Guest Blog by Rev. Dr. Dieter Heinzl
Associate Pastor at Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church
I was puzzled when I leafed through the New York Times a while back and came upon a blank page. I expected something like “this could have been your ad” ploy, but that was not it. As I turned the page, the following one was blank also. At the bottom, however, I detected a few letters pointing me to a website: wordsarelife.com. Reaching for my iPad, I had an answer in an instant. “Words are life” advertised the movie adaptation of one of the most talked about books in recent memory: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
If you have not read it, you should. And I don’t use the word “should” lightly. The book tells the story of a young girl growing up in Germany during World War II and is narrated by Death. Yes, Death. It is written for readers “12 and up,” but make no mistake: this is a tale for grown-ups.
“Words are life” is the drumbeat that sustains Liesel, the young female protagonist, in a world that is burning, where bombs are falling, killing people indiscriminately, where hunger runs rampant, and no one, not even your best friend, can be trusted. Where a knock on the door can be life-giving or death-dealing—you never know which. It is a world in which even Death reaches a breaking point. While we may have a hard time imagining such a world, many people on this globe today have no trouble with it at all. They don’t need to imagine. For them, it is a daily reality.
“Words are life.” I could not agree more. Sometimes words are all that stand between life and death. However, our faith expresses this slightly differently, and the difference is not merely semantic. “The Word is life.” The Word, which created everything, endured everything, hoped everything, and conquered everything, even death, has a name in our tradition: Jesus Christ. He is The Word we trust and obey in life and in death, as the Barmen Declaration asserts.
Actions are desperately needed in a world in which mass shootings are mostly met with a shrug, where people are ridiculed, beaten, and killed because of the color of their skin and abused because of their sexuality, where unspeakable atrocities are committed, and where creation itself is exploited and ravaged for material gain. And yet, words are more important now than ever. Words that encourage and do not tear down. Words that speak of love, not hate. Words, and Word, that are life. Words that begin, when all other words fail, with the prayer The Word has taught us, “Our Father … .”
Rev. Dr. Dieter Heinzl
Associate Pastor, Ladue Chapel Presbyterian