Lashon Hara--Mean Spirited Words
A Sermon for 19B, 2015
Scripture Found Here
When I first moved to Cleveland, I lived in an Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. I noticed, fairly shortly after moving into the community, a bumper sticker on several neighborhood cars “No Lashon Hara”. My housemates (otherwise known as the awesome friends who took me in until I found a job), explained that this meant “no evil tongue”...and was meant as a response a conflict at one of the local Synagogues.
No Lashon Hara, no cruel words or slander spoken against another with intent to bring about evil--even indirectly. The Jewish tradition takes seriously the power of words, even true ones, to destroy relationships. A popular Jewish folk tale goes as follows:
“A woman repeated a story (gossip) about a neighbor. Within a few days everyone in the community knew the story. The person she talked about heard what had been said about her and she was very sad. Later, the woman who had spread the story learned that it was not true. She was very sorry and went to a wise rabbi and asked what she could do to repair the damage. After giving this some thought, the rabbi said to her, “Go home, get one of your feather pillows, and bring it back to me.” Surprised by the rabbi’s response, the woman followed his advice and went home to get a feather pillow and brought it to the rabbi. “Now,” said the rabbi, “open the pillow and pull out all the feathers.”
Confused, the woman did what she was told to do. After a few minutes, the rabbi said, “Now, I want you to find every one of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.” “That’s impossible,” said the woman, almost in tears. “The window is open and the wind has scattered them all over the room and blown many feathers outside. I can’t possibly find them all.” “Yes,” said the rabbi. “And that is what happens when you gossip or tell a story about someone else. Once you talk about someone, the words fly from one person’s mouth to another, just like these feathers flew in the wind. Once you say them, you can never take them back.”
So many words. And, so many times, when words assault us like a deluge. Tweeted, posted, shared, written, e-mailed, spoken. Reply all...reply all...reply all...
The words keep coming. And, everyone has an opinion. Read, like, share, comment. But, oh, the comments! Never read the comments.
Because, there be trolls...waiting like the fairytale creature beneath the bridge. Scene stealer, spirit breaker.
Oh the fires that are set!
A clergy colleague told a story about a forest ranger, who upon receiving a “Dear John” letter from a former beau went into the woods and set the letter ablaze. And, from the words that inspired the fire, a greater fire spread. Acres of forest were soon ablaze from the simple act of setting fire to those painful words.
And those were written words...pen to paper and an envelope stamped, addressed and mailed. How quaint!
We needn’t look far to find example of the untamed tongue set to acts of destruction. Articles like “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life” or “Six Ways Social Media Can Ruin Your Life” were at the top of my google search when I googled “People whose lives are ruined by stupid tweets or facebook posts”...
Yeah, those were just the top two of two million five hundred and fifty thousand search results...
I won’t go on.
With the return key, words go out beyond anyone’s control. A rudder, a spark, a bridle.
And, the opportunity to take those words back gone.
Now, this world of instant communication and the possibility of “going viral” wasn’t the landscape which faced the community addressed by the letter of James. James sough to encourage the early Christian community to continue to live with an adherence to the ethic of Jewish tradition. And the enjoinder against the untamed tongue in James reminds us of the 9th commandments injunction against “false witness”. When people live in small communities, any false word against a neighbor has the power to destroy the entire community. In a small tribal community, or faith community, the ill spoken word can lead to the fracturing of the unity held dear and bought at great price.
Theologian Walter Brueggeman puts it this way, “real community depends on reliable truth telling.”
And, the transmission of the Gospel of the good news of Christ in the world, depends on reliable truth telling.
And, so I wonder, what truth would you share about this community with a neighbor, with a friend?
What truth brings you to this place?
I invite you to think about this question for a moment before taking a post it and pen and writing down that truth.
And, the challenge I will give you is this, share that truth with one other person who may not know the truth you know about this place.