Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. [James 1:26 (NIV)]

southern mockingbirdHearing the bird’s shrill harsh scream, I looked up expecting to see a blue jay. To my surprise, it was a mockingbird. Of all the beautiful songs it can imitate, I wondered why it chose the strident call of the jay. Then, remembering how many blue jays inhabit the area, I realized their raucous “jaaaaay” is what the mockingbird hears so that is what he sings. If he’d been listening to squeaky gates or frogs, he’d be mimicking them.

The bird reminded me of a friend who can be a bit of a grouch at times. While visiting family in the north over the holidays, he tired of hearing the grandkids squabble over their new toys and decided to go out and shovel the snow. To his displeasure, his young grandson insisted on helping. The boy was given a small shovel but complained that he wanted the big one. My friend used a few ill-chosen words to tell his grand no and set about shoveling. A few minutes later, the grand again insisted that he had to use the big shovel. Grandpa used a few more of those expletive-deleted words before letting the child give it a try. Of course, once he started with it, the boy cried that it was too heavy. “$@#!&)%! I told you so!” Grandpa angrily replied. There were a few more profanities when the boy started to toss snowballs but, eventually the shoveling was finished. Back in the house, as they took off their coats and boots, the youngster loudly and proudly announced to his parents, “We just shoveled the whole $@#!&)% driveway!” You can’t blame him for the bad language; like the mockingbird, he was just mimicking what he’d heard!

It’s not just small children and birds who echo what they’ve heard; we all model ourselves after the people we hear. For example, my mother-in-law often tells us how delicious the food is in her senior residence. If one of her tablemates complains about the night’s dinner, however, by the end of the meal, all eight women will be griping and, by the next day, Grandma’s telling me how terrible the food is. Pleasant or not, we tend to sing the song we hear. When we get together with our co-workers, once someone starts to grumble about the boss, before long everyone is grumbling about nearly everything at work. Someone starts to gossip and soon we’re all dishing about anyone not present. Most of us don’t start out planning on being negative, critical, disparaging or gossipy but, once someone starts the ball rolling, we tend to jump right in. Like the mockingbird and boy, we’re just mimicking what we hear to become one of the group.

Our job as Christians is more than just not singing the shrill song of the jay or the profane one of the testy grandpa. We must not join the disagreeable or objectionable chorus when it starts and should find a way to gently stop that nasty song from continuing once it has started. Our voices should be as pleasant as that of the nightingale or wood thrush. Let us always remember that our behavior is our witness, we should always bear the fruit of the spirit, and the only voice we should mimic is that of Jesus.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. [Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)]

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. [Psalm 141:3 (NIV)]

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