During an interview in the 1950s, the famed journalist Edward R. Morrow asked Carl Sandburg, “What’s the ugliest word in the English language?”
I know a lot of ugly words! Many are considered profanity and aren’t spoken in polite company. Admittedly, those crude words have become more acceptable in public discourse and popular entertainment. I won’t mention them here. You know them, I’m sure.
But the Pulizer prize winning poet didn’t select a profane word. This master of the use of words chose this as the ugliest word: EXCLUSIVE!
Well, I’m not so sure about that! Many find the word and its implication quite attractive. After all, we seem to prefer
- to live in exclusive neighborhoods,
- drive exclusive cars, eat at exclusive restaurants,
- vacation at exclusive resorts,
- attend exclusive universities,
- occupy exclusive leadership positions,
- shop at exclusive stores,
- be inducted into exclusive organizations,
- be part of an exclusive religion,
- worship an exclusive God,
- belong to an exclusive church.
I suspect that the ugliness or beauty of the word depends on whether we are among the included or the excluded. The included have power, privilege, prominence, prestige. They determine who is in and who is out.
But if you’ve ever been among those who are excluded, you know how ugly the word is! Being excluded stings, embarrasses, devalues, demeans, rejects, isolates, marginalizes, coerces, bullies. It hurts to be excluded!
Jesus must have considered exclusive to be an ugly word and an evil practice. At least, he redefined who’s in and who’s out. He turned the tables on the excluded and the included.
The excluded became the included: the nobodies, the poor, the disreputable, the powerless, the sick, the imprisoned, the vulnerable!
Those who considered themselves the exclusive found themselves on the outside– religious legalists, political power brokers, the rich, the morally pure, the piously judgmental.
In God’s upside-down kindom, no one is excluded from the reach of divine compassion and presence. Those we exclude from our circles of compassion, justice, and hospitality are the very ones at the center of God’s circle of hospitality.
If exclusive is the ugliest, I wonder what the poet would consider the most beautiful word in the English language?
I don’t know about you, but a word that comes to my mind is WELCOME! When combined with ALL, the beauty is magnified: ALL WELCOME! WELCOME ALL!