About a week ago, Sunday, while at lunch with Charlissta and her spouse, Matissta sharply scolded Flannista for uttering a sentence that dropped the f-bomb three times. "Flann," Matiss said, "watch your mouth. Show some respect." Her rebuke may have been building for some time because Flann's mouth of late had veered decidedly toward the profane.
I found myself convicted of my lazy language yesterday after beginning a book called Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers by Eugene Peterson (and I'm only on page 9). In his introduction, Peterson writes that while the Gospels capture much of what Jesus preached and taught, they mostly capture his conversations. Therefore, Peterson, believes:
There is no "Holy Ghost" language used for matters of God and salvation and then a separate secular language for buying cabbages and cars. "Give us this day our daily bread" and "pass the potatoes" come out of the same language pool.
I want to attend to the words we listen to and speak as we go about the ordinary affairs of work and family, friends and neighbors and provide them with an equivalent dignity alongside the language that we commonly associate with the so-called "things of God."
The title of his book is taken from a beautiful Emily Dickinson poem:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise;
As Lightning to the Children eased
With Explanation kind,
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --
I was also convicted by this line in Dickinson's poem: "The Truth must dazzle gradually". Potty mouth aside, I tend to hit folks upside the head with what I believe is truth. Writes Peterson:
There are many occasions when the imperious or blunt approach honors neither our God nor our neighbor. Unlike raw facts, truth, especially, personal truth, requires the the cultivation of unhurried intimacies.
Read those words again: "requires the cultivation of unhurried intimacies". So lovely.
Here's to a New Year of speaking more thoughtfully and kindly, perhaps following the lead of a First Century preacher, teacher -- and friend and neighbor to many -- who never wrote one word, at least not a word that was ever preserved. Jesus only spoke -- gradually, with dazzlement and profound respect.