Shut your mouth

A recurring theme in my thought, and indeed my life, is that I ought to consider, very shrewdly, the words which come out of my mouth. The scriptures say that “Where words are many, sin is not absent”. It seems like it would be better to leave much unsaid, than to say too much. There is a maxim which proclaims that “discretion is the better part of valor.” Only the very truly courageous are bold enough to keep it to themselves. God’s word is clear, that we ought only to speak that which is pure, noble, praiseworthy, and builds up the brothers. Simply put, I do not measure up.

I like to talk. When I’m around, words abound. I’m amiable and gregarious. I’m garrulous. I’m downright loquacious. Once, I was even verbose. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I own a thesaurus. I especially love talking about ideas, the book(s) I’m reading, or the podcast I’m listening to. I don’t love small talk, and usually struggle to get through it, but when someone wants to discuss life, literature and faith (things which I’m actually interested in) I am in my element!

We’re all familiar with certain movie scenes set in an insane asylum. Invariably, there will be a shot where our protagonist is being marched down a hall to her padded room. And, the camera will zoom in on a particular room, wherein lies a jibbering lunatic. He never stops mumbling, and is probably drooling down his unkempt facial hair. This cinematic stock character reveals to us what we all innately feel; that a person who can’t keep his mouth shut, is a sorry, deranged, irrational kook.

To paraphrase G.K Chesterton, “An open mouth is like an open mind. People would think you foolish to go about constantly with an open mouth, gaping like a grouper. The point of an open mouth is to close it upon something solid, savory, wholesome, and nourishing. This is also the point of an open mind.” You open your mind, only when it can clamp down on some idea worth having, or some information worth knowing, or some truth worth treasuring. Not to show others how liberal and ideologically available you are.

A mind is by its very definition designed to reach conclusions. Any attempt to separate the discussing of ideas, from actually drawing finite conclusions as to the dignity and veracity of those ideas, is like intellectual contraception. It keeps the seed from being planted, and bringing new life to the mind. Refusing conclusions contracepts the purpose of your mind. When you refuse to not come to any conclusive ends, your reason can only vacillate between two equally valid positions. It is like trying to live between heaven and earth. You will never ascend to the stratified heights of knowing, and you don’t even get the benefit of having your feet firmly planted on that which is immovable.

Drawing conclusions doesn’t necessarily involve conversation, but it can. I have asked my betters their opinions and consulted older, wiser minds in an effort to gain understanding. This is something scripture enthusiastically endorses. But, I have also used these same powers of communication to chatter about inane nonsense. Worse still, I use my tongue to curse my neighbor. If I’m going to be caught open mouthed, I’d rather it be in the search for wisdom. Better yet, it be open announcing the praises of God.

We protect our children from harm, when we keep them from seeing or hearing certain things. It is not good for a child to witness a cruel act of violence, or a dead or nude body.

One of the reasons that we protect children from seeing things they shouldn’t, is because their minds are too open. Children are too available. They are incurably curious, and that is not always to a good end. They do not possess an adequate matrix with which to understand what they are seeing. They also don’t have a gate, or a guardian for the gate, to keep out unwanted images. He simply doesn’t know enough to avoid the evident danger an older person would. A child might, by accident, receive a negative something into his soul, which will take years to exorcise.

I can remember loving horror movies as a small boy, but at night those images tormented me. Every night Chucky, and other murderous demons, would visit my bedroom. All I could do was try to hide, quaking under the blanket. I was simply too young, too immature, and too underdeveloped to have handled those horror movies responsibly. I knew it was bad for me. I knew I would regret it later. In the moment, I liked the fun of being scared and seeing hideous creatures. It was a safe place at the time, but the images stayed with me. They emerged in the dark, when I was alone, and there were no brothers or parents to chase away the shadows.

Younger and younger boys are seeing images of scantily clad and even naked women, having no shield for defense and no guardian to keep them safe from future harm. This is where the parents must act.

I am not arguing that children must be sheltered, only that they be supervised and prepared somehow. Obviously, parents can’t oversee every waking moment of their children’s lives. In fact, in our society, much of a child’s day is spent with a teacher we do not know well, and staff, faculty and children whom we will never meet. That is a recipe for disaster, because no one will be better to your children than you are. The success of our country’s public education system is that almost all of our kids are literate, able to do basic addition, and enter adolescents possessing more mental skills than any prince of antiquity. It’s failure is that children are divorced from their parents at least 40 hrs a week, which has never been the case for the first 10 millenia of human civilization. God gave children to parents, not to the public schools. We have found it culturally expedient to shirk these day to day responsibilities, importing them to a professional parent (i.e. a teacher) They age out of school with full heads and empty hearts, and almost none of them have really grown up. That aside, having been covered, I digress.

I am not teacher bashing. I thank God for the good ones. I am simply trying to illustrate that there is God’s way on the one hand and the American way on the other.

Owing to the fact that most young people are told to “be true to themselves”, or individually, to”stand up for yourself!”, they have lost the ability to shut up when they ought. I say they have lost the ability, but more to the point, they have not been taught the discipline of keeping ones mouth shut. I deal with kids and teenagers regularly, and I can tell you, none of them know when to shut up. They speak when they shouldn’t, and they feign reticence when it is good to chime in. I always encourage them to witness to the saving power of God’s work. I also encourage them to be quiet when adults are speaking. Everyone should be slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen. There is a sense of propriety that is lost on those with “open minds” and “open mouths”.

Lets change the maxim of “To thine own self be true,” to “If you can’t be true to others, then keep it to thine self!”

In a way democracy is to blame for this shift away from courtesy and virtue. In a world full of castes, it may be unfair, but a least a chap knows his place. In our world where “all men are created equal” we are confused as to our place in the world. Worse still, we think it means we ought to all be treated as equals, and its unfair if we aren’t. Equal protection under the law is one thing, but demanding ones rights is not an ethic rooted in Christian thought or the teachings of Jesus.

At this point I may mention that I like living in a western democratic society, but I must also admit that it has cost me something.

Your personal savior?

Some evangelicals of this day like to describe their union with Christ as having a “personal savior”.  The problem, of course, is that they also own a personal computer, manage a personal life, and reserve certain amenities for themselves as their own personal pleasures.  And, herein lies the rub.  If we imagine Jesus, or more generically, our salvation, as something we own, manage, or see it as something “about us”, then God can’t own us.  However deeply committed to this flawed thinking you may be, I invite you now to dispense with it.

You may be thinking, “No real Christian, at least none I have ever known, consciously regards Christ as a possession.”  Exactly!  No Christian would ever think this consciously.  This thinking operates on a sub-conscious level, and is therefore all the more insidious.

I do not say that you are aware that you think this way.  If a christian’s relationship to his “personal savior” is much the same as to his personal computer, he is in a bad way.  See, this same Christian goes to his personal computer to do his work, enjoy his intellectual or social pursuits, or, for simple entertainment.  He does these things at his leisure, according to his desire, and without regard to any responsibility he may or may not have to the personal computer.  Many of us go to the Lord (our personal savior) with the exact same attitude.  We look to Christ as we look to the virus cleaner on our PC, something of great value and necessity, to be used at need (then dispensed with) and forgotten until the next emergency.

For 5 reasons the “personal Jesus” idea needs to hang it up, I commend to you the following blog.  It is excellent!

As long as it is convenient (or, I feel like it) I will pray to my own personal savior.  As long as it doesn’t cost me anything I don’t wish to go without, I will stand up for God’s truth.  As long as it doesn’t conflict with my social pursuits or affect my status, I will confess the name of Jesus.  After all, He is MY personal savior.  But, oh boy, when I’m in a scrape, I can pray with the best of ’em.  He’s my personal savior.  This thinking is juxtaposed to Paul’s assertion that we ought to be “slaves of Christ.”

Slave.  Does that word offend you?

There is a way in which familiarity breeds contempt.  The all too human temptation to minimize or de-claw God, is just as alive in the Christian church as it was on the pagan alters.  Humans want a safe, predictable, servile deity, to whom they can pray and placate with dervishes and lip service.  None of the Greek poets ever once conceived that the pagan gods would want to know if their worshipers were sincere, only that they were prompt, pious, and paid the proper temple fees.

Humans invent gods, to make The God, more tolerable.  We do not love goodness, nearly so much as we suppose.  What we actually love is convenience.  (Thankfully, it is inconvenient to live in a world totally dominated by our evil desires.  This is why we get as close as we possibly can, without going over that precarious line that would totally cripple society.  Having some sin in our society lets us get things done, but too much would be the end of civilization.)  We create petty Gods, because we are petty.  We created Cupid,  because we ourselves are possessed of obscene cupidity. We want the gods to bless our crops, keep us safe, save our souls, and, beyond that, stay out of the way.  The god we seem to like the most, is called the “Life Force”.  The Life Force gives us all the personal and intellectual benefits of having a deity who creates the world and loves us unconditionally, without all the pesky nonsense of morality, judgement, or lordship.

Dr. Peter Kreeft argues that the gods of our society are really the canaanite deities reborn.  These are Molech, upon whose alter we sacrifice our children, babies and unborn; Ashtereth, a fertility goddess whose easy sexuality we drool over during every film, sitcom, and magazine; and, of course, Mammon.  Who can serve two masters?  No one!

The God of the Bible sees through the religious detritus, and commends us to worship him in “spirit and in truth”.  Mere sacrifice does not assuage his wrath.  No muttered mantras or rehearsed prayers will forestall His promised judgment.  He is not one to be managed, minimized, or pacified with trinkets.  And that is why He is not the kind of God we’d invent. No one asks for the kind of God which He is.  (Not, of course, at first)  The kind of God He is, is like a taste which one develops over time.

When I was a child I hated green beans, peas, and broccoli, all foods I enjoy as an adult.  They didn’t change.  I changed.  I grew up.  Now that I am a man, my tastes have matured and developed.  I can stand, somewhat, the intense savor of the salt of holiness.

Oh, sure, we like certain of His attributes, for instance, His love and His mercy.  But, we like much less His steady demands on our time and insistence on our moral behavior.  We like even less His pressure to conform our hearts and minds to that of His son.  Our hearts shout back at Him, “But, why should I have to change?  Why can’t you take me as I am?”  Frankly, it is offensive to us. Frankly, that is what He means it to be.

So I ask you to consider: When you say that Jesus is your personal savior, do you mean that what He did on Calvary He did for you.  Do you mean that He is the God you serve? Do you mean that you have accepted Him?  Do you mean that Jesus is going to take you to heaven?  Do you mean that His demands on you are perfectly natural, and you delight in His commands?

Our reformed brothers like to say, “God saved me,” rather than, “I accepted Jesus into my heart”.  It violates their sensibilities to put oneself in the driver seat, and render Jesus as a passive participant.  The phrase “God saved me,” expresses that He is the active doer, rather than the one being accepted.  And, on this point, I have to agree with them.  God is not in need of our acceptance, nor is He a passive party to my justification.  Jesus is Lord regardless of whether or not we obey Him.  God is praiseworthy, even when He is not being praised.  He is admirable, even when no one is admiring Him.  God is God.  You don’t accept or reject Him, He accepts or rejects you.  And, He doesn’t come to you with hat in hand hoping you will choose to do His will.  He is no supplicant.  But, He is humble, gentle, and lowly of spirit.  That God saved me proves He is humble, a proud God would have nothing to do with one such as I.

If, the statement is true that, “I accepted Jesus into my heart.”  It is a far lower, baser, and less complete truth than, “God saved me.”