“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” – Luke 14:34-35
Whenever I hear this saying, I think of swearing. You know, like what your grandmother disapprovingly called “salty language.” I say “your” grandmother on purpose here; my grandmother swore like a trucker.
Some people believe it’s their duty to teach their kids not to swear. I believe it’s my job to teach my kid how to do it well. When to do it and when not to. Which words are funny, which ones work like bombs, which ones always go too far. How to use them thoughtfully, so that they season and enhance speech, and not so relentlessly that they lose their saltiness.
They say the original Aramaic for “lost its taste” is actually “becomes foolish.” Which is just what your mom said people would think about you if you swore too much. I say “your” mom on purpose here; my mom…reads these devotions, so I will stop there.
This is what I’m also trying to teach my son: “swearing” isn’t just about vulgarities. Say “God” when you’re annoyed often enough, shout “Jesus Christ” only when the hammer hits your thumb, and they lose their saltiness, their ability to flavor your speech with holiness. Use them to describe things that they are not, and you risk making them foolish.
These days, my son’s vulgarity is pretty much limited to “butt;” nobody’s taught him the big swears yet. But somebody’s already taught him to say “Oh my God” through gritted teeth when he’s frustrated. For whoever it was, the word “God” seems to have lost its saltiness; I’m trying to make sure the same doesn’t happen for my kid.
Holy One, grant that I might be an excellent and effective swearer. But let me never use your names in ways that make them less powerful, for me or the people I speak with. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.