Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Where Seldom Is Heard...
Since I grew up with them, it took me awhile to become sensitive to expletives. They weren't a part of my parents' speech, but they were common in any conversation with certain members of my extended family. So for a long time they were "just part of life" for me. They weren't part of the way we talked at my house, but they were words that were easily overlooked (which kind of meant they weren't serving the speaker any real purpose, right?). Then for awhile after I left the covering of my parents, expletives became a part of my speech as well--especially when life was frustrating or painful (and much of it was). Insulated by past exposure, I suppose, I did not feel much conviction that I was paining God when I used them. In my mind I was just being transparent, voicing the sincere state of my heart...
Then I met this diamond of a guy, and we drew closer to the Lord together, got married, started a family, and...well, as our words began to fall on little ears and shape young destinies, what came out of our mouth mattered more and more. Restraint became a virtue of high value--a legacy we definitely wished to hand down! But virtues are hard to pass on if you don't live them. Between my husband and I, I was the first to become sensitive to the verbal environment we were creating. He was the busiest and most frustrated at the time, working a full-time job plus tripling the size of our house while we lived in it (it's still small by modern American standards, but it was just a hut then...), and from time to time the expletives flew as freely as the hammers. It got to the point that they caused me almost physical pain (the expletives, I mean--the hammers always flew into people-free areas), so finally I prayed and then approached my husband, who found favor with me, gave my words weight, and reigned himself in.
Oh yes!--I LOVE that man! ;~)
So we gained victory over one enemy of the tongue. But we had another, perhaps stronger and more vicious, enemy to go. It's an enemy my grandmother gently warned me about through her favorite folk songs...
Not my gold mining grandmother, who left me many legacies and much wisdom, but never sang to me. Rather, I'm sharing now about my almond farming grandma (who was born on 12/12/12--we always thought that was cool). The Great Depression taught her to live lean, and she learned those lessons well. She came to take care of us once when my mom had to have surgery and recuperate away from home for a spell, and during many after-school tea times she told us about her life during the Depression--the drought, the shortages. These things left indelible prints on her family. For the rest of his life my great uncle knew exactly where on the county road to turn off his pickup so he could coast into his garage and come to a stop without having to use any more gas than necessary or his brakes! I remember how thankful Grandma sounded when she told about having only a piece of cornbread with molasses on it for breakfast, and then another for lunch at school, everyday for months and months... Adversity grew firm, unyielding character in her, and while she loved us, sometimes she rebuked us, feeling we were ungrateful or wasteful. That was part of the legacy I suppose she felt responsible to pass on.
And now, in hindsight, I can see that she passed on legacy cloaked in song as well. When I was about six or seven we vacationed with Grandma in Yellowstone Park. Quite a large chunk of the family traveled together on this particular trip, so we had to take a lot of vehicles. I got to ride alone with Grandma in her car for a long time, and we spent the hours talking and singing...and singing, and singing! We sang "Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer True" and "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean," and a whole bunch of her other favorite folk songs. Our repertoire would not have been complete without "Home on the Range."
Do you remember Home on the Range? "Oh give me a home/where the buffalo roam/and the deer and the antelope play.../Where seldom is heard/a discouraging word--"
There!--that's it!--a discouraging word (counsel that takes away our confidence, hope, or courage) is kin to our second enemy, a disparaging word.
According to my American Heritage Dictionary, to disparage means, "to belittle; to reduce in esteem; to degrade." Recently we watched the movie Appaloosa, which is not a blockbuster production but it DOES include a nice little sketch in which the law-enforcing duo of Ed Harris and Vigo Mortensen remind us of the value--the need--for self-discipline and restraint with regard to disparaging words. Back when "Home on the Range" was first being penned, people reminded each other, "Everbody's got their faults, but there's no need to be disparagin' about 'em."
Times have changed. We no longer remind each other that there's no need to be disparaging. Rather, it seems like we often expect it. We expose and ridicule each other's faults as a matter of course. Even our psychologists encourage us to refrain from restraint. They counsel us to express our true feelings (albeit in a "healthy" way--whatever that is...) rather than keeping them pent up.
Along with expletives, I grew up in an environment of disparaging words. Again not so much in my home, but in the world just outside it. My graduating class was the first to attend our high school all four years--the first "real" Viking graduates, raised up beneath the lingering shadow of the vanished volcano, Mt. Mazama. That was our claim to fame, but we also had the more dubious distinction of heading up the Me Generation, and, according to several of our teachers, we were the worst back-stabbing class they'd ever seen grace those hallowed halls. In my world, belittling was also "just part of life." To cope was to do it back, and many of us learned the pattern well. Apparently we took the older generation by surprise, for while they scrambled to figure out how to neutralize our viciousness, we railroaded 'em (as well as each other).
Now I'm a mother, listening to the disparaging words my children throw at each other to defend themselves when they feel threatened, and I wonder how to teach them that these words are not "just part of life." How can I help them to stop--pause and pray, that they might look from a different perspective and walk through a trial in secure joy--before they blow a gasket? How can I help them feel and communicate regret, compassion, empathy, and willing, loving restitution to those they wrong, rather than acting on the natural inclination of fear that they'll be punished? Perhaps it's a lot like potty training? Pray for perfect timing, catch them just-in-time several times, so they can experience what to them will be the "new and improved" way--the "unnatural" way--God's way? Am I called and empowered to be God's neutralizer for this situation, or, not feeling particularly empowered, am I just called to pray and leave it in His hands???
I feel weary of the world's noise--disparaging words, name-calling, expletives, and ranting. I am even weary of my children's noise. In my heart I know I can live and love even in the midst of this noise, but I struggle to endure it with joy. I love logical arguments (and well-thought-out is good, though less than fully developed is okay), presented and discussed in a normal speaking tone using a voice of reason. I prefer that discussions don't start unless there is some commitment to finish them whether an agreement is reached or not. I welcome humor and light-hearted bantering, but am burdened by mockery and bickering. HOW do the rest of you cope?
A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. --Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)
A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. --Proverbs 29:11
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. --Proverbs 16:24
UPDATE: Funny... As I post this, old high school classmates are quite suddenly contacting me through Facebook! What's THAT all about?! ;~)