Talkin’ Memphis Blues (or Listen, Love, Serve)


Picture from our vacation in Memphis, Tennessee

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19 [ESV]

No one could ever accuse me of being overly romantic.  When Jennie and I went on our honeymoon, we didn’t go to Hawaii.  The Caribbean was not on our radar.  There was never a discussion of a cruise, or even boarding a plane.

We needed a location that fit our financial limitations.

And, trust me, our finances back then were very limited.

Chicago was too expensive.  St. Louis too dangerous.  Indianapolis too close.

We wanted history.  We wanted excitement.

We went to Memphis.

Think about it.  The Lorraine Motel. Sun Records.  Beale Street.  Graceland.

And off to Graceland we went.

Graceland_Memphis_TennesseeBy Joseph Novak – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

What a place!  The Jungle Room.  The basement stairway with the disorienting mirrors on the ceiling.  The famous bank of televisions on the living room wall.  The museum in the back yard filled with Elvis’ sequin-studded stage clothing.

You saw a lot on the Graceland tour.  However, you couldn’t go upstairs in the mansion.  His aunt still lived there.

In that museum of a home.

With dozens of fans and curious folks traipsing through the lower two levels every day.

Later that day, I stopped at a small local record shop.  I struck up a warm, friendly  conversation with the store owner who wondered what on earth brought a couple of Yankees to his little store in Memphis.  He congratulated us on our marriage and asked if we’d seen Graceland.

“Yeah, we were just there this morning,” I responded.

The shop owner laughed.  “That Elvis,” he said, shaking his head.  “He was quite a character.”  He chuckled as we talked about the eccentricities of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s home.

Then, innocently enough, I mentioned, “I think it’s a little odd that his aunt still lives in the house.”

The chuckling stopped.  The store owner’s smile melted and morphed to a disgusted scowl.  Time slowed, seconds passing lie minutes.  Finally, he responded.  “Well,” he growled with a low, slow Southern drawl. “I s’pose that’s just yo’ Suthun waya doin’ things.”

Somehow, I had managed to offend this man simply by stating that it must be strange to live in the upstairs of a busy museum that celebrated your world-famous nephew.  It dawned on me some time later that I wasn’t exactly clear in my words.  All I said was that Elvis’ aunt’s living situation was “odd.”

And, obviously, this Southern gentleman thought I was implying something different from what I intended.  Maybe he thought I was just an obnoxious Yankee oblivious to Southern norms and spouting my views.

Clearly, we had a misunderstanding.  I didn’t communicate my message effectively.  I assumed the listener knew what I was saying.  And he assumed that, being a Yankee, I was making some crack about the South.

I can’t help but wonder how much easier and richer life would be if we would stop and listen – actively listen – to what the other party is saying.  Not be quick to respond but slowly take in what is actually being said.  Communication is much more than words.  It involves body language and context and listening and understanding and hearing.

How many problems would be resolved – indeed, avoided all together – if we had clear, effective communication – listening, observing, understanding, empathizing instead of getting offended or angry or choosing to bicker or fight.

Jesus was an effective communicator but He, too, had people who misunderstood Him and chose to be offended.  They’re known as Pharisees.

My point is simply this: this world needs a whole lot of Love.  We need to learn to love one another.  And we need to learn to listen.

Not react.

Not get offended.

Not be so critical.

Not assume someone with a different point-of-view is always an enemy, or needs to shut up.

If anyone has a right to be offended by the things people say, it’s Jesus.  And, regardless of where we come from or who we’re communicating with, we would all be well served to remember that.

We’re all human.  We’re all flawed.  We all need a Savior.  Let Love lead.  Listen, love and serve.  Regardless of religious affiliation, political view, sexual orientation, biases, culture… we’re all human. 

We’re all flawed. 

We all need a Savior. 

Let Love lead. 

Listen, love and serve. 





The Cure for Foot-In-Mouth Disease (or My Double-Barreled Mouth and Swiss Cheese Shoes)


Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:45 (ESV)

Many, many (did I say many?) moons ago, at 3:00 on a Saturday night / Sunday morning, I was at a small southern Indiana hospital with a man who was experiencing what I would call a mild cardiac event – not quite a heart attack, maybe anxiety.

We were waiting in a quiet exam room when a cacophony of inebriated revelry erupted from next door.  Snorts and laughter were punctuated with the occasional “sshhhhh… shut up dude, we’re at the %^&% hospital”, which only provoked more snorts and laughter.

We heard the curtain open and the doctor ask, “Well, what happened here?”   The patient – chortling just as loud as his buddies – explained how he and his friends had been enjoying a few brews and cleaning their shotguns and, well… doggonit one of them was still loaded and he shot himself in the foot.

Ok… at this point some of you may be thinking, “Haven’t I heard this before?”  I would be tempted to question the veracity of my story had I not been there myself.  I swear to you, this is not a set up for a bad redneck joke.  Some things you just can’t make up.

I wasn’t there to hear how the story ended.  But I’m pretty sure that, once the effects of the alcohol gave way to the pain of the gunshot wounds, the patient probably wasn’t laughing anymore.

I say that with a fair amount of certainty because, while I have never literally shot myself in the foot (or anywhere else for that matter), my big mouth has certainly shot far more metaphoric bullets into my feet than I care to think.  My size twelves should be riddled with more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese.

(Fun fact side note: did you know that one of the three bacteria used to make Swiss cheese is Streptococcus thermophilus?  Go amaze your family, friends and co-workers with your new found informations sur le fromage.  You are welcome.)

Sometimes I think I need a license and a one-month cooling off period before I open my big yap.  Either out of anger, or stress, or ego, or just plain desire to make people laugh, I’ve said things that, in a non-thinking split second, seemed right.  When one is “drunk” with emotion of any kind, the ability to react appropriately is usually impaired.  Our judgment is clouded by the emotion of the moment.

We can try to control our mouths, but that is only a treatment for the symptom.  The disease isn’t one of the mouth, but of the heart.  If we want to be healed of Foot-in-Mouth Disease, we have to go to the root of the problem and fix it.

We are all infected with the same malady: sin.  Sin causes us to say and do some pretty awful stuff.

And sin has only one cure.

Now… I’m going to stop briefly at this point because I’m fairly certain that most, if not all of you, know what I’m about to say.  It’s very easy to slip into Christianese and give an answer that, despite it’s solid and absolute truth, sounds trite and simple.  There is nothing trite about the answer.  Simple, yes.  Simple in the sense that there are very few steps to implementing the treatment we need.  The cure isn’t complicated.

But it isn’t necessarily easy either.

Never confuse “simple” with “easy”.  The two are not synonymous.

The answer to our sin problem, the cure to our shared disease is simply this: Jesus.

I believe very firmly that every problem, every issue, every situation, has it’s resolution in Matthew 6:33: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things – all we need in this life – will be provided.

This verse applies to everything in life, including how to respond to every situation, in any given moment.  This includes what we say – if we should say anything at all (truth be told, silence is probably the best response in the heat of the moment).  It requires us to be aware of God always (which is why Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17], so we keep our minds and hearts stayed on the Lord).  Remember, the Holy Spirit indwells believers.  He is with us always.

When faced with a situation we feel requires a definite response, we should follow two simple steps: shut up and listen.  Again, simple?  Yes.  Easy?  That’s a whole other story.  We often feel the need – the urge – to interject our two cents worth.  And, when we consider the damage inflicted by our thoughtless comments, we quickly discover that “two cents” is an extreme overvaluing of the worth of our pithy come backs.

So, how do we stop the cycle of opening our mouths and shooting ourselves in the foot?

1. Stay focused on God.  Ask what Jesus would do or say if He were in our shoes.

2. Stay in God’s Word.  Read it.  Study it.  Write notes in your Bible or journal.  Memorize it.  Revel in it.

3. Stay in prayer.  Stay connected.  Prayer is direct communication with the Creator of the Universe.  He knows each of us far more intimately than we know yourselves.  Which means He knows better than we do how we should respond.

4. Stay silent.  Unless/until you find the gracious response of Jesus, say nothing.

I sometimes think back to that night in the ER and wonder if the young man with the self inflicted foot wound ever laughs about that night.  I hope not.  I hope he was able to learn what he needed to from the events of that night and can look ahead with the joy and renewal of Jesus Christ.

I hope that for all of us big mouths as well.