Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Hot Ham!" Or, How Our Words Matter

My daughter, who is now a tween, has begun listening to the radio at her own volition. I knew this day would come.

We listen to a lot of music in our house, and many different genres. She gravitates toward pop music, likely swayed by her friends. She recently asked me to change the radio while we were driving someplace to a station that we do not have on one of our pre-set buttons. Now, this is no problem for me, because I actually have a very eclectic taste in music, and I like to talk with my kids about the kinds of music they listen to, and what they like and dislike.

While we were listening, we heard "Wildest Dreams" by Taylor Swift and "7 Years" by Lukas Graham, and then Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk." Now, if you know any of these three songs, you might perceive that there is some potentially problematic content for a tween in any of them. So far as I can tell, much of it is flying over her head yet, at the moment, but we are going to keep listening to music together and talking about the lyrical content.

What makes this listening session notable for me was something she pointed out about "Uptown Funk." With a slightly embarrassed look, she stopped singing along and admitted that there is a "bad word" in the lyrics.

She's right.

The backup singers use the phrase "Hot damn!" several times in the song.

It stood out to me that she caught that, while so much of the content of the song flew over her head. And perhaps it's not surprising, honestly: kids are taught pretty clearly about about the language that is and is not appropriate.

"It's okay though, Dad," she assured me. "My friends and I have better words that we sing instead!"

Now she had me curious. "What do you sing instead?"

We say, "Hot ham!"

Oh, I just love that! (And now, I can't stop singing "Hot ham!" myself when I hear the song!)

The words we use definitely do matter.


I recently re-read this blog post by Scott Hoezee on The Twelve that was published this past summer. In the piece, he describes how many Christians are offended by "bad language"--cursing and the like. And, to be honest, it really got me thinking about how Christians use language, and how we certainly ought to be measured in our speech, because people judge us by our words.

But this piece really got me thinking about how not just the particular words we use matter. In the same way that my daughter sings "Hot ham!" not not be offensive while not acknowledging (or noticing?) that there might be other problematic content to the song, I wonder if we are quick to call out the easy, obvious sin (such as calling out particular "bad words") rather than acknowledging that there are more difficult issues that probably ought to be dealt with, but that would be more painful to address?

Our language certainly does matter. But language seems to be a surface issue for me. I'm thinking in a Luke 6 kind of way here, where Jesus says, 
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
That last line is the significant one for me: "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

Is Jesus calling out the person who occasionally drops a "hell" or "damn" or "bullshit" into their conversation? Perhaps. We definitely need to watch our words. "Bullshit" might not be an appropriate word to use in many settings. It sounds a little crude, right? Though, as I've heard it said out here in Cornland, if you're in the cattle yard standing next to a pile of it, you might as well call it what it is.

That's the literal meaning, of course. How about metaphorically? Is it every appropriate to call something other than a pile of manure "bullshit?" It might be a crass use of language, but it might not be wrong--sinful--to say it. Rude maybe, but I don't think this is what Jesus was getting at, really.

Perhaps a bigger problem: the things that we say (or allow others to say, unchallenged) that really get at much bigger issues than whether we are being crass or crude.

What if what Jesus is getting at when he says, "The mouth speaks what the heart is full of" is actually more about the condition of our heart than the off-color words that roll off our tongues? What if we don't use racial slurs, or homophobic epithets, or misogynistic words that denigrate women, or the like...but exhibit attitudes or behaviors revealing the disdain or hate in our hearts toward people who are different than us? What if our heart condition is the real issue?

Or, how about even if I don't say these kinds of things myself, or even believe these things myself, but I don't speak up when I hear others saying things like this around me? Am I just being complicit in that case? Am I sinning by letting their speech go unaddressed? Ugh...this is so hard, because it feels like plankeye syndrome to me...because it's so much easier to identify sin in other people, isn't it?

But what if Jesus is calling me out here? And perhaps you too, fellow believer?

Our words matter, to be sure. But I am thinking that our heart-condition behind the words matters more.

I saw this t-shirt online some time ago. I think it fits... 


  1. Dave, I needed this post this morning. THANK YOU.

    1. Glad it could be an encouragement for you, Joy!