The medias response to President Trump's faux pas in the Fourth of July celebration was both amusing and irritating. In his speech he said---
“The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the
waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army
manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports. It did everything it had
to do. And at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And
when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.”
-Copied from the AP's Fact Check of President's Trump's Fourth of July Speech
For the most part the President's critics acknowledged that it was indeed a "Salute to America", as the president intended, rather than the Republican campaign rally the media had anticipated. But, his mention of the Continental Army's taking over the airports, while bringing a chuckle to most observers, brought the usual jibes and snarls from the media and those who oppose his policies. He later explained the gaffe as a result of a teleprompter malfunction on a rainy day. Who knows?
As one who has stood in front of congregations for nearly forty years, I have an intimate relationship with verbal faux pas, as do most public speakers. I'm not sure what they say about the one who delivers them. But, there is a thought about the ones listening, and their responses. Let me share a couple. Please note that I will use some language here that I don't usually publish in this space. It is for illustrative purpose and not be be vulgar.
In my first church, while I was a seminary student and learning the dynamics of
preaching, I read an Old testament text from the Book of Psalms. From the KJV, the text
read, "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each
other (Psalm 85:10, KJV). You can imagine what I read---"Mercy and truth are met
together, righteousness and peace have pissed each other". Evidently my tangue got
tongled, as an old teacher used to say. The congregation sat there for a minute or two,
then started laughing. One lady said I shouldn't use such foul language in the pulpit. It
was one of my more illustrious blunders.
Not too many years ago I was preaching from Genesis. My text involved the movement of
Abram and Sarai as they sought God's place for settlement. Several times I read the
statement that Abraham "pitched his tents". For the life of me I can't imagine what
triggered my handling of one of the references. I said "Abram pinched her t_ _ s". A
startled question mark rose on the faces of our congregation. Then laughter. I stepped
aside for a moment, then apologized for the mistake. Most of them laughed. A couple
raked me over the coals for being so careless with my words. Even today many friends
ask if I have preached on Abram and Sarai lately. Oops.
More recently I was scrolling through some of the more remembered characters in the
Old Testament in my morning message. In one sentence I referenced "Jonah and the ark".
Now, I've been preaching for nearly forty years and I know Jonah was the disobedient
character who got swallowed by a fish, commonly thought to be a whale. Yes, i also
know hat Noah was the guy with the ark. Why I said it, who knows? It was another
unintended lapse or mind pause in the pulpit. I corrected my self and moved on. A few
laughed, some frowned. Most missed it entirely.
And, who of us hasn't made blunders like this in front of a crowd, some perhaps even more extreme. It reminded me that any person who speaks in public is going to make a faux pas on occasion. If I wasn't losing my memory I could probably come up with dozens more. So could most of my preacher cohort.
Underneath is a lesson about listening. Some people are receptive listeners, looking for the truth in what is said while others are critical listeners who are more interested in the mechanics of speaking or preaching than the truth being spoken. Those mistakes initiated varied response from the listeners. Some people winced, others laughed, a few were oblivious to the mistake. Some acknowledged my feet of clay and a few were deeply offended, expecting more polish in the presentation.
Solomon wrote many sayings about listening. Many of them were directed at his sons as he instructed them about the life God intended. There are, however, many verses with broader application than his family members. In them he described the receptive listener and the critical listener. Note these two examples---
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Proverbs 18:2, ESV
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
Proverbs 18: 15, ESV
The fool who takes no pleasure in understanding beyond his own opinion may be the critical listener. This critical spirit may characterize the unteachable person who can learn nothing. These are the most difficult individuals to teach and disciple in a church setting. They usually hear what they want to hear.
The receptive listener is the heart that acquires knowledge and the ear that seeks it. This listener is a learner whose ear is more attuned to what is being said than how it is delivered. This person grins at the faux pas but is more attentive to the meat of the speech or sermon. They are a delight in the ministry and mission of the church.
So, listening is the deal this week. Please join me for more on Wednesday and Friday.