In the M. Night Shyamalan movie Unbreakable, the concept of superheroes is presented in terms of shared mythology, hieroglyphic language, familiar archetypes, and heightened symbolism that represents actual life events and experiences or common hopes and fears. We’ve all heard the anecdote of the mother who, in a sudden adrenaline-fueled boost of strength, lifted a car off of her trapped son. Many of us have seen footage of Olympic athlete Usain Bolt (aka, the fastest man alive) competing in a race. Most of us are familiar with the Biblical story of Samson who at one time single-handedly slew one thousand enemies in melee combat. Superhuman qualities of strength, speed, and intelligence as well as virtues such as courage, justice, honor and sacrifice resonate with us on a deep level.
Referencing the X-Men, I often joke with my wife that her ‘mutant power’ is the ability to have an authentic looking smile in every photograph she appears in. A real smile “involves both voluntary and involuntary contraction from two muscles: the zygomatic major (raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi (raising the cheeks and producing crow’s feet around the eyes). A fake smile … involves the contraction of just the zygomatic major…” Each type of smile is controlled by a different part of the brain. Somehow my wife can voluntarily activate involuntary muscle contractions in her face, or at least she has the ability to feel genuinely happy about being in every single photograph. In contrast, my ‘mutant power’ is that the more stressed out people around me get, the calmer I become in inverse proportion. This has served me well in my crisis intervention background.
However, let’s take it a step further. Thinking of symbolic representations, what superhero best represents me in my role and God-given gifts? If the question was which superhero do I wish I could be, the answer would be The Flash. If the question was which superhero is my favorite, the answer would be Daredevil. However, the superhero that best represents me is Black Bolt.
According to the Comics Database: “Black Bolt has the ability to unleash great destructive power through the use of his voice, but even the slightest whisper will release his power. At maximum the force is equal to that caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon. Therefore, for the most part, Black Bolt remains silent.”
Years ago, God showed me a passage of Scripture that applies to my life. You might call it my ‘life verse’ – or more accurately, verses. A life verse is “a verse from scripture that speaks to your heart, almost as though it was written for just you. It’s very personal, and usually there is a story behind why we are drawn to that particular Bible verse.” Here is a portion of the larger passage: “He has made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he has concealed me…” (Isaiah 49:2a).
Words can have terrible power. James 3:5 says, “the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”
In my ten years of work in the mental health field, I have in one form or another had the opportunity to counsel over one thousand people. In five and a half years of crisis and suicide intervention work, I have literally used the power of words, and often nothing else, to talk people off of ledges. As an author, blogger, and occasional screenwriter, the use of language is everything. In my current and future ministry work, again, words are the primary tools that I use to impact lives.
But… just as I have talked people off of ledges, I could just as easily have talked people onto ledges, and over the side. As delusion-of-grandeur as it may sound, I actually believe that I could talk somebody into killing themselves. That is a scary thought. This is not an unheard of phenomenon – there have been many tragic examples in the news of teenagers, for example, being goaded into suicide by bullying peers. At the very least, and certainly in my line of work encountering hurting people at rock bottom, my words have the dangerous potential of creating deep psychological wounds, breaking relationships, and even alienating people from the Christian faith.