Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Power of the Tongue

James 3:5-11
So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue ; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
NASU

James offered practical teaching to the followers of Christ who received his letter all those long years ago. But it is amazing how powerful and timeless these words are. I am thinking of three semi-current events that speak to the powerful use/misuse of the tongue.

The first is the Rosie O'Donnell verbal events of the last few months. Rosie is a comedian and very outspoken about her views. But in the last few months she has made comments that have resulted in some very public criticism of her. She has called the President a war criminal to be tried before the international war crimes tribunal. She has called radical Christianity as much a threat as extremist Islamic suicide bombers. She attacked Kelly Ripa for being homophobic. She upset Asian-Americans by cracking a joke about Danny DeVito and mocked the Chinese language. And lately she has been in an ongoing war of words with Donald Trump.

At one time Rosie was the "Queen of Nice". Her talk show was filled with great stories of good things. Her position on The View is very different. The niceties have worn off. And Rosie has taken a solid position of verbally attacking persons and situations she does not agree with. The power of her words has drawn national attention. And has diminished her perception as a tolerant and caring person.

The second is Michael Richards, Kramer of Seinfeld fame. Richards was in a comedy club doing his routine. He got into a verbal confrontation with some of the patrons in the audience. This degenerated into Richards launching into a tirade against the patrons. Richards seemed demoralized in a subsequent interview. But the damage was done. In one moment Michael Richards lost his place of popularity because the tongue would not be controlled.

The last comes from a book that I am reading. I received John Grisham's new book An Innocent Man for Christmas. It tells the story of a man from Ada, Oklahoma (my old stomping grounds) who was wrongfully convicted of murder. I am only part way into the book. But I saw a comment about the true perpetrator of the crime. If he had only spoken up none of this would have happened. In truth, because of the real murderer's silence, two lives were seriously altered. Had the murderer spoken up then two innocent men would not have spent time in prison. Because of silence, lives were shattered when they didn't have to be.

Back to James. The tongue is a small part of the body and yet can do so much. James is, in fact, speaking to people who are considering becoming a teacher in the faith community. But his words speak directly to any of us who are a part of any community. And the three examples prove how powerful our words can truly be. But also offer wisdom in using the tongue.

When there is injustice happening, we should speak out. When someone is wronged and we stand to the side and do nothing, we are participating in the injustice in a small way. We should have the courage to speak out and take a stand for right and good. But we should also know when not speaking may achieve the greater good. If we don't know all of the issue or we are not clear of our own place on the issue, we would be wise to use control, learn more, and become aware of ourselves before we lash out. Finally we should recognize that silence is not avoiding the issue. It is as powerful a statement as any spoken word. Silence can be used to make your point or make a point you do not want to be made.

What does all of this mean? So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be consistent. May the words of my mouth reflect the glory and beauty of God. May the words of my mouth bring healing, hope, and joy to those whom I may speak. May the words of my mouth be used for the betterment of people and the building of God's kingdom. May I speak to and of other children of God as if I were speaking to The Holy One. Amen.
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