Friday, April 13, 2007

The Imus in all of us

“See how great a forest a little fire kindles”, so said James, the brother of Jesus, while commenting on the calamitous capacity of our untamable tongue. I think Don Imus would agree. From the coffee shop to college campuses to cable TV, this past week our nation has preached and pontificated on the right reaction to his callous comment. And, I would add, rightly so. Any sensible society won’t miss such opportunities for sound reflection, sober reasoning, and a solid response. But in the midst of all our lectures and letters, what have we learned? Whatever our own impression is of this incident, a far worse woe would be to see all these words wasted without the least lesson to pass on to our little ones. As a father of four, I feel these things not foremost in the focus of talk for today, but rather in the framework of truths for tomorrow.

Those older and wiser will have much to add, but let me be so bold as to begin with this:

Lesson 1: Take heed to how you handle your tongue. Words, once wielded, can never be withdrawn. Joni Erickson Tada, a paraplegic due to a swimming accident in her youth, a prolific author, and a woman of incredible faith, once wrote this: “Words. Do you fully understand their power? Can any of us really grasp the mighty force behind the things we say? Do we stop and think before we speak, considering the potency of the phrases we utter”. But before we sling too many stones, I have something I need to say. Have you or I never made a mistake with our mouth? Is there not an “Imus” in us all? Do all of our own announcements so glimmer with grace and affect such a fragrant aroma as to be above reproach? I say this not to alleviate his offence, but rather to aggravate our own. Our own loose lips will be enough to sink our ships when the Day of Judgment arrives. Almost as soon as we learn to speak we need a Savior.

Lesson 2: “I’m sorry” alone is insufficient. There is something anemic in our apologies today. They seem superficial, insincere, and unsatisfying. Like the kid caught in a conflict and commanded to make his contrition, the words seem somewhat hollow and without heart. I am not suggesting Don isn’t sorry, but something seems to be missing. I suggest the problem today is that we have forgotten how to really repent. Repentance is more than “my bad”; it climbs higher and cuts deeper. Former generations knew this. David cried in the Psalms “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned”. Or maybe more relevant to our present point is the profound pain of the prophet Isaiah “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips…” Today we say sorry like sin is no more than a simple slip and transgression but a trifle. We may be ashamed that we have offended man, but we are not abased by our offence against God. Our apologies today are only horizontal, never vertical. In the 1600’s true repentance was defined like this “…out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins…he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with Him in all the ways of new obedience” (from The Westminster Catechism, 1648). Somehow an apology, no matter how sincere, comes up short.

Lesson 3: Forgiveness is the greatest gift of all. But what does it mean to forgive? For many, it means ‘trying to forget wrongs’, but such a definition falls flat. Even our dictionary doesn’t seem to do it justice. It defines forgiveness in terms of “feelings” such as “cease to feel angry or resentful toward” [Oxford Dictionary, 2002]. True forgiveness is neither a feeling nor forgetting, it is a fact. I believe the English word “forgive” comes from the Old English forgiefan meaning to “completely give up”. This word translates a Greek word which means literally to send forth, send away, and forsake. Forgiveness, we might say, is final. The news today reports a statement by the team that says they accept the apology of Mr. Imus and are in the “process of forgiving”. I guess I’m glad that an understanding is being worked out and that healing can begin. But forgiveness is not a gradual process, it is a glorious pronouncement! A great help is found in Ephesians 4:32 “…forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you”. Forgiveness, once received, is the greatest gift of all. It should surprise us, shock us, and also sober us. Do you know God’s forgiveness? May that flavor our own forgiveness and let us learn well these lessons of life, both for our sakes, and for the generation to come.

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