping me see other sides to a story. As for your parents, I’m really sorry, as a fellow human, that they were so hurtful to you.


  13. Nice thoughts, glad I dropped by. I hope things are going well for you. It is never easy to make the kind of change you did and it took courage. I am a christian, but was never a fundamentalist by any means. I like what you said about words, they touched me deeply. All we can do is to seek the truth. I have studied many authors, both atheist as well as theist….and I have remained a Christian. Atheism makes no sense to me, for you it does and I hope you continue to grow and find happiness.

    There are those who attack from both sides of the fence, they hurt a lot of people for none of us are made of straw. Straw-men and women only exist in the mind of the one who created them….while true there are those who seem to want to make themselves into straw men and women, most do not.

    We have one life, our choices are important and I believe you make some good ones in how you relate to others. I think it is time to not make such a fuss over what others believe, but in how they treat others and react to them. If I ever met you, I would not be interested in your atheism as such, but in you as a person, I think at rock bottom that is what most want….to see another human being, who listens, respects and actually sees the one who stands before them…..not a label, but a real person.

    Doubt is a normal part of life, I believe w all have them, that is why I study and seek to learn and deepen my faith and understanding of others ways of looking at life.

    Again thank you for your ‘words’….it was a good way for me to start my day.

  14. Thank you Andy. I am sorry you had to go through so much with your family, you seem like a very gentle person.

  15. Sorry I’m a little late to the dance but…

    I’ll have what she’s having.


    Wonderfully expressed, Deb.

    Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.

    ~ Kurt Vonnegut

  16. “Let’s use them to make peace and spread love, no matter what we believe about God or the afterlife.”

    This. Exactly this.

  17. I’ve shared this with Deb before but thought it fit here —

    Kindness in words creates confidence.
    Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
    Kindness in giving creates love.

    ~ Lao-Tse

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