On Being Slow to Speak

By Jim Tune

In her book Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou writes about a dinner party hosted in the home of a very rich and sophisticated friend during the author’s first trip to Senegal. As Angelou explored the ostentatious home and observed the elegant guests, she noted they were all carefully stepping around the beautiful, expensive rug in the middle of the floor to avoid dirtying it. She became outraged and appalled that her hostess would be so shallow as to value her things above her guest’s comfort.

July15_MT_JNFinally Angelou decided to act; she stepped onto the rug and walked back and forth several times, wrinkling and soiling the expensive fabric. The guests, lined up on the sidelines, smiled at her awkwardly. Angelou smiled back, proud that through her boldness they might also be emboldened to admit that rugs were to be walked on.

She then joined the guests on the sidelines, her head held high. She had done the right thing.

As dinner drew near, the servants came out and quietly removed the rug from the floor, replacing it with an equally extravagant one. The servants then proceeded to carefully place the plates, glasses, wine, and bowls of rice and chicken on the new rug. Angelou’s hostess clapped her hands and announced joyfully that they were serving Senegal’s most beloved meal for their esteemed sister from America, Maya Angelou. She then asked all the guests to sit.

Angelou’s face burned with embarrassment. She had dragged her dirty shoes all over her gracious hostess’s tablecloth. Angelou concluded her story with this: “In an unfamiliar culture it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

I used to be very quick to form conclusions or offer advice. For a long time I thought different meant wrong. I tried to change the people who came to church messy, different, broken, or proud. I offered advice, confident if they were sincere in their faith and were walking with God, they would surely conform to what I thought a Christian should look like, say, or do. I found fault with their personalities and marriages and choices. In other words, I dragged my dirty shoes all over the design of their unique tablecloth.

Now I find myself slow to speak and slower to judge, mainly because most days I learn what an idiot I was the day before.

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