Via Positiva: Cosmic Kindergarten
Watch Your Mouth!

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Sunday, August 26, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Song of Solomon 2:8-13: "The voice of my beloved!"
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: "All these evil things come from within"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song this morning comes from singer and actress Madonna. She was born Madonna Louise Ciccone (chee-co-nee) in Bay City, Michigan in 1958 and originally planned to be a modern dancer. Instead, she became a singer and released her debut album in 1983. Since then she has sold more than 300 million records and is recognized as the world's top-selling female recording artist of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records. This song, Like a Prayer, stayed at the top of the Billboard charts for 3 weeks in 1989. Let's try it:

Life is a mystery
Everyone must stand alone
I hear you call my name
And it feels like home

When you call my name
It's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees
I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour
I can feel your power
Just like a prayer
You know I'll take you there

Anyone who knows me well knows I like to cuss. There is just something about swear words that feel so good. Some have an especially good mouth-feel to them and they just spill out so easily sometimes. Often, there are situations where an F-bomb is the best thing you can deliver.

My love of swearing came way before seminary and ordination - but I can tell you that seminary students are a lot like sailors, in that they take a certain pleasure peppering their speech with F-bombs and other un-seminary like words - if not because it's a habit, but because it's kind of fun to see people react to cussing seminary students.

As kids, we're taught not to swear - which is, of course, why we want to do it as often as we can. When we were younger, we like to shock our parents and older adults with our salty language. We enjoyed being shushed or scolded for our abuse of the English language. I never quite got to the point of enjoying the taste of soap, however - since that was usually mom's way of punishing me when my tongue got the better of me in her presence.

"You watch your mouth, young lady!" my mother would say to me before pulling out the golden bar of Dial soap.

Swearing, however, has it's good side. A recent study by Keele University in the UK showed that swearing has a painkilling effect. Y'know, when you stub your toe in the middle of the night and let out with a string of cuss words that would make a sailor blush? Apparently, if you didn't swear, it would hurt worse. Try it next time and see if I'm right - but if you're like me, the swearing is sort of automatic in those situation ...

But, this study reveals far more than the painkilling effects of words - it also reveals the ultimate power of words. Language has a strong effect on us, whether we're aware of it or not.

Whether we're swearing or uttering a heartfelt prayer, the words we use are extremely powerful. In the schoolyard we often found ourselves saying: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!" We usually said that after someone had said something to us that actually did hurt us very deeply, but we were putting on our brave face. We didn't want anyone to know that they hurt our feelings.

Words can shape our behaviors, our beliefs, our opinions, feelings and ultimately our actions. Hear enough violent words, and you can become violent.

Hear enough people you love and respect call you stupid, and, voila, you believe you are stupid, and you may even act the part, even if you're otherwise very smart. Tell a child often enough that they will amount to nothing, don't be surprised when they don't.

Words are powerful. Research has shown that repeated words of hatred breed hatred, and repeated words of love improves compassion for ourselves and others and improve our moods and reduce anxiety.

This is why we must watch our mouths because careless words - or even intentionally mean words - can hurt just as much as the broken bones produced by sticks and stones. The broken hearts, the broken spirits, the broken self-esteem is just as debilitating - and often can take an entire lifetime to heal - if they ever really do. In short, Jubilants, our words have the power to hurt, and the power to heal.

How do we speak in the world, Jubilants? Do we speak the barbed and dangerous language of insults - or do our words sound like prayer to the rest of the world?

I hear your voice
It's like an angel sighing
I have no choice I hear your voice
Feels like flying,
I close my eyes Oh God I think I'm falling
Out of the sky I close my eyes
Heaven help me

When you call my name
It's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees
I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour
I can feel your power
Just like a prayer
You know I'll take you there

Do you know what the most popular word is in any language? Your name. And when your name is spoken by the ones you love the most, it's like music to your ears. It's like the most beautiful prayer you've ever heard spoken.

When we hear our names spoken in love, we are transported just as the two lovers are who sing to one another in the Song of Solomon: "The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away ... how we long to hear those words, spoken to us by the voice of a loved one.

It's almost strange to read and hear words like these in Hebrew Scriptures. Amid the books that detail bloody wars, horrible murders, the abuse of women, the abuse of the earth by humanity - we find these beautiful, intimate, almost blush-producing words of love. A prayer from one lover to another.

The Song of Solomon, also called "The Song of Songs" is one of two books within the Bible that never mentions God. Do you know what the other one is? Esther.

It is also the only book in the Bible where the female voice is predominant. This is the only book where a woman's words are not mediated through men, or told through male narrators. Instead, the Song of Solomon gives us a strong female voice, unmediated, uncensored, assertive and sensual. She talks about the "mother's house" and Jerusalem's daughters - giving them a voice in an otherwise testosterone soaked world.

No wonder this book feels like one long prayer - one long message of love and kindness. The feminine most often offers us the language of love, the language of care and compassion and nurture. Even though it never speaks about God, it is easy to hear the voice of God in, through, and around the words of this ancient book, calling us by name and encouraging us to "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."

As a child, often the first word we ever learn to write is our name. It becomes the jumble of letters used to identify who we are. At our cubbies in kindergarten, the teacher writes our name above the space where we store our coats and supplies. We are recognized by our names, they give us not just an identity, but a sense of belonging. When it's spoken by our loved ones, it's like a little prayer, said just for us to the universe.

Even better, it is the Holy that constantly prays our name, as a parent prays the name of a beloved child. As theologian and monk Henri Nouwen writes: "Long before your father and mother, your brothers and sisters, your teachers, your church, or any people touched you in a loving as well as in a wounding way - long before you were rejected by some person or praised by somebody else - that voice has been there always. 'I have loved you with an everlasting love.' That love is there before you were born and will be there after you die."

The Holy calls us beloved, and calls us to speak love to everyone around us - to pray the names of both our loved ones, and our enemies.

Like a child
You whisper softly to me
You're in control just like a child
Now I'm dancing,
It's like a dream
No end and no beginning
You're here with me it's like a dream
Let the choir sing

When you call my name
It's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees
I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour
I can feel your power
Just like a prayer
You know I'll take you there

Life is a mystery
Everyone must stand alone
I hear you call my name
And it feels like home

Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there
Just like a muse to me, you are a mystery
Just like a dream, you are not what you seem
Just like a prayer, no choice your voice can take me there

"Gamble everything for love," writes the poet Rumi.

"Gamble everything for love, if you're a true human being.

If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness does not reach into majesty. You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses."

This is the danger we court when we don't watch our mouths, Jubilants.

I would submit that our entire society is in the midst of a long stop at a mean-spirited roadhouse, where we badmouth each other with impunity, where we gossip about one another, tell lies about one another, and tear our world and our communities apart.

We long to gamble everything for love, but we remain drunk on division and hatred inside that mean-spirited roadhouse. I invite you, Jubilants, listen deeply for the Holy. Even inside that mean-spirited roadhouse, the Holy prays our names, and beckons us to "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." The Holy beckons us to arise, to come to that new Jerusalem, where speak words of love, compassion and mercy to all who will enter.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1964, began playing the ukulele at age 3 and graduated to the guitar at the age of 8. She used those skills to pen four Grammy award winning songs and 8 albums full of other great songs. This song, "Speak the Word," comes from her 2000 release "Telling Stories."

[verse] Unsettled hearts, promise what they can't deliver
Bring me the wine, and the cold night air to clear my head
Gray matter memory house, master of this trembling flesh
Steady still my doubts
Let me speak the word that precedes bliss

[Chorus] Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word (2x)

In our Jesus story, we find Jesus spending a little time in one of the mean-spirited roadhouses of sorts. He's teaching and preaching at a little town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and some scribes and Pharisees have followed him over to see the show. They're not there to be gushing Jesus fans, though. Instead, in their mean-spirited ways, they search around for something to attack Jesus over, and they find it, when they see his disciples eating without first washing their hands.

Now, as classmates in this Cosmic Kindergarten, we may think that the scribes and the Pharisees have a pretty good point. One of the many important things we learn early in life is to wash our hands before we eat. Not only is it good hygiene, but to these old time religious leaders, this is an ancient tradition of the elders that is not to be disregarded.

Jesus firmly rebukes the religious authorities, accusing them of abandoning God's laws for human tradition.

Then, he hits them with the zinger: "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

In other words, we cannot judge people on whether or not they wash their hands, or observe some ancient law. Instead, we can only see another person's true nature by watching what they do, not what they say they believe.

In his own way, Jesus was telling the scribes and the Pharisees, "watch your mouth," because out of their mouths they showed what was truly inside their hearts. They put more emphasis on religious rules and traditions than they did mercy and compassion. They honored God with their lips, with their rules, but their hearts were far from God's commandment to love everyone unconditionally, and to welcome everyone at the table - whether they have washed their hands or not. The lesson here is clear - we cannot speak words of love, unless we embody love. We cannot speak words of compassion, unless we embody compassion. We cannot speak words of justice, unless we embody justice. We cannot speak words of mercy, unless we embody mercy. We cannot speak words of peace, unless we embody peace. We cannot speak words of grace, unless we embody grace.

Nothing from outside of us can defile us - those mean-spirited roadhouses we stop at and stay for awhile are not outside of us - they are inside of us. When we live in those mean-spirited roadhouses in our own souls, others see it. We are full of theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

Jesus invites us to get back on the road to the Holy, to leave that inner mean-spirited roadhouse and get on with learning the deep lessons of love, mercy, peace, justice and compassion. Until we embody the qualities of the Holy, we will be just like those scribes and Pharisees, seeing nothing but dirty hands all around us.

Breathe deeply.

[verse] These weakened knees,
have not touched ground or pew in ages
I haven't bowed my head, to offer thanks to any god
or to ask for favors
But watch me now. I'm falling down, praying
To speak the word that precedes bliss

[Chorus] Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word (2x)

The other popular phrase tossed around the playground besides the old "sticks and stones" saw is this one: "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you."

This is what Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees that day as they sat beside the sea. The Cosmic Kindergarten lesson in this little scene is that we don't have to take it personally when people criticize us. When others refuse to watch their mouths and speak words meant to challenge or hurt us - Jesus' advice is this - be rubber. Let the words uttered from the mean-spirited roadhouses of others bounce right off of you - and stick to them.

Those who have not learned to watch their mouths do much damage in this world, using their words to tear down others and wreck relationships. But, when you're rubber, you can become a source of compassion for those people instead someone who continues to perpetuate the cycle of verbal abuse.

The true wisdom of learning how to watch your mouth, however, is knowing when to be rubber and when to be glue. Just as you should be rubber in the face of insults and verbal abuse, you should be glue whenever you hear the voice of the beloved calling your name out like a prayer.

"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."

Just as it may feel good to cuss whenever we stub our toe, it can feel equally as good to become sticky like glue when we hear words of love, peace and compassion being spoken to us. These are the words that soothe our weary souls, that move us along from that internal mean-spirited roadhouse - that let us know that we are the Holy's beloved, always being called to arise ... and come away ... to come away from the world of hateful words that break our bones and our spirits.

Likewise, Jubilants, we are called to speak words of love that turn those around us into glue, so that all the words we speak to others will sound like prayer to their ears. And, somewhere, in the speaking and the hearing, we are all transformed and never again tempted to take long pit stops at those mean-spirited roadhouses.

I invite you, Jubilants, in everything you do, say or think, speak the word. Speak the word ...

[Chorus] Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love
Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word (2x)

[Ending] Let me speak the word, Let me speak the word
Love love love love love love love love [repeat out]

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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