There is a scene in the 2010 Academy Award-winning film The King’s Speech in which King George VI of England sits with Princess Elizabeth watching a news reel of a Nazi rally in Germany. On the screen, Hitler yells and gesticulates to a mesmerized crowd. From her chair, Elizabeth asks her father, “Papa, what’s he saying?” The king answers, “I don’t know, but he seems to be saying it rather well.”
It is a pensive moment for the English king, because he is Hitler’s counterpart in England, and he lacks the ability to speak well. The king is perpetually tongue-tied with a debilitating stammer. So long as he cannot speak, the venomous voice of Hitler goes unchecked. And thus, the king is desperate to find his voice.
The scene reminds me of the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel, when the Pharisees accost Jesus for violating dietary purity laws, while at the same time they (the Pharisees) speak words that degrade and take advantage of the weak. Jesus responds by saying to the crowd, “Listen to me: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” Jesus reminds the crowd—and us—that the words we employ affect us, for good or ill. The form us and mark us. We become, over time, the things we speak. (When one views news reels from Nazi Germany, one ominously sees this process at work.) Jesus then meets a man whose tongue has been tied since birth. He heals the man, who then speaks clearly.
Blessedly, we do not face a Hitler in our present world. But we do live in a world increasingly marked by bitter and venomous words. We hear these words spoken by our politicians, social commentators, the talking heads in the media. Such words are not the exclusive purview of only one end of the social or political spectrum. Rather, it is as if the powers-that-be in our world have, across the board, lost the ability to speak graciously.
If such coarse and corrosive words were spoken clumsily, we could easily ignore them. But they are “spoken rather well,” as King George VI says to Princess Elizabeth. They are silky and compelling, and they prey upon our most basic fears and insecurities. Almost subconsciously, they influence and form us. We find are thoughts conforming to the fears such words instill, and in our worst moments we find coming from our own mouths similar words of venom. We risk granting such words the victory, just as King George VI feared his silence would allow Hitler’s speech to overwhelm all that was good in George’s world.
The miracle of the true story of The King’s Speech is as grand as the miracle in Mark 7. George VI’s tongue is loosened. He, too, finds his voice, and when he does, he resists the urge to speak words that defile. The King will not speak of wanton violence, vengeance, or division among peoples. Rather, he speaks of the preservation of the Good and the hope that the peace of God will reign among people.
In this Easter season, it is my hope that we at Christ Church will speak only words of resurrection hope. Blessedly, I already hear such words weekly in our parish life, and I pray we will speak them equally in our relationships beyond the walls of the church. When we hear words of venom (whatever their source), I pray our tongues will be loosened, and we will counter them not with equal venom, but with words of grace. When we do, we prevail for the God of love. We proclaim, with Jesus, that we will not traffic in words that defile, but will speak goodness and grace to a world that desperately needs to hear them. Then God will say to the angels, “I know indeed what they are saying, and they are saying it rather well!”