Here’s yet another reason to be quiet: survival.

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. (Proverbs 18:6 ESV)

Loose lips not only sink ships. They also account for a disproportionate percentage of bar-room brawls, spats between neighbors, boardroom eruptions, and fisticuffs in the Walmart parking lot.

Only a fool insists upon flapping his gums every time a thought occurs.

Unless you have a compelling reason to hang around when a loud conversationalist says, ‘Look, I always say exactly what’s on my mind’, run away.

We are a contentious and litigious culture, not least because we just can’t stop talking. We bring unnecessary grief upon ourselves.

Ironically, the curator of biblical wisdom himself becomes loquacious when it comes to the healthiness of silence:

A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. (Proverbs 18:7 ESV)

Wisdom that is self-serving is not less wise for its protective instinct.

It knows what it’s talking about, so to speak.

So, stop talking.

Eventually, people will want to know what you think.

Someone has placed in my possession two immaculate white business cards containing a mere pair of words written in a neat, understated black script:

Stop talking.

Whether whimsical, mean-spirited, or sagacious, the identity of the donor remains unknown to me. The cards travel with me, mostly for the humor of them but also because—in tormented moments—I wonder whether they mean what they say and were given to me with resolute purpose.

These literary curios were not the first to arrive at their mysterious knowledge.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27 ESV)

The mouth and the tongue are lousy instruments of perception. Ears and eyes beat them by a country mile.

Ears and eyes channel to the soul of their owner the occasional regretful impression, it is true. But the mouth is a virtual reservoir of sorrow. Unmanaged, left to its own devices, it makes a fool of the man or woman who unhands it.

Stop talking.

The biblical fund of wisdom draws out the power of this simple instruction still further, with just the hint of a smile:

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28 ESV)

So much of growing wise is hard and complex. The real ROI lies in the bonanza that comes from bearing down on the simplest instructions.

Start here:

Stop talking.

Sorrow flows up and down the generations like greased lighting.

One begets a dullard to one’s own grief; The father of a villain has no joy. (Proverbs 17:21 JPS)

By contrast, paternal admiration and filial delight move at a slower pace. They grow incrementally, are nourished by passing showers rather than drowned by monsoons, they linger and satisfy like a slow-moving front of cool air that trundles in imperceptibly yet refreshes.

On this Father’s Day, it is easy for this father to linger in range of the proverb’s echo and consider what might have been. I do so with gratitude, for these dire things have not been my lot.

My two sons’ voices come over the line with the growing assuredness of young men who are finding their way. The voices of their respective wives, the going-on-two squeals of a grandson, these are the sonic background of shared life that has found form and planted itself in good soil.

Grief and villainy belong to another place, another time, and—in this moment—other families. One says so with empathy, not Schadenfreude.

Their pain does not go unchronicled. The curator of biblical wisdom knows that fathers and mothers suffer with their children. The knife of a child’s folly finds flesh easily, his traumatized parents always vulnerable to the latest calamity, the boundary between love and principle ever elusive.

The family honor is embarrassingly stained by those stupidities that find their way out into the community’s eye. Yet mother and father live with so many more that have never gone public, the quiet corrosive destruction of a family’s imagined future by villainies they never dreamed their own flesh and blood could perpetrate.

How different on this Father’s Day afternoon to recall those voices over the phone, those words from sons who live too far away but do not wander or at least do not wander without aim.

May they continue to find their way home, soon and safely, bringing their families with them.

May this happy Father’s Day be one of many, strung like beads on the thin string of my life, until no-longer-young sons carry their contented old man’s body to its rest.

We seldom imagine that our purpose lies in a relative’s misfortune.

Characteristically, biblical wisdom asks us to re-think:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 ESV)

Given that most readers of this blog are daughters and sons of a culture that has nuclear-ized our understanding of family, we probably need the invitation to imagine the ‘brother’ in question as something wider than a son of the same father and mother. ‘Kin’, though slightly archaic, does not fit badly as a translation of the Hebrew word. ‘Close relative’ loses the proverb’s poetic brevity, but communicates the essence.

‘Why am I here?’, we might ask ourselves in a private moment? ‘What was I born for?’

Perhaps to accompany a relative in her darkest moment, to offer solace in a brother’s sorrow. To be there. To take the charge, absorb some of the blow, even if aimed at another.

What greater love?

We say a lot by the little words we choose as short-hand for large and complex things.

The biblical Book of Acts spins out its eventful story of the early Jesus movement, pausing from time to time to summarize. It abbreviates with the dense little expression the word of God.

But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:24 ESV)

Murder and intrigue, desperation and redemption, bold public confrontation and the quiet joys of new family formed and flourishing. Luke the historian compacts this into five syllables, just four in English: the word of God.

How, a careful reader might wonder, can he get away with this kind of egregious reductionism? Who does he think we are, we erudite fans of multiple causation and plot complexity?

But Luke knows exactly what he is doing. This is no merely human social movement, no activist energizing of small masses of humanity towards a craftily focused goal. Instead, Luke purports to describe the catalytic, unpredictable, risk-laden dynamic that is unleashed by a powerful message from heaven.

All that Luke has narrated—the full panoply of moving parts and re-purposed personalities, all this drama—is for him sufficiently described as the word of God. He is clear on the root and clear about the branches, so he does not confuse them.

If the entire tree can be described by these four words, so in a more focused way can the root.

When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. (Acts 13:6–7 ESV)

If the reader inquires into this Lucan abbreviation—what it stands for—one comes away with a message about persistent divine attention to the fate of created humanity, newly manifest in space and time; of a divine redeemer sent to love, die, and return to life for that same humanity; of ancient, Israel-bound promise bursting its boundaries and flowing out into the lives of the unwashed, the ill-formed, and the untrimmed; of many-colored skin washed clean of toxic guilt and shame; of an unstoppable movement laced through with courage and care that were not among such common folk just yesterday; of lame men dancing, outcasts welcomed home, orphans and disposable children embraced; of an open rather than a closed future, redolent of purpose and praise.

In short, the word of God.

You don’t have to beat a wise man up to get him to correct his course.

You can talk quiet sense to a woman who needs to think again and, if she’s wise, she’ll listen and act.

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. (Proverbs 17:10 ESV)

The wise have thin skin, in the best and uncommon sense of the expression. They’re correctable, eager to fix what’s wrong, responsive to the hard word of a caring friend. Continue Reading »

We take ourselves  so seriously.
Our wounded pride feeds our memory and makes it strong.
Unless, that is, we have learned to seek love as more precious than the satisfaction of our selective demand for justice.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9 ESV)

True to its instinct, the proverb does not treat an offense as a remote possibility. It stands before us, this injury a friend has done to us. We have been hurt, perhaps humiliated. There is no other way to say it.

But the one wise enough to ‘cover’ an offense, to respond as though it had not occurred or as though it is of no consequence, seeks love.

If it were not for the moving current of realism that flows ceaselessly down the stream bed of biblical wisdom, we might get this proverb wrong in the other direction. That is, we might conclude that injustice and injury are never the weighty matters that the biblical witness calls them out to be. Proverbs 17.9 does not dispute that fact.

Rather, the saying speaks to the day-to-day humiliations and losses that we inevitably suffer in the milling about of fickle friends, insensitive neighbors, and dumb relatives. We can dwell on these things as though life and death swings in the balance.

Or we can choose to overlook such slights, secure enough in ourselves and the constancy of those who genuinely have our back that we are free to pursue love instead of insisting on justice.

To do otherwise, the proverb instructs, us is to ‘separate friends’. You can dwell on such small-ish pains, the proverb would have us understand, but you’ll be alone in the end if you do.

Biblical wisdom is easily misunderstood by the more righteously absolutist among us precisely because it traffics in nuance and requires a sense of proportion. The proverb before us is particularly vulnerable to misunderstanding.

‘Get over yourself …’, would not be a misleading abbreviation. Seek love, get back in there with your clumsy friends, look forward not backwards.

Let it go.

It’s not the end of the world.

Continue Reading »


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