Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Today's Scripture in Forward Day by Day is James 3:1-12:

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh."

Having been suffering this week from a painful little apthous ulcer on my tongue, I guess this one got my undivided attention. My tongue has had its share of physical pain this week--I'm always amazed how a tiny little ulcer can gnaw at the rest of my body like a flaming pit of fire.

My problem is that I have a very Harry Trumanesque way of saying things at times. I understand perfectly that line about "from the same mouth come blessing and cursing," because I can do both multiple times in the same sentence! In a good moment, my tongue can both caress the listener with words of kindness and compassion; in a bad moment, I can bring down the wrath of the universe with it. I am sometimes struck with the ease and the speed at which this can happen in both directions. We're so proud of our loving words, but how many times have we spewed hateful bullets of words and live through this Sam Peckinpaugh movie-like moment where we are trying to recall them in slow motion... "N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o"....and then suddenly the scene fast forwards into real time and you see that word bullet hit the listener like a .357 slug in the listener's chest? Then we are faced with the realization that the damage has been done and we are standing there with the smoking pistol in our hand and a regretful look on our face.

That "we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" part also caught my eye. Isn't that the truth? How many times, when we are trying to be "role models", does the child or the learner grab onto and point out our slights and flaws when we were hoping they were watching and listening to our "good stuff?"

The author of James (which most scholars believe is the "third James" in the NT, a relative of Jesus who was not one of the Twelve but was the leader of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem) seems to be very aware of this paradox--there are so many things we can modulate or "tame" in our lives, but no matter how hard we try, we never can control our tongues as much as we'd like. One of the first defiant acts we learn as children is "sassing", which, despite the almost sure result of punishment for doing it in our childhood years, still gives us that slightly warped feeling of pleasure for the shocked looks on our parents' faces for that brief instant.

We "let it out," we "get it off our chest" with our tongues, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. It's said, it's done, there is real pleasure in that....but then that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs takes over, that "Oh, man, I should NOT have said that" look crosses our face, followed by the remorse and the regret. It is like our tongues are directly wired to our brainstem reflexes at times, rather than being controlled by our lingual cortex with the "higher" brain functions. That tongue of ours gets us in trouble before we even knew what happened.

How do we avoid this? Well, I'm in no position to give advice. This is one of the areas in my life where I have never become good enough to suit me. But I do know this: I'm better off avoiding the situations when possible that could escalate into those moments where my tongue will get the better of me. What little I've learned in this department, it is to see the early warning signs of a situation where it could happen and try to defuse the situation. The other thing I've learned is a thought when I am the listener and the recipient of the tongue lashing. It is the thing James alludes to in 4:11-12: Don't judge. Who am I to judge? I don't know what else has happened to the person that is giving me the tongue-lashing that day. Sometimes we are just the unwitting recpient of misplaced anger. If I can gain some tiny shred of empathy for the person chewing me out (and that is not always possible), I can at least decide to mentally step away from what this person had said. In short, we can't ever get this right, but at least we can try to be better.

Dear Lord, we are so imperfect with our tongues and in many ways, we always will be. Guide us away from situations where we will be too quick to stab others in the heart with our tongues, and soften our own hearts to feel the inward pain of the person who is too quick to stab with their tongues at our expense. Protect the minds of others from our ability to inflict pain with our tongues and us from theirs. Plant the seeds of discernment in our hearts so we will at least use our tongues to ask for forgiveness as quickly as we used them to lash out. Amen.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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