If you read through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22 you can come across this verse.
22 "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." NIV
I pasted the verse above from BibleGateway.com - and is from the New International Version. In the middle of the verse there's this word; "Raca" - with a note [d] - which if you click on it - will tell you that raca is an Aramaic language term of contempt. In other translations the word raca only appears as a footnote - and the word is translated in the text as "you fool!" or "idiot". Most versions have a footnote about this term. If you keep digging around - you can uncover that this term doesn't actually have a good equivalent in English - because the word in Aramaic also sounds like the word "to spit." It's not really like calling someone a moron. It's also not like calling someone a dumb-dumb. It is like spitting in someone's face while calling them the foulest thing you can think of. It is soul-withering.
This is the only place this word appears in the entire Bible. It gets a lot of attention - rightfully - because of what the rest of that verse in Matthew 5:22 says ... that speaking this way - puts you in danger of hell. To a fluent Aramaic speaker - based on what I've studied because I'm not fluent in Aramaic - this isn't just a statement about someone's IQ. This term is a leathally soul-crushing trifecta of contempt, devaluation and dismissal. This is the way you speak to someone you're willing to put or leave in the gutter.
In other words: this is a term of deep shame.
Shame has has a lot of press lately - due in large part to the work of now world-famous shame expert, Dr. Brene' Brown. She's published a number of books, given a number of TED talks which continue to just grow in viewage. If you don't know about Dr. Brown's work or her TED talks - then you can go here to watch the first one and nourish your brain for about 18 minutes. Dr. Brown has been interviewed numerous times on numerous media platforms. I'm a podcast person - and I've heard many of her interviews via podcast. Interestingly - about half the time - the interviewer will eventually suggest that maybe shame should be used - but only towards really bad people. Dr. Brown's answer is unequivocally: "No." Then she goes on to explain how even shaming people who "deserve it" damages all the rest of the people who hear said shaming and don't deserve it. She goes on to declare that shame has no benefit to anyone. Anywhere. Ever.
Please re-read that last sentence with me - because I really need to get this too. The world's foremost and most outspoken expert on Shame believes it has NO place, NO where, at NO time. Shame is simply - THAT bad.
So - back to "raca" in Matthew 5:22
Read the verse above that - Matthew 5:21, and the one after that and on down through the end of verse 25. That whole little passage is titled with the heading "Murder". MURDER!!
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison."
In short - this passage links our mouths with the power to kill. I think we all know this. This is the crux of the misery that is bullying. This is the problem with that old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones" - and why it is just horse-hooey. There is - it seems - almost no way to causually not hear the awful things we hear. We HAVE to actively dismiss them. If we don't get rid of them - they kill us.
Dr. Brown is spiritual and talks about the value of being spiritual - but when she talks about the destructive power of shame, she is saying this based on over a decade (nearly two now actually) of empirical social research. Loads of data. Yet here we, or at least those of us who have read the sermon on the mount - have this straight out of Jesus' own mouth from 2000 years ago. Shaming = murder.
It's pretty clear that we can do a heap of damage - to ourselves and those around us - just thinking shame - but open up your Facebook right now - and cringe with me about the shame-pain flying around. I may not know a single thing about your newsfeed - but I know that.
Shame sells. I know they say that sex sells - and it does - but I think shame is the universally accepted G-rated substitute for sex, violence and vulgarity. "Let's all beat on the bad people!" Yet it is every bit as destructive.
And - please let me be really clear - sitting here writing this - I feel ashamed. If you know me - you know why. I have - as my mother told me when I was 12 - "a tongue what can clip a hedge". Apparently it was pretttttty baaaadddd when I was 12 - because my brother-in-law said the same thing. In fact - I just got off the phone with my brother, Dave - because I wanted to give an example on here of how sharp-tongued - or shame-driven my speech was/has been and wanted to clear it with him before I published the post. My brother's exact words this morning about this incident were: "Sis. How the heck do you remember this crap?" I'm soooo glad he doesn't remember.
Here's the example: When we were kids - I was 11, my brother was 16 - our family took a nearly three week vacation and drove in a tiny Honda civic from our home in Niles, Michigan all the way out to Los Angeles. Mom wanted us to see beautiful sights - the Grand Canyon, Brice Canyon, Yellowstone, On the way back we visited some friends of my parents, "The Olsens" - they asked me at dinner "What have you learned from this trip Amy Jo?" Noticing that I'd just been handed center stage at a two-family dinner - one of my bigger audiences to date - I sagaciously (or so I thought) declared that I'd learned "that my brother had a mouth the size of Grand Canyon that spouted like Old Faithful". The whole room roared with laughter. I think it took my brother a while to notice what happened because he was crushing on their cute daughter. Thank goodness he doesn't remember all the awful things I said - and I said a lot of them - my words were my weapon of choice growing up. Even as an adult I cannot even count the number of times in my life I withered someone with my words - and that horrifies me more than a bit.
Despite warnings - I was a slow learner apparently - in college I vividlyremember my discipler, Lauren, sitting me down with another couple of student leaders to explain to me that the things I said - and the way I said them was self-righteous, and judgmental - and this wasn't good. I am sorry to say that I stared and them and blinked and asked: "But what if I'm right?"
So - when I say that Shame, and all other possible permutations of slaying people with our words - I come at it as a slayer and slain.
And you know what? Slayer is worse. Slain is surely no picnic. But in our culture that loves shaming so much (I will cite 99% of all internet comments, ever.) - it's easy to shame shamers and shame slayers and dismiss them as "evil" or some other version of "less" (note the words that relate to worth, and contempt). Looking at my own capacity to slay and kill with my words though is much harder to stare at.
And yet - if laughter can heal us when we're sick (and I believe it is good medicine) - surely humility, ownership, and a little tongue-biting can heal the damage shame does our souls when we cut loose with it. In fact - in a future post - I'll dive into all the ways we can use our tongues to promote healing.
Sadly - for today - I'm focused on shame.
And I won't speak for you - but I will tell you that for a few years now I've been working really hard to throw zero shame ... and the super messed up thing is I still throw it - and sometimes I throw it at myself - as if that somehow makes it okay. Shame has a seductive, even addictive quality to it. We are alarmingly good at recalling the shaming, killing words others have said, and frequently completely oblivious about the remarks we've casually tossed out to others in heated moments - or moments when we knew we had an audience. It's as if we can toss death-bombs with our mouths and look in the mirror and see halos. Messed. Up. I want to be done with it. I literally believe it does less harm to drop any term of vulgarity - than it does to shame someone. And let me be clear - I really believe that it does as much more harm to my soul when I shame than it does the soul of the one I'm shaming - albeit different-feeling kinds of harm. That so often we can shame and not even recall it - is an indication of our woundedness. We don't notice. I'm not advocating that - I'm just saying. I know people who are extremely adverse to any form of swearing (not a bad trait). As a "preacher's kid" who spent many a hot summer evening completely glued to a vinyl covered pew - there were quite a few swear words I had no idea existed. But I knew shame. I think I've always known "raca" and all it's ilk.
Here's why I think shame is so bad. After so many decades of ministry and talking to people who's faiths are battered - they're not battered by Muslims, or Atheists, or Vegetarians attacking their faith. They're battered because someone in the Body of Christ, someone they thought was on their side and had their back - took aim - and shamed them.
I do not want to tear down the work of the Lord in someone else's soul - with my words - that extremely rare and precious gift we have among all life on this rock - for a seductive moment of laughter from a crowd, or self-righteous inner "glow". Who can rebuild such damage? Have you forgotten all the shaming things that once stabbed your heart? No. I want to build people up. I want to put my head on my pillow at night and fall asleep smiling about healing with my words.
This isn't about perfection - we can't attain that. Or guilt - we can grow in that. This is about offering a much needed refuge - to ourselves and the world at large. Everyone is drowning in shame. Go to the grocery store - the most shame-fueled publications, the rumor rags like Enquirer and People, are place directly across the most common shame-numbing drugs - like Snickers and Recees Peanutbutter Cups.
And - imagine the boon to our own souls to not cave to this sort of speech? It really does damage both ways. It's just playing with death. Not good. If laughter is good medicine - building one another up is the speech equivalent of a super-vitamin, or kale. That's it. Loving speech is surely to our souls what kale is to our bodies (even if it tastes a little like death to my mouth). I love to cook tasty, healthy food for my friends. A little salt makes that so easy. I want to season my speech with Grace - as with salt. (Colossians 4:6)
My prayer for us all today - is that the words we'd remember most would be those Christ died to let us hear. You are God's. He loves you.