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Word to the Wise: June 30

“Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” - Proverbs 11:12

Have you heard of the so-called “Silent Generation,” of those children who grew up during the Great Depression? Both before and after them, the nation heard a lot of verbiage, much of it very harmful, but the Silent Generation chose a different path. Some combination of powerful economic deprivation, the fear of communism, McCarthyism, and the threat of nuclear war sowed deep seeds of uncertainty about America’s future among them, and a lot of these folks spoke with less certainty and optimism than did their predecessors and the many who followed them.

Even in a democracy like ours, where the right to free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment, history has a way of toning things down when life gets out of hand. I remember well trips to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. In each case, visitor after visitor was speechless, and often weeping, particularly in D.C., as we neared the thousands of shoes formerly worn by prisoners on their way to the gas chambers, including the tiny shoes of babies. The smell of rubber and leather was pungent in the air. A Belgian-born colleague lingered several hours there in the Holocaust Museum, silent, unable to speak. And we waited for him patiently, quietly. Not much said that evening, as I recall.

This proverb tells us that people of understanding know how destructive words can be. They long for the shouting to cease. They have learned, as the proverb so aptly puts it, that the “one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Otherwise, neighbors near and far inevitably get hurt. I thank God for members of that Silent Generation, my own parents among them. It’s a holy hesitation, you know, this silence, a spiritual discipline.

Have you ever taken a vow of silence, maybe for a day or 48 hours, speaking to no one but your Maker? Ever tried fasting from social media or the news for a week or so? What effect did it have, or might it have, on you do you suppose?

Normally talkative, I don’t have much to say today, Lord. Please, as James taught, help me to be “quick to listen and slow to speak,” to value the opinions of others over my own. I have spoken too much and listened too little over the course of my life. So please help me to enter into their wounds and ways, listening to their suffering, sharing their pain, and, in this good way, to walk hand in hand with them. In Jesus’ incarnate name. Amen.