Uh, Rude!

  

Holding up traffic rather than moving to the right…

Carrying on a lengthy conversation in the middle of a busy grocery aisle…

Taking up the entire sidewalk/hallway/staircase and forcing others to squeeze past…

Rude. 

Being overly loud in shared spaces…

Leaving messes for others to clean up…

Ignoring people who are speaking to you…

Rude. 

Making catty remarks about other people’s hair, clothes, tattoos, piercings,whatever…

Criticizing or–yikes–altering other people’s creative efforts…

Withholding gratitude to those who serve or assist you…

Rude. 

Presuming your way is the HIGH way, not hearing people out, refusing reasonable requests, disdaining the work of others, obfuscating the truth, holding grudges, behaving childishly, demanding compliance, expecting undue favor or regard, refusing to compromise/concede/reconcile/admit fault, digging at specks you can barely see past that big ‘ole log…

Rude. Rude. Rude. 

Rude, from the Latin meaning “unwrought,” as in “not in a finished condition.” Also from the Old French meaning “broken stone”…think sharp rock. Ever step on a sharp rock? OUCH! The way it just digs into those tender spots! The nerves in your feet will not soon forget that offense, just as your nerves may still jangle at the memory of being treated rudely. Some digs just stick with you. 

Newsflash: I don’t like rude people of any kind–overt, passive-aggressive, who-me-blinking-eyed-innocent, lie-run-point-the-finger-when-called-out. They all set my teeth on edge. But then no one likes rude people, unless maybe it’s other rude people, but I’m not sure how that works… 

Anyway, I am sure of one thing that I like even less than rude people–knowing that I have been rude to others, that I have been a dig in their heels (or hearts), a thorn in their sides, a bad taste in their mouths. Ouch. God bless the ones who’ve had the guts to confront me, to give me the opportunity to repent. God help the ones who’ve carried the anger and pain as far away from me as possible.***

And God challenge us–all of us–to see ourselves as clearly as He does and to hold ourselves as accountable as we’d ever hold our rudest acquaintance. Because there are enough jerks in the world, Church. We ought to be ashamed of being in league with them. 

And I know to some of you that sounds rude, but that was no broken stone that hit a nerve. That was a smooth one that found its mark. We must learn the difference between a rude confrontation and a loving one. Now. Today. For Christ’s sake…literally. 

Here’s a start:
  ‭

That’s the word, and I’m a witness. 

***If I’ve ever offended you and you still struggle with feelings of disgust or rage or just general annoyance, let’s talk. 

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WTH?!

 In case you’ve missed the headlines, cursing is more in vogue than ever. Lots of people, including Christians (and, er, a certain politician favored by some of the evangelical bunch) are becoming more comfortable with using crude terms in public. 

For the record, I have no stones to throw.

For those less open to the practice, acronyms have become a way of cursing without being offensive. By cramming our crude, angry outbursts into these cryptic forms, we eliminate overt vulgarity in favor of implied vulgarity. Does that make it less vile? Maybe not. But that’s not exactly what I want to talk about.  

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find the admonition to “let no unclean communication” come out of our mouths but to only say “that which is helpful in building others up, so it may edify the body.” This text is often cited in reference to gratuitous cursing, but it is much, much more significant than that. That’s what I want to talk about. 

Whether we spell it out, use its initials, or convey it with a certain tone, there are all kinds of ways to play dirty with words. 

The word for unclean in the excerpt from Ephesians is the Greek term sapros; it is often translated “corrupt” and more specifically means “putrid, rotten, worn out, of poor quality, and worthless.” (Sounds like a lot of stuff on the Internet…amiright?)

While there’s no doubt that definition applies to so-called foul language, it also applies to everyday language that has become fair game even for the church crowd, things like gossip, flattery, lies, slander, derision, bitterness, fault-finding, and a host of other types of speech that are designed to steal, kill, and destroy our effectiveness against all kinds of bad stuff. 

Fair is foul, foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air…


Wait, what? 

I mean, the culture has come a long way since the sticks and stones and all that words-don’t-hurt nonsense, but the idea that our own words can make us weak and worthless in the trenches of life’s battles is a little hard to swallow, no? 

No.  

What I say can surely strip me of power at a time I need it the most. And it sounds something like this…

I teach high school English. Many of my young students have very little appreciation for the nuances of modern grammar, the dynamism of the written word, the universality of the human condition as evident in story-telling. But they have words. Lots of them. Their gift of speech is often spent on carnal things: criticizing, complaining, mocking, bullying. In these instances, shallowness and self-centeredness drive their desire to make the classroom atmosphere, shall we say, more compatible with their preferences. They gleefully use their words to fire things up a bit. 

Pew, pew. Man down. 


Fortunately, I am not without the resources I need to end the carnage, only my weapons aren’t carnal but are, according to one expert, mighty. 

So what do I do when classroom shenanigans become real WTH moments, as in WTH is wrong with these kids?! 

Well, I can try the traditional approach: enraged ranting followed by threats to force-read them Moby Dick. Such lunacy may work for a moment, but in the long run it’s pedagogical suicide. People who already know and respect who’s in charge may occasionally need a loud wake up call, but frantic freaking-out is a weapon that always misfires. (And reading Moby Dick aloud is punishment for me. Sorry, Melville.) 

Frustration with people who won’t listen and learn is a given. Even Jesus acknowledged it. But fouling up our power source–the tongue–with poorly-chosen, putrid words is just dumb, as in not smart but also as in hit-the-mute-button-on-this-nutcase. 

Pew, pew! Teacher down! 


Of course, I can always WTH my way into a teacher’s lounge and practice my default response to aggravation: I can complain bitterly to whoever will listen until my voice is hoarse and their ears are cauliflower-ed. By the time I run out of expletives, I’ll have stirred up the hornets’ nest of ugly feelings that seems to lurk right below the surface of my shallow gratitude. 

Complaining about annoyances is just another way of saying I have no interest in being a blessing to people who barely know their left hand from their right. Once I retreat to the unforgiving landscape of my self-righteousness–because, naturally, I’ve never fled to Tarshish when I was supposed to go to Ninevah–I’m stuck trying to find some comfort in the shade I threw, only to have the worm of my discontent chew it up and spit it out at me until all I have to show for my indignation is whale puke and a hot head. (Makes Moby Dick sound positively delightful, doesn’t it?) 

Phew, phew, peeee-ew. Definitely down.
 

Or I can do this. I can remind myself exactly WTH has gotten into people and determine to love the H out of them. I can choose my words carefully, especially when I deliver correction. I can be a presence, not a threat, to those who need extra, uh, attention. I can offer help to those who are struggling. I can encourage those who are doing well. I can teach my young friends how to use their words. I can exercise the authority that humility and wisdom entitle me to. 

I can do those things. And sometimes I do. But sometimes I just want people to leave me the H alone. Sometimes, I try–and fail–to beat the H out of people with my vocabulary because I’m H-bent to win some verbal battle even though that’s not anywhere in the overcome-the-world clause of my commitment. 

WTH?

Exactly. WTH gets into me. WTH is wrong with me. And it’s probably wrong with you too. So what in God’s name do we do about it? 

We have to acknowledge that the “…tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing….this should not be.” ‭‭(James‬ ‭3:6,10‬)

Then we have to get the H out of there, as in, rid ourselves of “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language….” (Colossians 3:8) so that what comes out of our mouths isn’t a load of rot. 

I guess the takeaway here is if we won’t say something helpful, at least we can shut the H up. After all, even a fool is considered wise when he keeps his mouth shut…

And we allllll down! 



That’s the Word, and I’m a witness. 

Sorry, not Sorry

You’ve seen it: the snarky post, the blistering meme, the sarcastic tweet followed by the hashtag #sorrynotsorry.

#cutenotcute

Have you ever been really, really hurt by someone who is genuinely contrite and makes all kinds of promises to “never do it again” only to do it again? Sorry. Not sorry.

And you…Ever felt terrible about something you did only to get over it and, oops, mess up once more? Sorry…uh, not sorry.

Let’s face it: Most of us are good at moments of regret or remorse but bad at, ahem, repentance.

I know. I just slung the biblical dung (as in fertilizer, not excrement, though that’s kind of how folks respond to it…) there, didn’t I?

Yeah. We mess up. We see how badly it hurts somebody. We get sad. We apologize. We lay low for awhile.

Maybe while we’re down in the dumps of our guilt, we convince ourselves we couldn’t help messing up, we had a good reason for it, that it wasn’t as bad as what some other person did, or it was all someone else’s fault anyway. We feel better; we feel justified. We’re all ready to move from sorry to not (very) sorry.

Maybe we even take it one step further and blame our victim. If you hadn’t… If you weren’t… Or (the one that frankly makes me want to punch people in the throat #sorrynotsorry) we play the victim: Can’t-you-see-how-bad-I-feel-for-hurting-you?

Um…huh. Maybe when the searing pain stops and the blood is mopped up and the glass of my shattered confidence is picked from my open wounds I’LL HAVE THE STRENGTH TO SYMPATHIZE! For now, not so much. Sorry…

 
This all reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, there was a guy named Judas who became…disappointed in? disgusted with? determined to manipulate? (you pick; I don’t know) a Man who was really a King who was actually the Son of God. Since he knew some religious, law-loving guys who hated the man, Jesus, and since they were some of the most powerful guys in town thanks to an inherited privilege provided to them under a humble leader and slave liberator, Moses, a friend of the God whose son was being pursued by these haters (#irony), he took the money these religious law-lovers bribed him with and ran with those coins jingling-jangling in his pouch and kissed Jesus on his sweaty, tear-stained cheek so the religious law-lovers would know which friend of sinners/Author of the Law/breaker of bondages/Savior of the world to turn over to their “godless, lawless” oppressors (#andtheironykeepscoming) for torture and crucifixion. Sorry–It’s a really sad story.

But that isn’t the sad part. This is.

Sometime between betraying Jesus to the chief priests and elders and Jesus breathing his last breath for a few days, Judas had an epiphany: He was “seized with remorse [some versions read ‘he repented’] and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.'” The religious guys basically said “not our problem” so our money-lover-turned-betrayer-turned-sick-with-regret Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver at their feet and threw himself into his despair (Matthew 27:3-5).

And I cry every time I read about it. Because I want it to have a happy ending, but it doesn’t. Some stories just don’t. Even stories where you see people “repentant” and attempting to undo their actions. It’s not because some actions are permanent. That’s a given. An abused child will never be un-abused.There are no do-overs for childhoods colored by turmoil and trauma. A rape can’t be taken back. An alcohol-related crash won’t rewind, the victims won’t suddenly live again if the drunk has enough remorse. Adultery leaves a permanent mark on the heart of a spouse. A bit of delicious gossip is a bitter gall in the mouth of the exposed.

And Jesus wasn’t going to be pulled off that cross and restored to his mother, his apostles, his people just because Judas felt bad that he helped put him up there. (#weallhelped #blogforanotherday)

No, that’s not the issue. It’s not the permanence of our actions but the impermanence of our remorse that destroys  our lives and the lives of others. The wronged child, the rape victim, the surviving loved ones, the wounded spouse, the slandered neighbor cannot be “fixed,” but they can be healed, restored, renewed even as those who harmed them can be. It is not magic. It is hard work. And the results are nothing short of miraculous.

So Judas felt bad. Really, really bad. And he confessed. And he returned the money. And isn’t that what he was/we are supposed to do? Isn’t that what repentance looks like?

#sorrynotquite


Yes, Judas was remorseful. The Greek word for how remorseful is metamellomai, which means “to regret” and is the first step toward true repentance. True repentance is indicated by the Greek word metanoia, which means “a change in one’s way of life” as a result of remorse. Judas changed his mind, but he did not endure his sin (another of those icky, biblical terms) long enough to change his life.

 
Judas’s remorse, his sorrow couldn’t save him any more than it could save his victim because it is “Godly sorrow [that] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret; worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).  And once convicted (gah! I just keep throwing those holy roller words around, don’t I?) of our wrongdoing, we are to “produce [there’s that hard work I was talking about] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

 

In other words, there are two kinds of “sorry”: the temporary, emotionally-charged kind full of if-onlys and I-wishes and oh-woe-is-mes and the permanent, life-altering, never-again, how-can-I-resolve-this kind ready to take its licks and keep on ticking. One beats its breast in private penance; the other bares its breast in true repentance.

 
Here’s what Judas missed out on, the thing that makes his story such a tragic one: “…This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance (metanoia) for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”  (Luke‬ ‭24:46-47).

 
Judas let regret destroy what repentance could have redeemed. Not the ending I hoped for. Please don’t let it be yours.

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.