Loose Lips

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
[Psalm 141:3]

John Gruden

Of all the newsworthy events in sports this past week, the one that drew perhaps the most attention was the resignation(?) of Las Vegas Raiders head coach John Gruden over a series of emails that he sent in which he used racist, misogynistic, and homophobic language in reference to people in the professional football industry.

You can’t pick up a sports page or watch a sportscast without reading or hearing the details and the ensuing debate which ultimately led to his demise. My purpose here is not to rehash all the controversy, but to dwell on the cautionary lesson it should point out to us – don’t write or say things you may later come to regret.

That email, or Facebook post, or tweet sent in anger or frustration may come back to bite us.

In the past year alone several well-known personalities have paid the price for comments that they thought were only being read or heard by the person to whom they were addressed, but somehow the word got out and once the remarks became public, their careers became a car wreck.

Ask Rachel Nichols, formerly of ESPN; or Mike Richards, the heir apparent to the iconic Alex Trebek as host of Jeopardy, until he wasn’t.

But these disasters aren’t limited to public figures. We’ve all been there.

Social media makes it all too easy to criticize and vilify those with whom we disagree. Everyone – Yes, even me! (Shocking, I know!) – has said or written things that we wish we could take back.

The consequences of our indiscretions may not be as costly to our careers, but that’s not what matters most in any of these situations.

What often goes unnoticed is the other half of the equation, the people who are the object of our disdain or ridicule.

Something or someone upsets us, so we fire off an angry response without regard for the damage or the hurt that may result.

It doesn’t even have to be in anger. We could think we’re being clever, or witty, or just having fun.

Over these past several months, as we slog through this pandemic, our nerves are frayed. We have not adjusted well to the change in lifestyle. Many of us feel we have to take it out on someone. And others may feel they have to take things out on us.

What we fail to keep in mind is that we’re not talking about inanimate objects, but other human beings. Humans created and loved by God, with feelings and sensitivities just like us. If our feelings are left unchecked, they become even deeper seated in our psyche, which could lead to greater harm or transgressions.

Scripture warns us repeatedly about the use of the tongue or the lips. In Psalms and Proverbs alone, the two major books in wisdom literature, one can find more than fifty references. I began this reflection with my favorite, but there’s no shortage of others. I could keep you reading for the next hour if I were to list them all. Here is but one example:  

Keep your tongue from evil,
   and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
[Psalm 34:13-14]

The letter of James in the New Testament devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 3) to the taming of the tongue.

Then there is the stern advice that we hear from Jesus, who counsels us in the seventh chapter of Mark:

It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

I have a little aphorism that I’ve adopted as my guiding principle of correspondence. I can’t recall whether I’ve blogged about it previously, although I know I’ve posted it on my social media platforms. It is the word, “THINK.”

THINK is an acronym for the following guidelines.

Before you speak, or post, ask yourself:

Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?

Sit on that email or tweet for a while before you hit send. Time has a calming effect on even our worst cases of exasperation. In all likelihood, you may come to realize there’s no need to send that message at all.

We’re all going to stumble at one time or another. But even if you feel you must express your feelings of outrage in the most intense terms, find an empty field, or a room, or some location where you can scream, or vent to high heaven, without anyone else present to listen, or to record, or read what is going on in your heart.

You’ll feel better. I can almost guarantee it. And best of all, no other humans will be harmed.

You’ll note a different format look to my post. I switched themes without taking into account that my old one had been retired by WordPress and I couldn’t go back. In the process, I’ve lost some data from my Home Page. I’m working on getting this new format adjusted to my liking, so there may be some glitches along the way. Please bear with me.

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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