“Bless her heart.”
If you’re not from the south, you may be under the (mistaken) impression that this expression is meant to bestow some kind of blessing. Usually, we southerners will bless someone’s heart just before or after some kind of sideways criticism, such as:
“Bless her heart, she just burns everything she cooks.”
“Bless his heart, he just can’t seem to drive the speed limit.”
And those are mild examples.
But we don’t need a southernism in order to talk badly about someone else. It’s all too easy to fall prey to the temptation to criticize and judge. Have you ever noticed that the gossip magazines are right next to the candy bars at the grocery store? That’s not a coincidence. They’re both hard to resist and bad for us.*
There’s plenty of Scripture that tells us to be careful with our speech. James 4:11 is one of them: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.”
Our heads may know we’re not supposed to talk bad about each other, but it can still very hard to resist.
Dietrich Bonheoffer was aware of this when he started his seminary. He was a Lutheran pastor who resisted Hitler during World War II, including starting an underground seminary in Finkenwalde. While it was open the seminarians lived together under Bonheoffer’s teaching and mentoring. One of his rules for them: Do not talk about anyone outside of their presence.
Now, this is an extreme rule – probably one that could only work in an intentional community like Bonheoffer’s. But what if we toned it down just slightly to be:
Do not say anything bad about someone outside of their presence.**
So, today in church I proposed that we try this rule out for a week. Everyone got bracelets to wear, with the instruction to move them from one wrist to the other every time they broke our new rule. This way, we will become more mindful of how often we are saying bad things about each other.
If you’d like to try along at home, you don’t need an AUMC-issued bracelet; grab yourself a rubber band and play along with us. Try to go one day without moving it. Then one week. Could you make it a month, even?
Then, when we say, “bless her heart,” it really will be a blessing.
* Credit to Rob Bell – I heard this in one of his sermons once.
** Credit to James Howell, who proposed this modified rule based on Bonheoffer’s original one in a blog of his.