“Do you kiss your mama with that mouth?” is one of my favorite sassy phrases. It’s a great retort that can simultaneously correct and teach and, when properly intoned, can even add a dash of shame.
It turns out, this phrase has biblical roots.
Okay, not really. That’s too much of a stretch.
But, there is a passage in the Bible that makes a similar point, James 3:1-12.
In James 3, we are told how important it is to manage our tongue and control our words. James applauds humanity for being so clever in taming wild animals (“every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature”), but then points out that “no one can tame the tongue” (James 3:7-8). “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).
In other words, James is asking rhetorically, “do you pray to your God with that mouth?”
A mouth that curses (demeans, gossips, slanders, unfairly criticizes, etc.) another person cannot really bless or thank or express love for God. James really gets to the heart of the matter when he points out we curse those “who are made in the likeness of God.” When I demean my neighbor or speak negatively about a group of people, that’s a signal that I’ve forgotten they are made in the likeness of God.
I can’t praise God on the one hand, but demean those who reflect his image on the other.
This is really hard for me. I’m a nice person, but sometimes people really get under my skin!
Several years ago, when my now-teenagers were just preschoolers, we lived in a typical suburban neighborhood. We had a neighbor directly behind us, our yards separated only by a wooden fence. Sometimes, when we were in the yard tossing one of those big bouncy balls with the kids, a breeze would catch it or we would hit it too hard and the ball would fly over the fence and into our neighbor’s yard. When that happened, our neighbor would get really annoyed with us.
We weren’t tossing balls over the fence on purpose and it didn’t happen often (a handful of times in a year). The first couple of times it happened, she begrudgingly returned the balls. Eventually, though, she started keeping whatever came over the fence.
Imagine trying to explain to a five-year-old boy why the lady on the other side of the fence won’t give him back his ball.
Now imagine trying to do it without saying anything unkind about the lady.
That’s harder, right?
I remember feeling uncomfortable in my own backyard. It was as if our presence on our side of the fence inconvenienced or displeased her.
It’s been more than a decade since that woman was our neighbor and yet, I can feel the anxiety and anger rising in me as I remember how she treated us.
The only thing that calms the bile as it rises in my throat is remembering that “that woman” is a beloved child of God. Something about her reflects the image of God.
Even if I think the image of God in her is like a shattered mirror, I have to admit the reflection is still there. It might be tinier, captured only in shards, but the reflection doesn’t disappear.
James says I can’t demean my former neighbor in thought or word, and then praise God. It’s as if James responds to my complaining about my old neighbor with a knowing look and asks, “Beth, do you praise God with that mouth?”.
What about you? Do you like the sass of the phrase, “do you kiss your mama with that mouth?” Have you ever had to deal with an unpleasant neighbor? How do you avoid having both blessing and cursing come out of your mouth? Tell me about in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
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