slip of the tongue?

Is it just me, or is the use of language becoming more slippery and less honest? Maybe it’s rose-tinted nostalgia glasses but It seems to me that it was not so long ago that people spoke more plainly and honestly. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

There’s a word that seems to have crept into regular use by politicians. It is used to try to deflect allegations or inferences of lying or getting something wrong: “I misspoke.” It’s as if the words accidentally tumbled out of their mouth without them being in control of them.

On other occasions when someone being interviewed does not want to answer a question they answer a different one they prefer, despite any attempts by the interviewer to get them to answer their question (perhaps best exemplified by when Jeremy Paxman asked the same question 12 times to an intractable Michael Howard in 1997).

Newspaper articles, blogs and social media posts put their own editorial bias on events and report them either favourably or unfavourably depending on that bias (look at how different newspapers referred to the Brexit campaigns if you doubt me).

The recent debate between the US Presidential Candidates was, at times, a shouting match where each candidate spoke over the other one to make their point and refused to listen.

Of course Christians would never be like that. Would we? Really? Not in church meetings (misvote?), leadership team meetings (misserve?), sermons (mispreach?), talking about someone with another person (misshare?), emails (mistype?), a social media platform (mispost?)…

Jesus had some very tough things to say about what we say and how we say it, recorded in Matthew 12: “33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’”

James takes this theme even further in his open letter – James 3:1-12. Here are the last 3 verses: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Words can be weapons of mass distraction and mass destruction and they can be as healing as medicine and surgery and as affirming as a hug. The clear message from Jesus and James is that what we say reveals what’s going on under the surface. We need to show integrity in how we speak (written or verbal). Integrity means: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” and “the state of being whole and undivided.” Hmmmm.

Let’s pray Psalm 19:14 – “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

you say tomarto…

I had a giggle this morning when an interview went a bit wrong. Chris Evans (BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show) was interviewing the American author of a Txt Dictionary and decided to ask her what something meant. I will transliterate so it makes sense. The phrase he asked about began ‘two bee zed…’ (2BZ)

This rather flummoxed the poor lady on the other end of the phone and on the other side of the Atlantic. It was only after an uncomfortable pause while she tried to work out what was being said that one of the team on the Breakfast Show realised the problem. What Chris should have said was ‘two bee zee…’ ie ‘too busy’.

The confusion was comical.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Washington DC and a friend had taken me out for brunch after church (what a wonderful idea!). I was amazed at the range of breakfast / lunch items available in the restaurant and decided to sample lots of them. There were breakfast cereals, different types of bread, cold meat, hot buffet, and a counter where they were making fresh omelettes.

Red Ripe TomatoesI went up to the counter and the young lady behind the counter politely asked me what I would like in my omelette. I replied, “Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.” The young lady looked at me quizzically.

“Pardon me?”

“Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.”

She still looked blank. At that moment I realised that there was a problem with my pronunciation. I was saying ‘tomarto’ not ‘tomayto’. I tried ‘tomayto’ and she smiled knowingly. Then she said, “Say it again.”

“Tomarto.”

She called her colleagues over. “Say it again.”

“Tomarto.”

Eventually it felt like the whole restaurant was listening to me saying ‘tomarto’.

My friend remarked that if an average English preacher* came to the USA as a pastor they would fill their church each week because people would come just to listen to the accent!

The problem was that I didn’t think I had an English accent. I spoke normally. I was used to the way I spoke and did not think it to be out of the ordinary at all.

How often do we do that in other ways? We become comfortable with and used to our own mannerisms, language, attitudes and so on and consider them to be normal. But to someone else we might appear to be abrasive, flippant, unpleasant, rude or uncaring.

It is important for us to try to be aware of how we come across to others and how what we feel is ‘normal’ might be received differently by others. And we also need to be cautious about the way we receive communication from others. We might receive something far more negatively or of little importance to that person when they have communicated in a way that they consider to be normal. When I was at school I was constantly told not to worry – but that was just my face: apparently I looked worried when I wasn’t.

When we read the Bible I think we need to be aware of those issues too. We have words to read, but we read them through our own cultural lenses and experiences. In our mind we might make Jesus look and sound like us. We might apply 21st Century concepts to 1st Century culture and misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the things I think we miss if we do that is Jesus’ sense of humour. That’s one of my passions, but that’s for another time.

For now, be blessed and be a blessing!

*I might one day be good enough to be average!

words

a long time ago in Croatia…

Warm air has been flowing up and over cold air and the water vapour from the warm air has super-cooled to form tiny ice particles, which have been precipitated across our part of the country.

It has snowed.

This morning my wife and I coordinated 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles, particularly the orbicularis oris muscles, and applied our lips together in an embrace to signify our affection at a moment of separation.

We kissed goodbye.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can say the same thing in different ways. In both cases above both statements are correct (I think) but they tell us different things.

We use language differently on different occasions. You may want to communicate a technical description of snowfall or a kiss. Or you may simply want to state what happened without the technical specifications.

We sometimes commend people for ‘calling a spade a spade’ (as opposed to a hand-held manual soil redistribution implement). Sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes we need to be a little bit more circumspect. We need to be gentle with our words. We might sometimes withhold a piece of information because we know it will upset someone, or we might explain a situation with a lot more words than usual because we want someone to understand all the circumstances rather than the plain facts.

‘I punched him in the stomach’ may be factually correct. But if we knew that the circumstances were that the ‘victim’ was choking on something and by punching them in the stomach we dislodged the obstruction it takes on a very different complexion. (Yes, I know the Heimlich manoeuvre is recommended in those circumstances).

When I look at Jesus he was fairly straight talking. Especially when he wanted people to understand the truth that was contrary to their previously-held assumptions. Or if he was correcting the abuses of the religious elite (Ministers and Vicars should always be especially wary). But he also demonstrated compassion.

I hear a gentle tone in his voice as he corrects Martha when she had a go at her sister for not helping her with getting the meal ready.

I hear compassion as he is reinstating Peter after breakfast on the beach.

I sense incredible gentleness as he asks John to take care of his mother, even as Jesus is dying on the cross.

As followers of Jesus and free samples of him to others, let’s try to ensure that we don’t only speak truthfully, but that we also speak lovingly. And I reckon if there is any conflict between the two, love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Apparently women think dogs are better than men:

Dogs don’t have problems expressing affection in public.
Dogs miss you when you are gone.
Dogs are very direct about wanting to go out. 
Dogs mean it when they kiss you. 
When dogs play “fetch”, they don’t laugh at how you throw.
Dogs understand if some of their friends aren’t allowed to come inside.

You can train a dog.