What words do you use about yourself? What words do you use about other people? Especially, what words do you use about people who disrupt your life in some way?
My wife once had a co-worker who was appalled at the words coming out of her 3-year old’s mouth. “How can that #*%*@# kid use such #*%*@# language? Who does he #*%*@# think he is?” She was deaf to her own voice and to the words coming from her own mouth. Her child wasn’t deaf, but was quick to absorb the words and the self-images encoded in those words.
What words do you hear around you? What do you hear around the table at home, at work or in a restaurant? What do you hear in music? What self-images are encoded in those words?
A few years ago with great fanfare the “N-word” was buried by the NAACP and some of our leaders in Detroit. (The photo above was from part of that elaborate effort.) Then, just yesterday, I heard it alive and well on my street. It’s even a proud self-descriptor. That’s me and my friends, to those who use it. It’s not a racist epithet—we’re all too careful about that. Now it’s a cultural phrase that is embraced. What is the cultural damage done by glorifying such a vocabulary? What scars of low self-esteem are expressed in the words.
I’m not questioning only black hip-hop culture. What about “wife-beater” T-shirts, a fashion descriptor that trivializes domestic violence? Can I wear such a shirt anymore? I could give far worse examples of how violence—and the dehumanization that allows violence—has become a common part of contemporary vocabulary, from the street to government and from music radio to even public radio. Can we hear what comes out of our own mouths?
The Bible says in James 3 that the tongue is a fire: “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” From the same mouth come prayers for the city and curses for the city’s citizens.
How do we douse the arson of our own tongues? In my city of Detroit we had a problem with arson on the night before Halloween. They called it “Devils’ Night,” and hundreds of mostly abandoned homes were torched. So “Angels’ Night” was initiated in which hundreds of volunteers patrolled the city streets through the night. The number of arsons dropped dramatically.
What might an “Angels’ Night” for the tongue be like? Are you willing to volunteer? When will you begin?
How can you make praying for the city something that impacts our own way of living in the city with our neighbors?
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