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Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

I spent the last several days out of town enjoying Spring Break with my daughters Grace and Maddy. We spent most of our time in Chicago, where Grace is in graduate school for Museum Studies. But last Monday and Tuesday, we made a quick road trip over to Cherokee, Iowa, to see some old friends from our previous church, and to inter the ashes of our beloved dog Micah, whom we adopted in Iowa and who died last January at the age of 16.

While we were in northwest Iowa, a local high school teacher and friend of mine asked me to speak to her high school assembly about the importance of communication skills in one’s life and career. I offered a 45-minute presentation called “The Power of Your Words,” based on a sermon I preached at Hyde Park several years ago.

I thought I’d share the highlights from my talk to those high schoolers, which was in the form of The Top Ten Tongue Twister to Help You Tame Your Tongue.

10. If liars lie in lairs of lies, in their lairs lay lots of liars.

This one is about lies and truth telling. In a time when there is so much misinformation on social media, and misleading information being shared to sway people’s opinions, it is important to check where you are getting your facts, verify it with other sources, and do your very best to share the truth.

9. If you attack behind their back, they’ll be back to bite you back.

This one is about gossip, which is conversation about a person’s private life without their knowledge, in a way that is unkind, judgmental, or untrue. Ask yourself these questions before you share that information with others. Does this have to do with a person’s private life, which they don’t want to be made public? Is it unkind, judgmental, or untrue? And most importantly: Has that person give me permission to share this information with others?

8. I need not your needles; they’re needless to me. It need not be needed to be needling me.

Watch the insults. There is no need to cut people down. It is true there might be a distinction between insults and teasing. The latter can be a fun and non-harmful way of connecting with family and friends, based on shared memories and inside jokes. But there is a fine line between teasing and insults. Insults cut deeply into someone’s personhood and can conjure up hard and harmful feelings.

7. An oyster’s noise annoys me, see, When an oyster voices complaints to me.

This one is about grumbling and complaining. Life is meant to be filled with joy, enthusiasm, and hope. Instead, some people choose to live lives full of pessimism, grouchiness, and grumpiness. Now, there are times when it is appropriate to feel dissatisfied, and even angry, about the state of things, like when there is injustice, inequity, or harm being done. It is right to complain then. But to have a general, perpetual state of complaining is not only unhelpful; it can be harmful.

6. Ye have two ears to hear in here, so hear ye with your ears, and don’t pack your yaks like a yakking yak pack packs yaks.

This is a simple reminder to listen more. The book of James says, “Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Yes, it is important to claim your own voice and to speak your truth. But remember that yours is not the only voice, and yours is not the only story. Listen more to others.

5. Classless cusses cause crass clauses across coarse courses.

This one is pretty simple. Cut down on the cursing. Yes, there are certain words of profanity that express meaning in ways that classier words cannot convey. But the better way to speak is to elevate our speech beyond that of the coarse and unrefined. Stay away from the crass; opt for the classy.

4. Love best builds and fills when it’s built and fills your will.

This one is really important. Use your words to encourage people. Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens … Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Make it a habit of offering at least one word of encouragement every day to someone else. You will be surprised at the impact you can make on other people. And more surprisingly, you will see the impact that it can make on yourself.

3. Patient patients push a penchant for patience in a pinch.

Think before you speak. Let your words be graced with patience. It can be easy to talk impulsively, in the heat of emotion. Sometimes that is unavoidable, and you just need to say something to get it out of your system. But to the degree that you can help it, take a breath before you say something, whether it be in person, via text, or email. When we let our unbridled emotions take over, we often pay the price.

2. Would you bother to bother a brother if you offer one offer but proffer another?

Watch the hypocrisy. Back up your words with actions. One of the fastest and most enduring ways for you to compromise your integrity and gain a bad reputation in the eyes of others is to say you are for something, but then act against it. Or to make a promise, but then not follow through with it. Make sure your word is your bond, and that your actions are consistent with your words.

So now it is time for number one. And this one is so important that I offer it just straight and clear. No gimmicks, and no tongue-twisting.

1. Speak the Truth in Love

This means being willing to say something you don’t want to say but needs to be said. Yes, there are times when we need to keep our mouths shut. But there are times when we need to speak truth to others that they don’t want to hear. Sharing that truth can sometimes hurt. It can be costly and painful. But when we share it in love and genuine concern, in the long run, it can bring hope and healing.

We can all work on our speech. Our words can be destructive and divisive, or they can bring wholeness and life. The choice is ours.

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist