Psalm 66,67 (Morning)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 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. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
Oh, if only I could have a bit for my own mouth that works as well as the one I have for my mule Mel!
It took me a long time to find a bit for him that lay in the balance between getting him to be easily corrected vs. being too rough on his mouth and risk making riding an unpleasant activity in his mind.
You see, despite horses and mules sharing a significant number of DNA base pairs, they have different defaults when it comes to “responding to pressure.”
A horse default to pressure–either physical or emotional, is to turn away from the irritant and flee.
A mule default to pressure is to stand there and take it a little bit and decide if it’s going away or not, and to fight back a little and see if they can make it go away.
This might have to do with the donkey half of their DNA. Whereas horses, being herd animals are more community minded, kind of in that same way churches are community, and tend to respond as they would in community, donkeys tend to be solitaries. Imagine donkeys as the desert hermits in the Great Church of Equine. Their response to anything intruding on their way of life would be to put up with it for a while. After all, where else would they go? This is their home turf.
But at any rate, the bits usually used on horses tend not to create enough pressure to get many mules to correct. There’s just not enough pressure on the tongue. Pulling harder doesn’t help–it just makes the mule resist more, and it can end up hurting its tongue. This is going to create some really negative vibes in its little equine brain about going riding, and will foster more bad habits like bucking.
In Mel’s case, trial and error resulted in me finally settling on a bit that not only puts pressure on his tongue, it also puts pressure on the sides of his face and under his chin. (For you equine folks out there, it’s a modification of a Kimberwick bit.) Mel’s bit puts as much pressure on the outside of his mouth as it does the inside. It has a curb chain that keeps him from putting his head down (one of the first things that happens when an equine takes a notion to buck, is to lower the head and stiffen the back.) It also relieves the pressure on the opposite side, so it only makes sense to turn his head in the direction where the pressure is lessened.
Well, and you know, I’m kind of that way about curbing my own tongue.
If I were left to my own devices, I could probably justify every awful thing I’ve ever said to another human being. “Well, SHE started it.” “I couldn’t help it–I was angry/sad/irritated about something else/not feeling well/any other old reason I can conjure.” “I had a right to say what I felt.”
But one of the things that is paradoxical about following Jesus is that Jesus’ own message is often an uncomfortable message. It makes me feel a certain amount of discomfort with the injustices in a hurting, broken world, enough to get me to turn my face in the direction in which I should go. It acts like a curb chain in helping keep my head fixed toward God, and takes away most of my urge to buck. The end result is most of the time, I can turn my face in the direction I need to go.
For someone like me, whose religious upbringing was originally about trying to wear me out with constant pressure and guilt about sin, that would eventually hurt me and make me church-shy for two decades, it’s a relief to be controlled in a way that relieves the pressure on my soul rather than continually challenge me to fight back until I’m hurt–or avoid the whole thing altogether.
I’ll be the first to tell you, that, like Mel, I don’t correct easily. My tongue can be razor sharp at times, and it is probably at its worst when I am under pressure. I don’t always like the direction Jesus takes me at first. But I can say this much–every time I’ve consented to God’s direction, I’ve been amazed at the things I’ve learned along the way. I’m grateful that the Episcopal Church seems to have all the moving parts I need for “my” bit.
What are the ways God has shown your tongue a way to relieve the pressure?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid