but no human can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
The first time I read that verse was on a the cover of a tract which had been left behind on a shelf inside the pulpit at the Roanoke Church of Christ in the 1960s. We kids weren’t supposed to be playing there, but the adults were too busy talking to notice and the prospect of discovering what mysteries were hidden behind that “holy of holies” was too tempting to pass up.
The tract was fire-engine red and had an animation on the cover depicting a man with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, like a dimply red carpet unfurled. The tongue was branded with the skull and crossbones, the universal sign for “poison.” It made a deep and lasting dent in my seven-year-old brain.
I’ll admit that it was an odd way to start the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend, but ordering a copy of Dr. James D. Bales The Martin Luther King Story: A Study in Apostasy, Agitation and Anarchy from Amazon was necessary for researching a writing project of mine.
That book, written by a long-time Harding University professor and “defender of the faith,” caused quite a stir on campus back in the 1960s. One day, three black students burned the book in protest on the front lawn, near the Lily Pool. The protesters were quoted as saying that the administration was lucky that they were burning books and not buildings. The three were not invited back to campus the following fall.
Dr. Bales was known as a gentleman, scholar, loyal friend–and an intellectual badass brawler who would slit your metaphorical throat in a debate. I’m sure that Harding and his family wish that he had never written that book, which you can still buy, barely used and in very good condition, for $2.95.
Some words follow you, even after you’re long gone.
About a year ago, a man became angry at me. It became apparent to me that he was losing control very quickly and that he would probably try to strike me. In that instant, I said to him, “You need to stop that now.” I stood my ground and maintained eye contact, but I did raise my arm in defense in the hopes of deflecting the forthcoming blow. I had no intention of striking him back.
He took a swing, bringing his fist around my raised arm and to within a hair’s breadth of my left jaw. But he did not touch me. He then screamed, threatened to rape me (you can fill in the blanks), and stormed away.
In the aftermath I had to write a report of the incident for the powers that be. On the top of the form, there was a reminder to “stick to the facts–do not include opinions or conclusions.” I had occasion to read that report recently, near the one-year anniversary.
My words were stark and cold–the facts alone were enough to paint a bleak and disturbing picture. I felt a knot in my stomach. I looked down at my left arm, the same one that I had raised, and my hand was trembling.
An acquaintance of mine, a noted author and commentator, wrote a column that appeared this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in which he stated that all this talk of “civility” was getting on his nerves. Civility is overrated and Jesus was uncivil at times and if the stakes are high enough we should be too, he essentially said.
He may have a point, but it seemed to me at the time a sour note to strike, especially on that particular day. Sort of like a misplaced and discordant minor chord appearing near the crescendo of a great chorus.
This is what I believe: That if you try hard enough, you can take the Bible and the life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels and pimp them out to make whatever point you wish, political or otherwise.
Speaking of striking sour notes, Alabama’s new governor, Dr. Robert Bentley, got himself into a little hot water the other day.
Speaking moments after his inauguration on MLK Day at historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, he reached out to his black brethren, attempting to build a bridge of fellowship, and inadvertently cut himself off from many of his non-Christian constituents by delivering remarks which sounded conspicuously like a Baptist altar call (he is a longtime Sunday School teacher and deacon at First Baptist in Tuscaloosa).
It was a hard lesson in the dos and don’ts of pols talking religion in public. I don’t know if his remarks were scripted or if he was just full of the moment and speaking off the cuff. I imagine that he meant no harm.
He’s publicly apologized, and I suspect that he will weigh his words more carefully in the future. There will be several staffers and advisers assigned to him to make sure he does.
I read where a bomb was discovered near the route of an MLK Day parade in Spokane, Washington. It made me wonder who left it and why. It made me wonder who they’d been listening to and what they’d been reading.
I yelled at an old man the other day. He had cut in front of me at the drive-thru line at McDonald’s (intentionally I’m sure!). I rolled down my window and hollered, “What do you think you’re doing, Geezer?!”
He had his window rolled up and never heard me. But the African-American employee taking the garbage can to the dumpster did. He laughed at me and shook his head.
It was not one of my finer moments.
Be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.