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01.02.2018

World-shaping Words | Connecting with Culture

It’s the season for speeches. Actors receive awards and thank people. Generally, we know what to expect. But few of us expected the reaction to Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globe awards.

In the midst of the mess of power and sex, the #metoo movement, and the Harvey Weinstein fallout, her nine-minute speech offered the hope that ‘a new day is on the horizon’. It was what people – wearied by intemperate, shallow, and mean speech – needed. Afterwards, Meryl Streep said, ‘She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.’

As it turns out, she did have a choice and has declined the prospect. Despite this, however, her words certainly did ‘launch a rocket’.

It’s the season for the big films. And surely Gary Oldman has bought a new suit and is keeping his diary free so that he can receive awards for playing Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’.

We already know the story. We know that Churchill’s speeches were a major part of his strategy to galvanise a nation, but in the cinema we experience something of their power. The film ends with Churchill delivering his blistering ‘we will fight them on the beaches…’ speech in Parliament. Viscount Halifax, one of the politicians arguing for extending further peace talks with Hitler is asked ‘What just happened?’ His despondent answer: ‘He [Churchill] mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.’

Whether it’s 1940 or 2018, fewer than ten minutes of speech can change the course of history. Words can open up new worlds of possibility, they can help people believe, they can inspire imaginations, they can begin new stories. We are not Oprah, nor are we Churchill, but our words will affect others today. Who knows what they will bring to birth? What will they crush?

The Bible bears witness to this power. It’s why Proverbs keeps circling back to the need to learn to speak wisely. It’s why Jesus, the Word made flesh, recognised that our words are the overflow of our heart. It’s why James warned early Christians about the power of the tongue.

It’s why the ancient prayer, ‘may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight’ (Psalm 19:14) retains its importance for all of us who are just about to speak.

Neil Hudson
Neil is the Imagine Project Director at LICC

Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Our words are often more influential than we imagine – for good or ill

    By Geoff Weekes - 2nd February 2018
  2. If Oprah Winfrey could galvanise people as she recently did, the world needs her skills and soul trying to get us to match up to the challenge.

    By James High - 2nd February 2018
  3. Powerful words Neil. Timely words too, for each of us. Thank you.

    By Marjorie Taylor - 2nd February 2018
  4. Powerful message. Thanks

    By Helen Pegg - 2nd February 2018
  5. Thank you for this inspiring message. Yes words are very powerful especially when carefully selected and delivered by a skilled Public Speaker.
    When we preach God’s Word we pray that the Holy Spirit will enable the message to have a powerful impact for good on the hearers despite what might be lacking in the communication gifts of the preacher. Rev Prudence Eliapenda

    By Prudence Eliapenda - 2nd February 2018
  6. stirring stuff!

    By Bruce Gulland - 2nd February 2018
  7. Valid theological points but a great pity Neil Hudson couldn’t find a better example than Oprah Winfrey.
    Why is Meryl Streep’s opinion any more valid than that of anyone else? She is an exceptionally talented actress and has a history of using her undoubted skills to feign emotion when she speaks publicly in order to further her political views. As for her suggestion that Oprah Winfrey should run for President – what utter nonsense.

    By Owen - 2nd February 2018
  8. This would have been a much better article had it dropped the Oprah Winfrey reference. The Oscars was a ratings flop – nobody watches awards events like that anymore because it’s full of self-congratulatory leftist virtue-signalling like Oprah’s speech. More people watched the State of the Union address, which had some wonderfully stirring moments of political speech.

    By Alfred - 2nd February 2018
  9. I think Owen has a point- though I don’t know that it’s nonsense to talk about an Oprah presidency. Oprah may or may not make a great president, but the mere fact that she can a) host a great TV show and b) stand up and speak stirring words is not evidence enough that she can handle that power and cope with the complexities. One of the frustrating corollaries of Trump’s presidency is that we seem to have moved from “Yes, it is possible for a celebrity with no political experience (or obvious political skill) to become president” to “It now seems likely that ONLY a celebrity can become president”. As Jonathan Freedland from the Guardian put it- that means that even if Oprah were to be the president, then Trump has won.

    By Graham Cooke - 3rd February 2018
  10. Great observations on the power of carefully articulated words, especially when they meet the standard of truth–no matter from whom they come. Unfortunately they are powerful even when they are false. Thanks for the great reminder.

    By John Spadafora - 4th February 2018
  11. Having been on the receiving end of some ill chosen words myself, I have to agree with you. Thinking before I speak is something I have struggled with but hopefully have finally conquered.
    Words can encourage and I have also been treated to many of these. How good it feels to know that someone else believes in you; a real blessing from the Lord. Thank you for reminding us all of the power of words.

    By Sue W - 4th February 2018
  12. Thank you Neil for an inspiring and timely reflection on the power of words!

    By Sally Thornton - 5th February 2018

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