As one who tries to pay attention to my words and the words of speakers around me, I live with quite a bit of frustration. I find that people often take me to be saying something I’m not. Though this is likely partly due to my need for greater clarity of speech, it also appears to be that most of us come into conversations with preconceived notions of what can or will be said. When we then hear something that doesn’t fit our schema, we interpret it so it does. If you need an example you need go no farther than political discourse where we fit everything into the liberal/conservative dichotomy.
Although my court experience is less than yours, I remain leery of lawyers’ precision. It may just be TV lawyers, but it often looks like they craft their questions so they will get the answer they want, whether said answer is truthful or gives an accurate picture of the situation. Since I find many questions I’m asked to be inadequate, I find myself frequently answering questions with questions. (Sometimes I don’t. Last night at dinner my son asked if I’d put taco seasoning in the meat we were eating. I answered, “Sort of,” and answer completely inadequate by my wife’s standards. She really likes it when I read the mind of the questioner and figure out what information they want and answer that UNASKED question. But I’m a horrible mind reader. In this case I thought my son was asking if there was taco seasoning in the meat. There was, but I had only bought the seasoning for someone else to add to the meat, so my agency in seasoning the meat was indirect. So I couldn’t admit to doing it and feel I was being entirely honest.)
As for Christian speech – yes we are extremely careless, making unfounded assumptions about the meaning and use of words. In our effort to help people use their words aright, I don’t want to be like the (TV?) lawyers who simply aim to get a particular answer out of a person. I know I’m an idealist, but I think we need to develop the discipline to take time with our language so that words, meanings and usages (which all overlap) can adequately refer to the reality of the Christian faith AND adequately express our convictions about that faith an live out our relationship (conversation) with God. When we use our words, we are doing something different than the witness on the stand – we have a different kind of intentionality toward them. They are OUR words. They are, in a sense, an extension of us.
In a courtroom drama – whether Perry Mason-like or something more mundane – we find ourselves part of a story. My guess is that we’d rather be elsewhere, and that the court story is peripheral to our lives (and our life-story). If we are the plaintiff, we may be trying to get our wya in the world; if the defendant, we may be trying to keep someone else from having their way with us; if only a witness, member of the jury, etc., we may have no stake in the story at all. As Christians we inhabit a different story, one that our own life story is only a small segment of. It is a story in which we do not seek to have our will done, but the will of God (as it is done in heaven). In our speech then, we speak not only within the context of the current and local conversation, but always also as part of the larger context of God’s story of Creation and Redemption. Paying attention to our words, then, is of great import.