Faith & Insight: Taming the tongue takes tenderness

Where there is smoke, there is fire. And where our tongues rage, a roaring inferno can’t be far behind.

The smoke from the recent fires that crept into our beautiful piece of paradise became something of a metaphor for the difficult time in which we are living, and the discourse surrounding it.

Much like that gloomy film that permeated Northern Nevada and much of the West, the escalation of impolite and hurtful language being used today to communicate differing political and social points of view is having its own carcinogenic effect on our society. And the source is on the tip of our tongue. In fact, it is the tongue.

Chapter 3 of the Book of James, verses 1-12, teaches “Taming of the Tongue.” Its use of figurative language illustrates the poignant impact of small things, like a bit in the mouth of a horse, or a rudder on a large ship, to guide powerful forces. And so it is with tongue. For as diminutive as it is in relation to the overall size of our bodies, it has untold power.

“... the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…” (James 3:5-6)

In many respects, the impact of the uncivilized discourse that is gripping our country is responsible for igniting the combustion we are seeing — literally and figuratively. It all too often seeks to mute and maim rather than to meet and maximize. People forget it is perfectly reasonable to agree to disagree, but respectfully so.

To this point, I was reminded recently that our last two U.S. Supreme Court justices to retire from the bench, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg, were frequently on opposite sides of legal decisions and issues, but they were best of friends, traveling together and enjoying one another’s company. And they are again.

Our country was founded on, among other things, the blessing of the right to free speech. However, our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ, reminds us of a greater responsibility that trumps this and all else, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Educators often speak of “teachable moments,” which are those immediate and unplanned opportunities to facilitate long-term connections. For such a time as this (Esther 4:14), may we all be educators of our young people by teaching the responsibility to love, to use speech to build-up one another. If this has not been a topic at the dinner table, or at least recently, consider the present for making it so.

We need healthy air for healthy conversation, so let’s all take a deep and delicious breath of mountain air , and praise God for our blue sky. And may our speech keep it that way.


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