From the editor: September 5, 2014

Words, words, words...

True Grit & Truth

Have you ever tasted grit in a salad? Not nice!

Many of you experienced something like that when you opened last Friday's email and read the gobbledygook at the beginning of my column. I apologize. I am not sure how that happened.

Many wrote me, concerned about my mistake, suggesting I correct it and resend it. Why? Wasn't the rest of the message clear? Yes, but we are all sensitive to flaws, even small typos and errors in what we read. (Unfortunately, I was traveling after I sent my message and was not aware of the error until the following day.)

What is it about both the written and the spoken word that renders mistakes and errors noticeable and even irritating? Like grit in a salad; fingernails on a chalkboard?

The patriarch Job asked, "Does not the ear try words as the palate tastes food?" (12:11) A misspoken word can serve as grit in a salad too. If this applies to simple errors in speech, such as repeatedly mispronouncing someone's name, how much more does it apply to misleading words or falsehood?

Ours is a chattering age, in which it is assumed that we require incessant conversation, newscasts, information, and sales pitches streamed in our direction when we pump gas, wait in the emergency room, the doctor's office, the car repair shop, the airport, or drive on the highway—wherever. Words, words, words!

There is not much attention these days to Christian silence, to reticence in speaking. Indeed, it would take words to urge the point! But it is a dominical teaching that we should be cautious with our tongues: "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Mt. 12:26-37) Cautious? Not us moderns! Words pour forth!

St. Paul urges that we speak "for edification" (Eph. 4:29), avoiding all "evil talk." The late Archbishop Dmitri Royster, in his fine commentary on the Epistle of St. James, at verses 3-6 of chapter 3 (on 'the tongue'), referenced the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian: "O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth ... and idle talk." He comments:

The first of these qualities is "idleness," argia, which is a profound cynicism, and its chief manifestation is "idle talk," argologia, which can be gossip, filthy jokes, or expressions of pessimism.

Many Christians may find it easy to resist telling filthy jokes, but gossip and pessimistic exclamations are sometimes irresistible. Gossip can include any slight word that exposes the failings or foibles of another. And it need not be "juicy" to be gossip. A molecule of poison is still poison. And the time in which we live makes it easy to complain about the way the world is going. Well, it's going the same way it was in Jesus' time.

I don't think Jesus was a pessimist. He was more than a optimist. He is the Son of God, the eternal Word. He never wasted a word, and delivered grace to those who had the "ears to hear"—a phrase he used often. So James wrote that we should be "quick to hear, slow to speak" (1:19) Christians listen to hear our Lord speak but a word, even our own name. To Mary Magdalene in the Garden he replied, "Mary"—that's all it took. Divine music to her ears.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner