CELEBRATING GOD'S LOVE FOR ALL PEOPLE
Beloved Family in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Christ Jesus.
I’ve been reflecting lately on both the power and the importance of language, and our Sunday scripture has me thinking on it once again. From James epistle, we’re given this dire diagnosis: “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, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6). Wow, talk about strong words. I mean, I know we’ve probably all said things that we regretted later, but to talk about entire lives being destroyed and invoking the imagery of hell fire? Isn’t that being a touch dramatic? Isn’t James going just a little bit overboard in his warning about the tongue?
Once I might have thought so, but as I’ve been watching what is happening in our world right now, the gravity that James puts into this declaration no longer seems like such an exaggeration. The degrading tone that our national discourse has taken, the flagrant racism, bigotry, and misogyny that seem to have exploded… it’s worrisome, to say the least. I’ve heard phrases like “alternative facts” and “truth isn’t truth” thrown around with casual disregard. I’ve watched the president of the United States, the most powerful leader of the most powerful country in the world, describe immigrants, human beings created in the Image of God, as “rapists” and “animals”. It was like a glaring alarm going off in the background, flashing red. I was immediately reminded of how, during the creation of Nazi Germany, Hitler’s regime flooded the people with dehumanizing propaganda against the Jews; God’s chosen people were named as an “alien race,” and they were also called “rats,” describing them as carriers of contagion and thieves of resources. The Holocaust is one of the most horrific nightmares of modern history, and it started with our language. It started with the tongue. Children were kidnapped by our government from their parents at the US border; that, too, started with the tongue.
Words make worlds. How many times has the news been in uproar about something the president has put on twitter? How many times has he set the country ablaze with some vulgar, nonsensical, or disrespectful comment? James was right. The tongue is a fire. And there’s such an important lesson in realizing it. How we Christians speak to one another and about one another matters. It matters so much. The pastor Deidrick Bonhoeffer, who died a victim of the Holocaust for his resistance, wrote in his book Life Together about the “ministry of holding one’s tongue,” where he stated that a great deal of evil could be prevented if we deliberately decide not to speak it. There is a reason, I think, that when Isaiah beheld God, he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Is. 6:5). Because language has physical and spiritual consequences; because “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). Jesus cast out demons and calmed storms through the word of his mouth. The lesson, I believe, is to never forget the power we wield in our language, as people and as Christians. Let us always speak to one another and about one another as fellow creatures of God, in love and grace and mercy.