The Neighborhood Has Seen Better Days

This is a piece I wrote using the writing prompt, “The Neighborhood Has Seen Better Days.”

I’m twelve. Feels like I’ve been twelve forever. Time has been standing still this whole, hot steamy summer. There’s been plenty of chances to sit here on my steps and watch the cars whizz by. Oh, but the motorcycles. They are wonderful. Most people today ride without helmets. Hair flying about. Tee-shirts. Shorts. So cool. So absolutely dangerously cool. I’m so happy lately, living in a fine house with a wonderful mom, belly full, shoes on my feet. Plenty of shoes. Pretty shoes. Lots of dresses and dollies and teddy bears. My room is so nice and warm and purple. I think I even have six pillows. There’s nothing I love better than to climb up on my bed and bury myself in my blankets and dream of days when the neighborhood was a nicer place.

But today, right now, I am sitting on my stoop watching Mrs. Pauley argue with a man in a black suit holding a piece of paper. I remember playing hopscotch with Mrs. Pauley’s kids, racing bikes around the block, selling lemonade at our corner stand, and lazily brushing the dog on her front porch. Lilly, her middle daughter, was my best friend. I had her over to my house for a sleepover at least half-a-dozen times. Lilly kind of liked Tom, Ernie Conrad’s son. Ernie Conrad ran the neighborhood barber shop. My brother Steve was good friends with Tom. They spent many hot summer days in the air-conditioned shop reading Archie comics and sucking on Tootsie Roll Pops. The shop had mirrors on both walls, and the boys would stand and look at themselves in the never-ending reflections. Tiny copies of themselves over and over without end.

But poor Mrs. Pauley. She is right in the middle of trying to live her life. Raising a family of six. Happily married. Always smiling. Buying Girl Scout cookies. Feeding the birds. Serving as a Block Parent. A regular at PTA. Taking us to the community swimming pool, and even braving the cold in December to take us ice skating. A mom’s mom. A real nice lady. So it was very sad when her husband passed away. He had a great job at the railroad. My dad said Mr. Pauley made a lot of money. Things were fine at first, then the trouble started. The two-car family soon became a one-car family. My friend Lilly started going hungry. She ate at our house a lot. She told me her brothers and her sister were living with Mrs. Pauley’s parents. Notices started being posted on the front door. The porch wasn’t swept. Someone stole the wicker chairs. The windows remained filthy. I didn’t see Lilly as much. In fact, she missed a lot of school.

Which brings me to the afternoon I was sitting on the front steps of my porch. It was hot out. No air was moving. Mrs. Pauley was standing in the doorway, looking rather upset. There was a policeman and a county sheriff standing on either side. A man with a briefcase and handful of papers was arguing with Mrs. Pauley. She was starting to cry. I could tell the county sheriff was being sympathetic. Mrs. Pauley pleaded one last time, asking “Isn’t there something I can do?” The official-looking man in the dark suit shook his head no and reached out to post a paper on the door. I could see what it said from across the street. NOTICE TO VACATE.

I looked up and down the street. Trash littered the gutters. A car sat in front of Mr. Baker’s house with four flat tires. There was an empty lot where Ernie Conrad’s barber shop used to be. Most of the front porches were piled up with old furniture, busted exercise equipment and beat-up bicycles. There were broken mini blinds in the windows, and many had no curtains.

It seems the neighborhood had seen better days.

©2015 Steven Barto

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Lynn

I’ve been less than connected to others during much of my life. I’m not so sure it was by choice. I often felt dark inside. Unable to receive light. To use illumination in any way. Such as to cast meaning and clarity on a situation. To show me a direction. To give sight where it didn’t seem to exist. It’s a singularly lonely feeling. An inability to latch on to others in any significant way. Sometimes it would feel like I was the only one in the room despite the cast of thousands swarming around me. I couldn’t even hear others breathing. Eye contact was not possible. The gaze of others was so bright it would cause me to squint and guard my eyes. All that content, all those queries, coming at me all at once. Blinding me. Confusing me. Causing me to shut down, which made it all the more impossible to go outside myself. Which, of course, led to cold, smothering, deep isolation.

I felt that way a lot. Communication was painful. Nauseating. I was fully shut down most of my childhood and teen years. We moved a lot as a family, which made my social awkwardness commonplace. It wasn’t just about girls. I liked girls. Obsessed over them. Oh, their lips and their curves. I was aware of every girl in the room. Not that I believed they were interested in me. I had too many problems dealing with people in general. Add sexual tension, and I was frozen in place.

I think that’s why it’s so fascinating to me that my first best friend was a girl. Lynn. She was cute. Not gorgeous. She had a fast reputation as a young woman, which sort of frightened me. (There’s no way I would know what to do.) Lynn was unique and otherworldly. She danced her own way. She did things she wanted to do, and she had no real sense of restraint. Her eyes were bright. Wide open. Telling. Funny thing though: I didn’t have to squint when I looked at her. The brightness I shied away from in others was warm and subdued in Lynn’s gaze. It was beyond a gaze, actually. It was a gentle peek inside. There was nothing threatening or overwhelming about her contact. I felt shallow and warm and alive when she looked at me. I felt aroused. Nothing too deep or complicated. No rules. No agenda. Just a slow sucking in. A natural feeling of compatibility. A very special feeling.

I didn’t quite understand what was going on between Lynn and I. We were not officially dating. But we were joined somehow; spiritually, maybe. It was as if we’d been gliding on a pathway of discovery and comprehension. No one ever understood me before Lynn. Freak that I was, I couldn’t understand me. I was lost even to myself, and so I couldn’t explain it. I had no respect for the feelings of others. You were no more than an object for me to use for my own ends. My ends were justified in my mind. There was only one way: the way I chose to go. I saw no other paths. I considered no consequences. Certainly, it was no concern to me how my behavior would effect someone else. This is, of course, the very root of my lack of friends. Even when my mistakes were pointed out to me, I couldn’t see them.

Except when they were pointed out by Lynn. She was gentle about it, and that was a first for me. No one had ever been gentle or respectful to me. It seemed that Lynn wanted me to learn something about myself that would lead to a happier life. She understood my isolation, and hoped to teach me of its source. She knew it wasn’t of my own doing. It was because of things that were done to me. My isolation was because of others. Lynn didn’t want me blaming myself for my lack of friendships despite my bad habits and selfish behaviors. She knew the egg (in this case) came before the chicken. My personality was hatched, in other words. Who I was and how I acted was a byproduct of how I was treated. Things were done to me in the name of love that affected me deeply.

Some days I wish Lynn were still here. She died of ovarian cancer ten years ago.

©2017 Steven Barto

Baa Baa Black Sheep

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A black sheep stands out from the flock. In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group. It seems nearly every family in America has one. The troubled child. A lightning rod of sorts. The center of attention. Always in the hot seat. The squeaky wheel in need of grease. Chances are, if you are the black sheep of the family, then you’ll know about it. Unfortunately for you, you were born as the runt of the litter and your family isn’t exactly pleased with your existence. At the very worst, you’re the stereotypical black sheep – an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, delinquent, and a constant disappointment to your family.

But not every black sheep is as dramatic as that, and it may just take something little for you to set off your family’s wrath. You may be an atheist in a family of Christians, unemployed, a party animal, have trouble in school. Maybe you got your high school sweetheart pregnant the summer you both graduated. All of these attributes can make you the black sheep, and make your parents wonder where they went wrong. However, being the black sheep of the family doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means that you’re different. You see things differently, have you own opinions, and you’re probably the only one on your side, so it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar:

  • Your parents were more strict with you than they were with your other siblings.
  • Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately.
  • You always carried the feeling that you “didn’t fit in” with your family, and you didn’t develop strong connections with them.
  • You were mocked, ridiculed and/or made fun of on a constant basis.
  • Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as though you were always fundamentally lacking.
  • You developed mental or emotional disorders, and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and overburdened.
  • Your family didn’t show any interest in who you really were as a person.
  • You were criticized, completely ignored, or or emotionally manipulated if you rebelled in any way.

The role we played as children and young adults in our families contributes immensely to our present sense of self-worth, feelings of social approval, and our psychological and emotional well-being at large. If you’re like me, you may have got stuck in a role that undermined your sense of being a fundamentally “good” and “acceptable” person deep down, something that still affects me to this very day.  You may find yourself identified as the trouble child or the black sheep of your family, and this may cause you a lot of shame and depression in your life. Families often focus on the behavior of one child who seems to struggle with behaving properly. Dysfunctional families tend to avoid their own internal pain, disappointments and struggles by pointing the finger at another family member as the cause for all the problems they experience.

I took a class on marriage and family last semester at Colorado Christian University. The core textbook for the class, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Balswick & Balswick, 2014), indicates that it’s critical for children to develop into their own unique selves within the context of family unity. Family scientists and counselors refer to this as differentiation – the process of maintaining a separate identity while simultaneously remaining connected in relationship, belonging, and unity. Another way to describe this process is interdependency.

Balswick & Balswick believe that family relationships involve four sequential (non-linear) states: covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. Covenant has to do with commitment to family members, and hinges on unconditional love. Grace involves forgiving other family members and being unforgiven by them. Certainly, from a human perspective, the unconditional love of God makes no sense until we look at it through the eyes of grace. Grace is truly a relational word, and means unmerited favor. John Rogerson (1996) takes the understanding of grace as a natural extension of convenant love and applies it to family life. He believes the family unit to be “…structures of grace…social arrangements designed to mitigate hardship and misfortune, and grounded in God’s mercy.”

Family relationships, as designed by God, are meant to be lived out in an atmosphere of grace, not “law.” Family life based on contract leads to an atmosphere of law, and is a discredit to Christianity. Christ came in human form to reconcile the world to God. This act of divine love and forgiveness is the basis for human love and forgiveness. We can forgive others as we have been forgiven. It is the love of God within that makes this possible. Of course, humans are limited and fallen. We can never fulfill the law. Thankfully, we are free from the law because of Christ’s perfection and righteousness, which leads to our salvation. When it comes to family relationships, none of us can expect to measure up. In a family based on law, the members demand perfection of one another.

Shame is often born out of a fear of unworthiness or rejection. When shame is present, family members put on masks and begin to play deceptive roles before one another. Children who experience the wrath of a parent on a nearly daily basis try to escape that wrath by employing various avoidance behaviors, such as lying, hiding, and deception. However, when family members experience convenant love, grace, and empowerment, they will be able to communicate confidently and express themselves freely without fear. Typically, family members should want what is best for one another. There must first be an atmosphere of unconditional covenant in the family, as well as open communication and honest sharing without the threat of rejection.

Inasmuch as all family members are imperfect, each with their own individual temperaments and experiences, they progress at different rates in the realization of God’s ideals of unconditional love, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. That is to say, all family members fall on a continuum between hurting and healing behaviors. When families choose hurting behaviors and move away from God’s way, the entire family will be negatively effected. Among the hurting behaviors in a family environment are conditional love, self-centeredness, perfectionism, fault finding, efforts to control or punish others, unreliability, denial of feelings, and lack of communication. With such behaviors, the focus is on self rather than on the best interests of the other family members. When children are raised in this type of family, they are limited in their ability to love others unconditionally.

Hurting families tend to withhold grace, often demanding unreasonable perfection, and blaming those members who don’t measure up. Individuals in these families fear they will make a mistake and be rejected because of failure to meet the standards. So they try harder to be perfect. What they need is acceptance for who they are, and forgiveness when they fail. Members of hurting families are typically not able to get in touch with their feelings. Their fear of rejection keeps them in denial of their emotions. What they need most is a safe atmosphere in which they can express their feelings, thoughts, wants, and desires, and be heard and understood by the other family members. Open communication helps each person share more honestly rather than hide feelings and thoughts.

A child who was loved conditionally (with strings attached) needs to experience unconditional love in order to feel lovable. This would go a long way to break the perpetual cycle found in hurting families. Such a breakthrough is predicated upon receiving God’s unconditional love. Being cherished by God no matter what you’ve done gives you a sense of self-worth and a new self-perception. (“I am lovable!”) Drawing on the Holy Spirit and maturing faith, the individual now has reason to follow God’s example and adopt healing behaviors. Living in covenant love is a dynamic process. God has designed family relationships to grow from hurting to healing behavior. As families accomplish this, it helps family members to eventually reach out to people beyond the boundaries of the family.

Conclusion

We know what the black sheep of the family looks like. He’s the “bad” guy who gets in trouble all the time at school, and later with the law and society in general. The “wild child” with poor impulse control who begins abusing drugs and alcohol. Someone who tends to embarrass the family by making all of the family secrets apparent to the world. Obviously, the family can’t be that great if little Stevie ended up drinking and drugging and spending three years in state prison, right? No matter what the family does to undo that image, there’s always Stevie to contend with. And how did he grow up so “bad” if he came from such an upstanding family?

Black sheep are basically scapegoats raised by parents who have a particular issue with morality. Either they are rigidly moralistic and can’t abide the slightest infringement of the rules, or they are unable to own their own mistakes and shortcomings. They tend to project these issues onto one of their children, seeing that child as wrong, “bad,” immoral, or evil. Often, the child will take on the bad, swallow it deep down into the unconscious, and then work really hard to be “good.” However, having not been empowered by his parents, such a child is typically incapable of self-control.

In this type of situation, parents unwittingly react to the challenge of controlling the bad child by talking to the child. Unfortunately, this makes him feel as if it is hopeless to even consider changing. Perhaps the parents are sincerely worried about what’s going on, but they don’t recognize the unconscious projections that are occurring in the home. They might even show him affection during this talk. They look him right in the eye with a sincere worry about what might happen to him if he doesn’t stop. The child, again taking on the emotional content of the conversation as if it belongs solely to him (as the empathic scapegoat child generally does) assumes that not only is he bad for upsetting his parents, he must be really hopeless if his parents are worried.

We can’t change the past. Our childhood experiences have shaped us into the men and women we are today. Both the good and the bad parts. What we can do, however, is change the way we view our past. It is important that we make sense of our life story. We need to think about experiences in our past, and how these experiences have shaped the actions we take today and in the future. By linking past experiences to our present, we’ll be able to better understand the motives behind our actions, and move forward in such a way that that our past, while remaining an integral part of ourselves, doesn’t define us for the rest of our lives.

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The First Person I Must Get Along With is Me

Author Sydney J. Harris observed, “If you’re not comfortable with yourself, you can’t be comfortable with others.” Moreover, if you do not believe in yourself, you will sabotage relationships. Your image of yourself restricts your ability to build healthy relationships. A negative self-image will also keep you from being successful. If you do achieve a shred of success, it won’t last. You will eventually bring yourself down to the lower level of expectations you hold for yourself.

Psychologist and author Phil McGraw states, “I will always say that the most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. You’ve got to be your own best friend first.” How can you be “best friends” with someone you don’t know or don’t like? You can’t. That’s why it’s important to find out who you are and work to become someone you like and respect.

Maxwell, J. (2004), Winning With People. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Things I’ve Learned About Human Nature

  1. When our communities were tribal-based, the good of the clan came before the good of the individual.
  2. Man is a social animal, and he is not designed for isolation.
  3. There is a God-shaped hole within all of us that cannot be filled by sex, booze, drugs, gambling, career, cars or big houses. I’ve heard this concept described as the “hole in the soul.”
  4. It’s better to leave a legacy than a personal history.
  5. When we choose to counsel and help others whose life has gone off tracks, our past becomes an asset rather than a liability.
  6. Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations. It is sometimes associated with other terms such as true altruism, or complete love.
  7. Unfortunately, acts of evil aren’t terrifyingly inhumane, but rather all too human.
  8. Man is hard-wired to take credit for everything good in his life, and to blame God for everything wrong in his life.
  9. We are a snapshot or facsimile of God. Our godlikeness is the path to our greatest fulfillment.
  10. We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining.

The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise

In addition to completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology online at Colorado Christian University, I am also working diligently to prepare myself for work as an addictions counselor. Part of that work includes increasing my acceptance of others, increasing my level of compassion, and improving my spiritual condition. That also includes letting go of hurts, disappointments and offenses.

I picked up a photocopy today of something called The Forgiveness and Compassion Exercise by Harry Palmer. This exercise can be done with someone in mind whom you resent, or for anyone anywhere. It should be done in a way where no one notices.

Try to do all five steps (listed below) on the same person. Concentrate on that person and repeat each of the following to yourself:

  1. Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in their life.
  2. Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life.
  3. Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4. Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill their needs.
  5. Just like me, this person is learning about life.

Coop Came Back

Coop came back last week. I was in the backyard, weeding and fussing with my garden.

“Hey buddy,” he said, standing behind me. No mistaking the familiar voice. I stood and turned.

“Don’t just stand there,” he said.

I dropped the hand rake and embraced him. Here he was. My best friend. Best man at my wedding. Well, actually, both weddings. The one and only Cooper Wilson, back from the dead.

“Didn’t mean to disappear on you like that,” he said. “I had no choice, you know?”

“I know.”

“Come out front. I have something to show you.”

We walked around the house. I needed no prompting. I knew what I was supposed to see. The obvious giant object sitting under my maple tree. A familiar shape, hidden under a tarp.

“Go on,” he said, gesturing with his head. My heart was pounding. I had goose bumps up and down my arms. I nearly sprinted over to the object and stopped, staring. I was afraid if I removed the cover, I would be wrong. That there would be something else under there. At least for the moment I had the hope of sweet anticipation.

“What is this?”

“Take a look stupid.”

I reached for the tarp. As the corner of the chrome bumper peeked out from under the cover, I knew. “You sonofabitch,” I said.

Coop was standing on the opposite side. “Oh, this is nuts!” he cried. “Just take the damn cover off.” He reached down and grabbed the right corner. We peeled the cover off the gleaming black hood. There she was. My 1976 Dodge Challenger R/T with a 383 cubic-inch 335 horsepower V8.

“But how?” I said.

“I own a research company, dummy. Nothing to it.”

The keys were in the ignition. We threw the rest of the car cover on the ground.

“Get in,” Coop said. I reached for the door handle with trembling hands. The engine turned over and purred, bringing back every moment of my senior year in an overwhelming flood. Coop hopped in the passenger seat. “Where to?” he said.

I gave the obvious response. “To the reservoir.” As I pulled out of the front yard, I noticed Coop had a tear on his left cheek.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was an ass.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “You were. But, hey, we’re all assholes at one time or another.”

Coop waived at Susan sitting on the porch swing. She smiled and tucked her legs up under her chin.

“To the reservoir,” Coop echoed.

Not As Likely As Dad

I don’t always post this type of comment on my blog, but for some reason it felt very fitting. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, especially if you’ve read my ABOUT PAGE, you’ll understand where these thoughts and emotions are coming from. I opened up Facebook earlier, and was faced with the Daily Question: What’s On Your Mind? Well here’s what’s on my mind today.

What’s on my mind? The election made me think that I initially registered as a Democrat. I did this mainly to get my dad’s goat! I figured there was no way I was going to be like him. For those of you who have known me over the years, this is a true statement. I have never been like him. I have never been as responsible as him. As judicious as him. As hard working as him. As fair-minded as him. As honest as him. As respectful of others as him. As organized as him. As principled as him. As good at picking friends as him. As good at picking a wife as him. As good at picking the right fight as him. As good at learning to live without as him. As good at protecting your reputation as he was. As careful with my money as he was. As likely to pay a bill on time as he was. As good at balancing a checkbook as he was. As likely to establish and stick to a monthly budget as he was. As good at preparing for “terrible times to come” as he was. (We still have the Faraday Cage!) As likely as he was to always look a person in the eye when speaking to them. As likely to save things that are important to you. (Poor Yoda!) As quick to realize that sometimes we need “a little push,” and we should not take the nudging of others personally when we get that push. When a “son” in his mid 50s, the oldest of four siblings, realizes how unlike his father he has become, and then realizes he might not have a lot of time left in his life to work on these numerous failings or, if you prefer, character defects, that son begins to panic. But, when that “son” finally aligns his will with God’s will, and begins to acquire not only some of his father’s character traits, but begins to acquire some of the traits outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 (The Love Chapter), that “son” begins to focus on what he can become and what he is becoming rather than what he could have been. It all starts with having a fine example of a father to model yourself after in the first place. Thank you dad.

[expletive deleted]

What do you think of when you read the above title? I think of the numerous comments Nixon made in the Oval Office that, when transcribed, included the notation [expletive deleted] in order to redact foul language used in conversations Nixon had with his chief of staff, the attorney general, and other members of his administration. Maybe you remember George Carlin’s bit about the seven dirty words you cannot say on television. At the time, the words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleeped in the rare cases in which they were used; broadcast standards differ throughout the world, then and now, although most of the words on Carlin’s original list remain taboo on American broadcast television as of 2015. Of course, use of any of these bad words is generally considered to be strongly impolite, rude or offensive.

On December 8, 2003, Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) introduced a bill in Congress to designate a derivative list of George Carlin’s offensive words as profane in the U.S. Code. The stated purpose of the bill was “To amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for the punishment of certain profane broadcasts” that included Carlin’s seven words. Although I will not list them here, they are unbelievably included in the text of the bill.

Profanity, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an offensive word” or “offensive language.” It is also referred to as bad language, strong language, coarse language, foul language, bad words, vulgar language, lewd language, swearing, cursing, cussing, or using expletives. Foul language can be used to show a debasement of someone or something, or show intense emotion. In its older, more literal sense, the term “profanity” refers to offensive or religious words used in a way that shows the user does not respect God or holy things.

All language is a kind of social contract. We agree, for example, to call the pointy thing in our arm an elbow, just like we agree to label things we find despicable with words we identify as profane. The words themselves hold only the power we give them. But curse words tend to be powerful indeed, because to linguistically reduce something or someone to the level of biological functions (and their resultant products) is almost always an act of contempt. And contempt is toxic. Contempt is injurious. Contempt is a mixture of anger and disgust, expressed from a position of superiority. It denigrates, devalues, and dismisses. It’s not hard to understand why even subtle levels of contempt are damaging—not only in marriages but in all human interaction.

If profane language has a privileged place in the lexicon of contempt, then Christians have a unique mandate to avoid profanity. It’s not that abstaining from pejorative language outfits us with some holier-than-thou halo. It’s that we are called to live with a servant’s heart, affirming the dignity of every human and the sacredness of existence. We’re taught in the Scriptures to love one another. Even our enemies. We’re reminded that, as Christians, we are often the only “Jesus” someone might see in their travels. Agnostics, atheists, and other detractors from the faith, are notorious for finding “examples” that prove Christians are hypocrites.  Kari Jobe, contemporary Christian singer/songwriter, sings, “We are the light of the world, We are the city on a hill, We are the light of the world, We gotta, we gotta, we gotta let the light shine.”

James 3:6-9 says, “And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.” (New Living Translation) We’re told in Colossians 3:8-10, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

Jesus told us in Matthew 15:10-11, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”  James 3:10 says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” Deuteronomy 5:11 states, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” Reminds me of a Facebook post I read recently. It said, If you feel like cursing anyone today, use your own name, signed, God.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” The word for corrupt refers to that which is foul or rotten, such as spoiled fruit or putrid meat.  Foul language of any sort should never pass a Christian’s lips, because it is totally out of character with his new life in Christ.

It can be concluded from the Biblical definition of sin, the foregoing overview on foul language, and Scripture’s many expressions on the proper use of our tongue, that it is without question a sin to curse. As Christians, we are expected to rest on the promises of God, “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Cursing is contrary to resting on God’s promises, for it is a failure to follow the Lord’s greatest commandment to love God and to love people. (See Matthew 22:37-40) When we curse an individual, we do not show him or her love, and when we curse God, we do not love Him.

Christians are called upon to live differently and to act differently than the world of unbelievers. I do not need to speak profanity to win a cursing unbeliever anymore than I need to drink alcohol to win over an alcoholic. The words of Scripture have all the potency and power we need to reach the heart of the lost. As a believer, you should understand that an inability or unwillingness to take control of your language shows a paucity of self-control or lack of graciousness toward others. Swearing shows that you are unconcerned about that which Christians ought to be concerned: edification, grace, humility, patience, self-control, evangelistic witness, example to children, integrity, and many other virtues that we extol. These are undermined by the use of language that offends or lumps us in with others who offend.

We should not let our words put us in cahoots with others who use words hurtfully or indiscriminately. A guy at the local gym swears like a sailor, as do his companions. But when he hears a pastor drop a curse word, he considers that to be evidence that the pastor most likely commits a whole slew of other infractions. When a Christian hits his thumb with a hammer and lets loose with a curse word, it’s obvious he’s harboring stuff inside that he doesn’t show unless his guard is down.

In the end, language is to be used for what glorifies God. A handy rule may be that if you aren’t prepared to use a particular word in your prayer to God then you shouldn’t be using it in your conversations with others.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).