How to Stop Shooting Off Your Mouth

“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (King James Version of Proverbs 10:19)
“The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.”
(The Message, Proverbs 10:19)
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
(English Standard Version of Proverbs 10:19)

Sitting in a public spot early this morning I had a few extra moments before getting out to drive the school bus (yeah, that is 1 of the 4 or 5 jobs I have).  I try to redeem the time when waiting and for me the best way to do that is to read.  I broke out my phone and opened my pocket Bible app which if you don’t have one I suggest Laridian, I’ve used it for years and its cool.  But I couldn’t read it.  I read the same line 5-6 times and still could not get it going.  The problem?  The morning coffee klatch that is always going on in this place.  Same three people.  Same volume of words.  Words, words, words, words.  A flood of words.  Not especially loud and certainly not offensive in nature; just a multitude of words that washed over me drowning out all coherent thought.  I considered moving to another part of the lobby, but realized it was not far enough away.  You know how it feels when you weren’t paying attention to some sound but your mind gets locked in somehow and you can’t help hearing it?  The dripping faucet in the night.  The irregular banging of a hammer on the construction site near work.  But to me there is nothing so distracting as an endless drone of words.

I’ve quoted the verse from Proverbs about this so much over the years it immediately came to mind this morning.  A bunch of words means a bunch of room for error.  The more we talk the more we open ourselves up to saying something we should not say.  Words are 1375738928_free-speech-words-are-weaponsweapons.  Some are so sharp just a touch opens up a serious wound.  Others are barbed fish hooks.  Once they puncture a hearer they will not come back out easily. There are double-edged words that cut both speaker and hearer, and cudgel words that smash people.  And some words are quicksand pulling us in and choking out all air and light.

I have a conceal carry permit for a gun, although I rarely carry.  In fact I’ve only carried my .38 revolver once, and even when I did I kept the rounds in one pocket and the gun in another (gun enthusiasts please don’t write and tell me how stupid I am).  I did it because I am very aware of the damage I can do with a gun and I was being extra cautious.  The first time carrying a gun in public I was more comfortable knowing there was an extra step between me and using it.  I am no where as cautious with my words in public or in private.  I generally shoot first and ask questions later.  I make a lot of mistakes.  It has taken me years to slow down the words I use with my friends, my coworkers, my kids, my wife.  I swear it feels like a balloon blowing up inside my chest sometimes when I want to spew words back out over a person.  I can hardly keep it in.  But I’ve learned to do better.

How about you?  How careful are you with the words you let out of your mouth?  Try an experiment the next time you are with a few people.  See if you can just listen.  See if you MUST speak.  Don’t be rude.  Answer any questions directed your way, but attempt to throw the talking back to someone else and try to steer away from giving your opinion, your achievement, your advice, your feelings.  Just. Listen.  Warning:  this is very hard.  Another exercise:  when you are with a group of people and engaging in conversation, do not Words_as_Weapons_by_dickie0speak about a person who is not present unless you would say the same exact thing in their presence.  Do not contribute to a conversation that tears down another person with jagged edge words.  Warning:  you may not think this is hard, but if you really are keeping away from talking about others in a disparaging way, you will notice at first you don’t have much to talk about.  No kidding.  The first time I did this I was shocked at how much my words are devoted to dismantling other human beings.

Once you get a feel for using fewer words and for using less damaging words, you will agree with the Proverb.  You will see how hard it is to control your words and how many opportunities there are to do damage with them.  All your relationships will benefit from cutting down on your words and practicing restraint with the words you do use.  You know what I think when I see someone who can’t stop talking?  Who floods the phone or the lobby with words?  I think they must not be heard.  No one is listening to them, or that is their self perception.  When I hear a person who uses weaponized words I think this person must be trying to get higher by making others lower.  I can tell both of them the truth in a few words.  The truth is that they (we) have the ear of God.  God listens.  Your boss may not hear you or your teenager may ignore you, or your spouse may talk over you, but you are heard by God.  Let that sink into your heart and the urgency to make people hear you will diminish.  It will give you peace.  Your heart is heard and understood by the most important being in the cosmos.  The truth is also that God makes much of us.  He elevates us.  You could tear down all the people in the world and never get a higher reputation.  You could shrink down every person who ever lived and not get the place God gives to you.  That will put out the fire in your heart and words.  It will make you reconsider just what you hope to gain by ripping and tearing at people when it gets you no where compared to where God takes you.  And it will humble you to see that God uses good words about you; “son,” “daughter,” “faithful,” “beloved.”  This is our power to use fewer, better words; God’s ear and God’s opinion both revealed in Jesus.  And this power over words is the power to change more than just our patterns of speech, it is the power to change our marriages, our communities and our world.

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Words and Metallica and Jesus

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.
(Prov 27:14)

shoutingFor the record: I am very glad for the folks who get up early in the morning to instruct my spinning classes and boot camp classes and tabata classes at the Y.  It takes a lot of energy to get up and be in front of people; mostly half-awake grumpy people at that.  And I appreciate that there is no one brand of work out music that suits everyone.  Some like it hot and some like it light and pop and some like a little hair band action.

Personally, I have eclectic tastes in music.  At 9, 10 or 11am or at 1, 2, or 3pm you could find me twanging or rocking or rapping, or even head bangin’.  But at 5am…at 5am I’m not ready for some things.  For instance, I can sit down to watch Zombieland in the evening and totally rock out to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” during the opening sequence, but it makes me want to break things and say bad things when its playing during boot camp warm up the next morning.  Really.

Words are not always appropriate.  True words.  Blessing words.  Lyrical words.  There are words and then there is context and they go together.  The apostle Paul wrote that we are to “speak the truth in love” to each other and that would help us to grow up.  We get that right?  Someone who tells us our haircut looks stupid with a huge sneer on their face is like Metallica at 5am; not helpful or welcome.  But someone who says the exact same thing with genuine concern for the way we look, is like music to our ears.  Its in rhythm.  It helps us get better; to grow up.  I admit I am not always saying my words to help someone find the beat.  Often I am just dishing out a beating.  I don’t want to be that way, though.  I want to get the right words in the right context.  This is why I try to say this prayer every day:  Jesus you are welcome here.  In all my life you are welcome.  In my going and in my thinking and in my feeling and in my saying.  You are welcome here.  To me, when I do this I am inviting the right context into my life.  I am inviting Love himself into my life.  His presence is love and loving words can find their proper place in me through him.

What the World Needs Now

“Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:21-26)

There is no shortage of geniuses these days.  We have so many people who are so smart about so much that we have to have 24/7 cable television to keep up with the flow of “expert” commentary.  And, no doubt, we need experts.  We need genius.  We need people dedicating their lives to knowing all about medicine, and economics, and ecology, and science.  Thank God for them.  What we are sorely in need of, however, is impartial opinion.  We need objective expertise.  We need unbiased genius.  And it is no easy task to find it.  Genius? Yes – coming out of our ears.  Objective truth?  Fearless expertise?  You won’t find it on cable, or in classrooms.

Jesus was so astonishing not because he was a genius; Solomon beat him to that title by a thousand years. Jesus astonished because he was an unbiased genius.  No one ever found a way to get leverage on him.  No one ever co-opted him for their political cause.  No one put the fear of God in him to make him shade an opinion.  He already had the fear of God in him.  Everything he said and did was because of his absolute awareness of God as the primary reference point in all matters.  That is what fear is: the thing that grasps our attention and bends our thoughts and actions around it.  The little exercise of the Roman coin and the taxes is an example of Jesus’s genius, not simply because he could out think a few lawyers, but because he had only one basis for answering any question.  He didn’t need to do political or economic or relational calculations in his head.  He stood on the unshakeable ground of knowing God fully and trusting Him utterly and spoke objective truth.  What the world needs now is more astonishing truth, not merely more shocking opinions.denarius of Tiberius

How to Be Moved

resonate (‘rezu`neyt)
from Latin [re – again, sonare – to sound]ripples

Years ago my office was in West Ghent.   It was on a street dividing the industrial part of the borough from the residential part.  There was a lot of traffic.  Big trucks making deliveries to the shipyard or coming from the coal piers.  One day a truck sat idling near my front door.  I didn’t notice it immediately, but the awareness of it’s presence emerged into my consciousness.  It’s dull rumble stirred the surface of my coffee.  I felt the sound in my chest.  It was not unpleasant.  A deep and steady bass.  I resonated.  The truck’s movement was partially my own movement.   I was not touching the truck, but the truck was touching me. 

We are made to resonate when God speaks, and He is always speaking.  God’s voice is a deep steady bass line.  Sometimes it stirs things around us and touches them before it touches us.  If you haven’t heard Him yet, the best way is to be still.  Stop your own movement so that you can be moved.  He has something to say to you.  He isn’t playing hide and come seek with you.  He split time open to make the way to your chest; to make the way for you to resonate with His words.  He is saying something simple.  He is saying He loves you.  That’s it.  He is confident in this one message.  The power in it, the resonance of it.  A child just out of the womb has no mental capacity to comprehend words and yet he is stilled by the sound of his mother.  He was formed together with her.  He was connected to her.  He knows what cannot be known, but can only be felt.  She says ‘I love you.’  He resonates.  We were formed together with God, but  we are born disconnected.  Nevertheless, He is saying ‘I love you.’  It is beyond all knowledge, but you and I resonate.  If you quit holding onto your life so hard and ease your grip you’d start to move naturally toward His voice.  You can be touched by God.  He made you that way.  Let yourself feel the love of God.

Irving Berlin and Empty Fulness

A friend asked me if I was worried about writing so much.  “Are you scared you might run out of ideas?”  I see his point.  Every writer fears the block.  Irving Berlin, after a lifetime of success was quoted as saying:  “Talent is only a starting point in business. You’ve got to keep working that talent. Someday I’ll reach for it and it won’t be there.”  Here is a man who produced more successful work than a reasonable person would even dream about, yet he still feared it would run out.  If we write from ourselves and about the world this is a valid fear.  The Christian isn’t running on empty though.  A Christian runs from fulness toward fulness.  A Christian isn’t their own source.  In fact, the more a Christian empties themselves, the more room there is for Christ to work; for Life to produce more life.irving-berlin-corbis-660-80

Phil Collins, Gilligan’s Island & Revelation

images

I get songs caught in my head.  When I was a kid it was the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, as a teenager, In The Air Tonight, by Phil Collins.  But sometimes I couldn’t get the lyrics right.  I know this is shocking nowadays when every song is available any time, but there was a time when you got it on the first run on the radio or view on TV and had to wait until you caught it again, or actually went to a store and bought a whole album even if you only liked one song.  In The AIr particularly stumped me.  “I can feel it comin’ in the ed-doo-nite???”  I’m embarrassed to say I made up nonsense words for years.  The obvious clue never got my attention (the title of the song…yeah I’m not swift).  Gilligan was the same.  At the send off theme played after an episode a stanza says “They’ll have to make the best of things…its enough to cry???”  At least I made up real words for that one.images (1)

I can’t tell you how many times I heard those songs before I got the words.  Many, many times.  Then one time I heard them differently somehow.  “I can feel it comin’ in the air tonight, oh Lord.” Yes!!!!  That’s it!  “They’ll have to make the best of things, its an uphill climb.” Yeah!  And once I got it I got it.  I sang differently.  I sang the songs with my whole voice and even with my whole heart.  This is how revelation works.  We hear and hear and hear and then one day we Hear.  We get it.  The words didn’t change, we did.  And once we change the words make sense.  We enter into them in new ways with new enthusiasm.  We can even share them with others because now they belong to us wholly.  Keep listening and keep asking for revelation.  In the meantime, sing and share what you have.  We can be sure of this; the gospel story proves that God is not holding back lyrics that we need right now to sing full songs, and he is willing to share all his lyrics with us.