learnin’ how to talk from Sirach (2)

 

“Converse with intelligent people, and talk constantly about the Law of the Most High.” (9.15)

“Don’t answer before you listen, and don’t interrupt someone who is speaking.” (11.8)

“Happy are those who haven’t slipped in their speech and who haven’t been stabbed with pain for their sins.” (14.1)

“Look! Doesn’t a word exceed a good gift? And both come from a person who is gracious.” (18.17)

“… those who are reticent to speak diminish wickedness.” (19.6)

“Don’t trust everything that is said. There are those who slip and it wasn’t intentional.” (19.15b-16a)

“A slip on the pavement is preferable to a slip of the tongue.” (20.18)

“A thief is preferable to someone who continuously lies, but both will inherit destruction.” (20.25)

“The character of liars is dishonorable; their shame is continuously with them.” (20.26)

“If those who understand hear a wise word; they will praise it and add to it.” (21.15)

“Fools say whatever is on their minds, but the wise remain mindful of what they say.” (21.26)

“Don’t grow accustomed to saying coarse things … to do so is to engage in sinful speech.” (23.13)

“A curse on slanderers and the deceitful, because they have destroyed many who are at peace.” (28.13)

“Happy are those protected from the tongue … The death it inflicts is a wicked death …” (28.19,21)

“Keep your word and be trustworthy in your dealings and you will find what you need every time.” (29.3)

“… the heart … poses four possibilities: good and evil, life and death, yet their ongoing master is the tongue.” (37.17-18)

“Tell of the greatness of his name, and give thanks when you praise him …” (39.15)

“… this is what you’ll say when you give thanks: All the works of the Lord are very good.” (39.16)

“… now, sing hymns with all your heart and voice, and bless the Lord’s name.” (39.35)

“A flute and a harp make sweet melodies, but better than both is a pleasant voice.” (40.21)

learnin’ how to talk from Sirach (1)

 

As a spiritual discipline during the month of February, I’m focusing on my habits of speech and use of words. The leverage for that exercise is a single verse each day from the book known as Sirach (aka: Ecclesiasticus).

If you enjoy the book of Proverbs, you’d enjoy the book of Sirach, a book in the Apocrypha. Sirach has a great deal to say about communication, listening, speech, and words and I’m harvesting some of what it says on that subject for myself.

Following are the nine verses I’ve locked in on thus far this month. Perhaps you’ll find this list helpful, too.

“Do not be a hypocrite before others; keep watch over your lips.” (1.29)

“Listen to the poor, and reply with peaceful and gentle speech.” (4.8)

“Don’t keep from speaking in a time of need, for wisdom will show itself in one’s speech …” (4.23)

“Listen carefully, and utter a patient reply.” (5.11)

“If you know what to say, answer your neighbor; but if not, put your hand over your mouth.” (5.12)

“Don’t get a reputation for being a slanderer, and don’t set traps for people with your speech.” (5.14)

“Pleasant speech gains more friends for itself.” (6.5)

“Don’t desire to tell a lie; continuing in a lie results in no good.” (7.13)

“Don’t fight with talkative people, adding fuel to their fire.” (8.3)

I plan to post the rest of this month’s texts on speech in two more posts later on this month.

we can, and must, do better, my brothers and sisters; much better

 

CursingOver the course of the past few weeks I’ve kept a running list of the some of the words I’ve commonly heard or seen used as folks of adult age discuss gun control in our country today.

In order to make the list, I had to have heard or seen the same word used more than once, expressed on at least two different occasions, by the same person. I kept no record at all of who said what, but I did keep record of the precise words that were chosen and used to describe others with whom the individual disagreed.

I stopped keeping the list when I hit the twenty mark. Why? Quite frankly: because I was sick of it. Are you curious as to contents of the list? If so, here it is, in alphabetical order.

  • a__holes
  • bast____
  • bitc___
  • boneheads
  • degenerates
  • dic__
  • fools
  • idiots
  • jackasses
  • jerks
  • low lifes
  • morons
  • nutjobs
  • retards
  • sh__heads
  • sh___
  • sickos
  • son of a bitc___
  • wack jobs
  • wackos

Now what grieves me most is what I didn’t mention before: all of these words were spoken or typed by my brothers and sisters in Christ who quite commonly make their way through church house doors. And I don’t mean they’re guests; I mean they wear the name of Christ, our Lord and Savior, and have for at least several years. In fact, in many cases, for decades.

To be sure, we all sin, and in many ways. Christians are no exception. God have mercy on us all! And put me at the head of the line of those who need to repent daily of the way I word things at times, whether silently in my head or aloud in print or in audible speech. But make no mistake about it: a world is watching and listening closely to our witness of the Christ we claim to believe and follow … and they are not at all impressed, but only repulsed, when we speak and act so. When they hear and see such they call us hypocrites, and rightly so, and become hardened all the more in their unbelief.

Which brings a Scripture to my mind. John tells us there are three kinds of sin in this world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2.16). I dare say the preceding list can proceed from only one source: pure, unadulterated pride. Hmmm.

And so, may we all hear again the words of our Lord and Savior. May we hear them like never before. May we write them on our heart. May they cause us to become thoroughly disgusted with our speech. May they cause us to change our perception of others and go on to change in every way; to repent. May our speech be brought to complete submission to our Lord. To his glory and praise. For it is our Lord who speaks pointedly to us still when he says:

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5.21-22, The Message)

on tagging & stereotyping

 

American-RiflemanThough I’m no longer a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), I have been in years gone by. I have a number of family and friends who are members. It’s not at all unusual for me to engage in conversation with them about the NRA and any and all things gun-related. I’ve read or perused nearly every issue of one of the NRA’s chief publications (American Rifleman) over the course of the past forty years. I have read reams of other literature the NRA has published. I visit their website. I take careful note of anything said about them when I notice their appearance in the news.

I say all of that to say this: I know and understand something of the mind of the NRA and I know and understand something of its membership. And I also know that not every NRA member sees things as the NRA’s current president, Wayne LaPierre, sees things. What the NRA declares as gospel, by no means would all of its members subscribe to in faith and practice. That is, while the NRA may say one thing, some of its members would do another. In many of those cases I would say, “That’s a good thing.”

And that’s one of the reasons it really bothers me when I hear or see sweeping assumptions and generalizing statements made about the NRA. “NRA people think …” “I’ve heard it said that if you’re a member of the NRA you do [or don’t] …” “Only _____ are members of the NRA.” Such remarks don’t merely bother me, but also, and especially, members of the NRA who don’t subscribe to everything the NRA publishes.

Would it not then be much more accurate and respectful to say otherwise, perhaps something like the following: “I understand some members of the NRA think …” “I’ve heard it said that if you’re a member of the NRA you might do [or don’t] …” “Some members of the NRA appear to be …”

To some this might seem like a small or subtle difference, an even trivial or unimportant difference in wording, but I beg to differ. I perceive it to be huge and obvious, vital and crucial. And for one reason, if nothing else: no one should be misunderstood or falsely accused.

I am a Christian. I’ve been a member of Churches of Christ for the past thirty-six years. I’ve preached virtually every week within Churches of Christ for the past thirty-three years. I hold a graduate degree from a university associated with Churches of Christ (Abilene Christian University). I have written for half-a-dozen of publications within Churches of Christ. When I notice a Church of Christ appearing in the national news (as one did last week in the New York Times), I take note of it.

I say that to say this: I know and understand something of the mind of Christ, Christians, and Churches of Christ. And so I know that not all members of Churches of Christ believe or practice their faith the same way. By no means “all; as in, “not even close.” And sometimes – often – that’s a very good thing indeed.

And so, I cringe a bit whenever I hear someone say: “You Church of Christ people believe …” “Church of Christ people all think …” People who belong to Churches of Christ are …” And why do I cringe? Because I know we don’t all see everything alike and to pretend everything on the canvas is all one color is to miss the painting entirely.

Consequently, whenever I hear or see someone make statements like those, I know they’re likely being made by someone who either doesn’t have much personal knowledge of Churches of Christ and/or they’re just not thinking about what they’re saying at the moment. Either of which only perpetuates mass ignorance and feeds misunderstanding from misrepresentation, neither of which I care to be a part of at all.

And so I say, let’s each make an extra effort to not label or pigeon-hole people whenever we speak of groups of people. We best respect groups of people when we respect the individuals who compose those groups. After all, our salvation is not of the NRA, Churches of Christ, or any other group of people. Rather, we all stand or fall before the one God and Father of us all, through the one Savior and Lord he has provided for each of us, Jesus Christ.