By Michael J. Brooks
My generation remembers the Watergate era and the White House taping system. President Nixon wasn’t the first president to tape in the Oval Office; President Johnson did before him. But Nixon’s tapes were the first to be subpoenaed by Congress. They were thought to be significant in the ongoing investigation of the DNC burglary.
President Nixon resisted releasing the tapes at first. He offered transcripts in their place with sensitive national security information stricken, he said. Numerous words were removed from the tapes in transcription, and not all of them were of national security concern. “Expletive deleted” moved into our vocabulary when the transcripts omitted the president’s swear words. We discovered that our president cursed like a sailor. (In fact, he was a sailor, having served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.)
I suppose a president swearing isn’t as shocking today as it was then. Our culture has grown a bit courser, and our entertainment venues often feature loads of swear words.
Why do people swear?
The website psychcentral.com explored research by Timothy Jay that offered some insight into this matter. Jay called them “taboo words,” and compared them to how we use the horn in our cars–we use the horn to express various emotions, including frustration and anger.
I remained at the intersection for two seconds after the light turned green last week and the driver behind me sounded her horn. What was she saying? I can only imagine that it wasn’t very nice!
On the positive side, Jay said cursing can be cathartic, helping release pent-up frustration and can be a “useful substitute for physical violence.” I suppose most of us would prefer being cursed rather than getting a bloody nose.
Interestingly, Jay wrote “we . . . learn that we may be able to say a swear word in one social context, but not another.”
A man in our church told me recently that he used terrible language before he became a Christian, but he never cursed in the presence of women. This underscores Jay’s assertion that we exercise some control in our choice of words.
So why don’t we make better choices?
The Message Bible has a strikingly clear rendering of Ephesians 4: 29-30. “Watch the way you talk,” the apostle Paul wrote. “Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart.”
Paul agreed that we have a choice to make in our words.
As followers of Christ we ought to choose words of grace rather than words of degradation and insult. One lady insisted she “tasted” every word before she spoke them. So should we all. -30-
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.