Posts Tagged tongue

Give your tongue a rest and listen with your heart, Sparks says

“Is there anywhere in the Bible that shows Jesus laughing?” asked the Rev. Susan Sparks at the beginning of the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Chautauquan Susan Hughes had stopped Sparks after her presentation at the Interfaith Lecture Tuesday and asked the question.

“The short answer is no, not in the Gospels; there is nothing about joy,” Sparks said. “But in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is a phrase used several times, ‘and the Savior laughed.’ ”

Sparks took a short diversion from her sermon topic, “Check Your Weapons at the Door.” The theme was angry words and the Scripture readings were James 3:3-5, Proverbs 18:21 and Psalm 141:3.

Sparks and her husband were on a motorcycle trip near Yellowstone. She was wearing an open face helmet and momentarily took off her glasses, and a bug hit her in the eye. It hit her eyelid, but “it felt like a meteor coming at me. I was not pleased and I am sure the bug was not happy either,” she said.

They stopped at a Cody, Wyoming, hospital to get her eye looked at and she noticed a large sign at the front door: “Check Your Weapons at the Door.”

“Is that sign for real?” she asked the nurse looking after her,

“Honey, this is Wyoming,” the nurse said. “You have no idea what people come in packing.”

The sign was important to keep people safe in the hospital, Sparks said.

“There is a lot of talk about weapons today — nukes, drones, WMDs, AK-47s — that we need to seriously consider checking at the door,” she said. “But there is a more dangerous and equally scary one that each of us has. We are all packing heat with our personal WMD — the human tongue.”

In Proverbs 12:18 it says “rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” We are all familiar with the damaging power of words, Sparks said, that can sting like bugs at 70 mph. They tear apart families, cause jealousy and anger, and lead to prejudice and racial slurs.

“Fifty-two percent of young people have been bullied online,” she said. “These words are spoken and written because the fingers are the extension of the mouth. Hurt-filled words that are spoken, written, texted or tweeted are part of an arms race that must stop.”

In the letter of James, he tells his readers that a bridle in the mouth of a horse can control it, and that a great ship is guided by a small rudder.

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits,” Sparks added. “There has to be a way to bridle the tongue, to check our weapon at the door along with other, dangerous, human-made weapons.”

The first way she suggested to check the weapons is to take responsibility for what you say or write.

“I know that pasta is done when I throw it against the wall and it sticks,” she said. “When we treat words like that, they always stick. I wish we had autocorrect for the tongue.”

One day Sparks was texting a parishioner and thought she had sent: “Our prayers are with you. You have family in NYC.” When she checked the message, it read, “Our prayers are with me, you have family here not.”

The parishioner had a sense of humor and wrote back, “I pray my pastor will master autocorrect.”

There is no autocorrect in life; we can’t take things back and we will be held accountable, Sparks said. As baseball player Willie Davis said, if you step on people in this life, you are likely to come back as a cockroach.

The second way to check our tongues, Sparks said, is realizing there is power in shutting up.

“We need to take a Shabbat, a rest, for our mouths and listen,” she said. “We think by the inch, talk by the yard and show people the door by the foot.”

Author Stephen Covey said that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.

“I know that from my training as a trial lawyer, I was always looking for something to say that was sparkly, intelligent or would win the argument,” Sparks said. “But we do this naturally in our own lives.”

If we only listen to reply, we are only listening with our mouth, she said. If we listen to learn, we are listening from the heart.

“Let’s give our mouths a Shabbat,” she said.

The third suggestion was that words can change the world for better or worse. As an example, Sparks told a story of being in a pre-operating room with her husband, who was awaiting back surgery. A doctor entered the cubicle of the patient next door who was waiting for surgery and said: “You are going to hate me after this operation. This is the most painful surgery I do.”

In contrast, her husband’s surgeon came in and said: “Let’s do this. You will be taller and stronger because of me.”

She also shared the story of a father playing catch with his son in a local park. The small son had a glove about the size of his head. The dad would throw the ball and it would drop to the ground. The father kept moving closer and throwing the ball, and it kept dropping to the ground. Finally, he walked up and put the ball in the glove.

“That was great, good for you,” he said to his son.

“What an indelible footprint that dad made on the flexible psyche of his son,” Sparks said.

People are hungry for love and affirmation and every word has an impact on them. We can change them and the entire world with our words, she said.

“Do your words lift up and leave people better than you found them or are they WMDs?” Sparks asked. “We can get all worked up packing heat, making the tongue a destructive weapon, or we can make it a tool for healing and change the world for the better. Check your weapons at the door.”

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The Civility of Discourse – Dr. Bill Leonard * Wake Forest Divinity School

“They’ll tell anything on you down in town.”

So the serpent-handling woman says as she sits on her Appalachian front porch, killing flies and defending her church’s approach to the sixteenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Whether in cheap novels, academic treatises, or documentary exposes, serpent-handlers have been analyzed, critiqued and caricatured for their belief that the sacraments are alive and can kill you. Nonetheless the Appalachian woman is right: They’ll tell anything on you down in town, on Twitter, or “Morning Joe,” especially in an election year. Most mornings bring new denunciations or scurrilous accusations from candidate and surrogate alike.

It’s the tongue, the Epistle of James insists in chapter three: “We use it to sing the praises of God, and we use it to invoke curses upon our fellow human beings who are made in God’s likeness.” Today, we say too much, or not enough; don’t mean what we say; or we say what we mean but in cruel ways. Sometimes we’re just plain mean, often in “Jesus’ name.” My friend Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., once hosted an interfaith gathering called, “Honoring Sacred Texts,” which included appreciative readings from the Quran. Online vitriol toward the event and Phelps’ character was immediate. One email read: “You are a pathetic excuse for a man. … You are truly a Judas and it would have been better for you to have never been born. I mean that in the most Christian way.”

Thomas Hearn, the late president of Wake Forest University, once articulated three purposes for a university: to educate new generations; to pursue research in a search for truth; and to nurture the “civility of discourse.” I have never forgotten that simple observation. Whatever the outcomes of this year’s elections, the civility of discourse seems mortally wounded in postmodern America.

To hear Jesus tell it, “talking trash” was certainly not unknown in first-century society:

“How can I describe this generation? They are like the children sitting in the marketplace and shouting at each other, ‘We piped for you and you would not dance.’ ‘We wept and wailed, and you would not mourn.’ For John the Baptist came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is possessed.’ The son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drinker, a friend of tax-collectors, and sinners!’ And yet God’s wisdom is proved right by its results” (Matt: 11:19).

John was a teetotaling grasshopper-eater who acted like a holiness prophet should act — harsh, direct, puritanical and distant. Jesus, by contrast, would apparently show up at happy hour — sip a little something with the wrong kind of people, scandalizing the (self) righteous crowd who readily attacked his character.

Remember when tongues wagged at Corinth over Paul’s homiletical limitations. “His letters have a literary flare, but when he appears he has no presence, and as a speaker he is beneath contempt” (2 Cor. 10: 10-11). The words that stung Paul into this response: “I may be no speaker,” he declared, “but knowledge I have; at all times we have made known to you the full truth” (2 Cor. 11: 5-6). We all have stories. A woman in my Massachusetts congregation once gave me the “evil eye” when she didn’t like my sermon. After that I asked the ushers to seat her on the back pews!

We’ve all “dished it out” and “taken it,” maligned and been maligned by the words of others, but unlike our Christian forbears, the Internet has become an extension of our tongues. We push “send” when we should hit “delete,” learning the hard way that emails, tweets and Facebook postings are the repositories of verbiage we shouldn’t have said in private, let alone made public.

Frederick Buechner comments that “to say something is to do something. I love you. I hate you. I forgive you. I am afraid. Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.”

We live, Bill Moyers says, in a “culture of cruelty,” unable/unwilling to stop attacking one another, turning every disagreement into character issues. While such verbal viciousness is nothing new, our words now go global in an instant — never to be retrieved.

But let’s not confuse cruel speech with a troubled conscience. Some injustices must be addressed even when it causes pain to ourselves, to others, and in our culture. Some situations are so hurtful, so broken that we cannot be silent. James is addressing cruelty, not conscience. He’s simply saying, don’t waste your breath on hateful language — struggle with the truth and speak it accordingly.

Perhaps the larger gospel message is this: You can’t find yourself if you don’t confront your words. We may have the liberty to say whatever we wish, but doing so may destroy/damage something, not only in others, but something deep inside ourselves.

As usual, the Psalmist says it well: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O God my strength and my redeemer.” Tweet that, for God’s sake.

*Dr. Bill Leonard spoke at the Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston. in January 1997. This article is used with his permission.

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