Upon a few recommendations (notably, Mars Hill Audio Volume 99 and Justin McRoberts‘s hearty kudos at Jubilee), I started reading Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s delightful and thought-provoking little book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies last week. Within a few pages, I knew that this was the book I’d been looking for.
Let me back up. One of the missions of the college at which I teach first-year writing classes is to allow intellectual formation to occur within the context of Scripture. That’s fairly straightforward when it comes to Old Testament Literature or even Introduction to Economics, but it’s surprisingly difficult to draw these things into a discussion of writing. I can say that Christians ought to learn to write well because it’s important that they communicate clearly, but frankly, that’s not terribly convincing.
McEntyre’s book restructures the conversation around the idea that we who are blessed to be literate ought to take our job as stewards of language very seriously. And not only does she invite us into that conversation, but she frames it in lovely language as well. Reading McEntyre makes you want to be able to write like her.
She proposes thirteen “stewardship strategies”:
- Love words
- Tell the truth
- Don’t tolerate lies
- Read well
- Stay in conversation
- Share stories
- Love the long sentence
- Practice poetry
- Attend to translation
- Cherish silence
These strategies are important, McEntyre points out, because our language is weakening in so many ways. She’s not a Luddite, but she cares deeply about what our overdependence on technology-mediated communication is doing to the way we talk, write, and think:
English – American English in particular, as we have said – has already suffered sever losses in a spreading epidemic of hyperbole. Streamlined and simplified newspapers and textbooks have forced fewer and fewer words to serve the purposes of public discourse, so we sustain losses in nuance and precision whose consequences have not yet been fully recognized.
There are riches in this book, and I’m already trying to brainstorm how to use it with my students next year. But you don’t need to be in a first-year writing course to benefit. Anyone who uses words – and that’s all of us – who is frustrated by the paucity of language or the lies they feel they are hearing in public discourse, who yearns to recover a heritage that’s starting to disappear, would enjoy this little volume. I encourage you to pick it up and consider how you might care for words.