The Assumption of Ignorance

The Letter from James chapter 3 paints a dramatic picture of the tongue.

It is a little guy, but it is some kind of powerful. You’ve probably heard lots of lessons from this chapter. Watch your tongue – watch what you say.  Etc. It reminds me of the last verse of a well-known children’s song:

O be careful little mouth what you say O be careful little mouth what you say There’s a Father up above And He’s looking down in love So, be careful little mouth what you say

I have personally been blessed with opportunities in my life to demonstrate my maturity and keep my mouth shut in many circumstances.

And I’ve failed miserably every time.

I’d like to share a stellar example of the lack of control over this little tongue of mine.

Dr. Constantine is the director of the International Bible Society in St. Petersburg. Well, he was in 1992 anyway.

As you can imagine they have lots of Bibles at the IBC. In 1992, Christianity was being reborn (sort of) in Russia. I was a part of a group of missionaries in northern Russia.

One of our challenges, like all missionary efforts, is to provide Bibles.

Inna, my Russian translator (at the time), and I traveled to St. Petersburg to acquire Bibles and then have them shipped back to her hometown. We couldn’t just order them from Amazon and have them delivered. There was no kind of system in place for that at the time. At least not in Russia anyway. They would eventually arrive by train many weeks later.

We found the office of the International Bible Society in St. Petersburg, went inside, and found Dr. Constantine. He was a very distinguished looking gentleman.

Because we were in Russia, I assumed he didn’t speak English.

Was that smart?

No. No, it wasn’t.

We met and began the discussions for the Bibles. I would say something, and Inna would translate.

This is important: Sometimes, I’d mutter something to her softly, not really meant for translation.

This went on for 30 minutes or more. I wish I could remember everything I said. We managed to negotiate a price of approximately $0.80 per bible.

Following our discussions about the bibles, we sat at a table inside the room stacked full of bibles. Inna continued to translate whatever I was droning on about.

I asked her to get the director’s name and contact information. He pulled out a card, wrote on it, and handed it to me. His information was written in plain English.

Let me say that again.

It was written in PLAIN ENGLISH!

I searched my mind quickly to see if I’d insulted him or said anything else that would not be representative of Jesus. I could think of nothing then nor now – years later.

I stopped everything and looked at him for a long second.

“How long have you been speaking English?” I asked softly.

“Ah, years. I don’t know exactly,” was his approximate reply.

He was content to allow me to go on rambling and having Inna translate for me all the while understanding everything I said in my shaky Alabamian English.

It all made sense to me in an instant. This man is a scholar. He speaks and writes and reads Russian, Greek, and Hebrew. So, why not English too?

I stopped making assumptions about the language abilities of people after that.

And found a bigger appreciation of simple little songs.

So, be careful little mouth what you say.


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