Marines.Together We Served

Monday, October 27, 2014

For What It's Worth

              It was the middle of the night and I was sound asleep when I heard words of hurt and anger coming from outside our rented condominium: “And don’t come back home!”

This was thirty years ago. I had only recently completed the Navy’s Chaplain Basic Course in Newport, Rhode Island. My first duty station was Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. We were living in town waiting for a housing to open on the base.

           I have no idea who the unhappy couple was, but one thing was for sure – they didn’t care much at that early morning hour whether anyone heard their domestic squabble or not. This is one of the unfortunate drawbacks of living in condos and apartments. Arguments, shouting matches, knock-down drag-outs are normal fare in such close living quarters, and everyone around gets to share in the experience, whether they want to or not.

          The Mills Brothers sang a song years ago that hit squarely on this issue. One of the lines in the song went like this: “You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.”

          We all know from experience just how damaging words are, particularly when they are spoken out of anger. Such words cut through the heart slicker than a hot knife through butter. Remember the rhyme we all learned as kids – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”? To this I say, Bull! I would much prefer to “duke it out” with someone than to endure the insults and demeaning comments leveled at me which live on in my heart and soul for the rest of my earthly life.

          Interestingly, when words are aimed at another the damage to that relationship may be irreparable. Such verbal abuse takes residence in the heart of the one receiving the hurtful sayings. The ancient Jews believed that words, once spoken, had a life of their own. Now I don’t know whether such words live on in the biological sense, but they do burrow into the soul, poisoning the person’s character in what has been called more recently, character assassination. I read an article some time ago where scientists believe every sound ever made in the world still exists in our universe. These scientists say that if they could make an instrument which would retrieve all these sounds we could then hear again things we said many years ago. The only trouble is I’m not so sure I would want to hear a lot of what I once said.

          Jesus had some thoughts on all of this in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21-22. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (meaning “empty-headed,” or “numbskull”) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

          Apart from the dangers associated with engaging in such harmful speech, Jesus equates using ill-advised language on a par with literally murdering a person! Don’t fall into the mistaken idea that such a comparison by Jesus is a bit of hyperbole. Unlike us, he did not fall prey to the use of exaggeration.

          This couple was so angered as to share their emotional outburst with the neighbors in the dark of night. They said things to each other that may well have been beyond repair. She yelled at him, just before he sped off in his car, not to come home again. Whether she meant this or not is irrelevant. The words were said. The damage was done.

          A verse of scripture that has been a help to me in moments when I may want to say something I might regret later, is found in Psalm 141:3. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.” When my anger is stirred, and I am inclined to speak out harshly, I hold onto this verse as I would a life-line. I need the Lord’s help especially when it comes to what comes out of my mouth.

          In the book of James he writes, With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
          So let me ask you: What’s coming out of your heart and mouth? Words of life? Or words of death?

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