Hope and I recently had a conversation about our tongues. Not the muscle or the taste buds this time. This time we talked about how she uses it. It came about because she hurt the feelings of someone close to her. Her words were surprisingly sharp. I believe she even shocked herself. But she realized that the pointed thing she said came out because she actually believed it. I think that scared her more than anything.
That launched a whole conversation about our tongue directing the entire body and heart. That’s right, I turned to old oft-quoted Bible verses. Actually, the Bible has a lot to say about our mouths directing us. Like a bit in a horses mouth, if we can control our mouths, we control our whole body. Some of my other favorites:
Proverbs 10:11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
Proverbs 11:11 Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.
Proverbs 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 15:4 The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 21:23 He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.
What power the tongue has. Did you catch it? It can be a fountain of life, bringing healing or crushing and piercing, holding the power of life and death. If we speak in uplifting ways, we bring life and healing. But it extends beyond us – the blessing of the upright exalts a city and the mouth of the wicked destroys it.
I certainly see mouths causing destruction in our community, and it’s making me cranky. While I love Columbus, I’m not talking about the city. I’m talking about the 250-300 block rectangle of our near-east side neighborhood that encompasses Olde Towne and Franklin Park. It’s a neighborhood that has struggled, certainly, but we are in our 15th year of working toward God’s greater vision for this place. We are trying to build a close nit neighborhood, where people know and respect one another, have stability, opportunity, justice and faith.
Have you considered how you talk about us publicly? Some people just can’t stop calling us ‘the ghetto’ or ‘the hood’. Yes, I hear neighbors say it in jest, and it can be humorous. Maybe to each other it’s ok, because they’ve lived here and experienced it. But when you’ve just moved into the neighborhood (less than several years of living here), or are visiting from outside, and refer to us as a ghetto, it’s like calling a little kid ugly. Even in jest it’s just not funny. There is no healthy, helpful connotation that comes from it. There is a difference between me saying my house is ugly, and you telling me my house is ugly. And stop using Facebook and Twitter to talk about the ghetto and the ‘hood. It’s even less funny in that context because you’re not just talking to your neighbor, you’re talking to the world, and you’re only reinforcing the ugly stereotypes from which we want desperately to break free.
Maybe you say it because you’re trying to fit in. Maybe you’re trying to be funny. But really you’re an outsider and it’s insulting. I was an outsider, and it took about 8 years for my neighbors to consider me one of them, so it’s not that you can never belong here. It’s that you haven’t been here. You don’t know the sorrows of our neighborhood firsthand. Nor do you know the joys, the beauty and the hope. Your picture of this “hood” is not complete…therefore, you can’t use the word. You just don’t know what you are talking about.
Will we learn, like Hope did, to really realize what we’re saying? Will we learn the impact of our words? Your blessing will exalt the city, your stereotyping will bring further destruction. You can choose to stop and listen to the people who actually live here and find out how it feels to call their home ugly, stereotyped and helpless. Choose to use your words as blessing to exalt our communities.
**Many thanks to Zakiya Jackson who contributed to the writing of this, both by being cranky with me and through many opinions on my writing. She is gifted with words – spoken and written. You can follow her on twitter @ZakiyaNaemaJackson and find her contributing to Collected Young Minds.