A Spark

When I was growing up, I remember causing trouble for myself with the way I would speak when I was angry.  "It's not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it," my parents would tell me.  These lessons have helped me, in many cases, to tame my own tongue.  Even when I am passionately opinionated, I've learned that my rhetoric is just as important and influential, if not more so, than my position or logic when arguing.

In our world, the advice to "watch what you say" is often met with the response, "It's a free country, I'll say what I want to."  Sure, we enjoy this freedom to express ourselves, sometimes to our own self-destruction.

James wrote (James 3:5-12):
"...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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."

This week, as tragedy struck in Arizona with the senseless shooting of Senator Giffords and those around her, pundits were quick to point out that there is the possibility that the way our politicians speak could have fueled the fire for this violence to take place.  Jon Stewart had a serious moment on his show Monday night as he addressed this possibility:

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Others responded, stating that each individual is responsible for his or her own actions and that no amount of political rhetoric could be, in any way, responsible for this kind of violence.  Sarah Palin accused Democrats and Liberals of committing "blood libel" (she borrowed the term from Glenn Reynolds, who borrowed it from the Jewish community).  [FOX Coverage] [CNN Coverage]

Did Palin and others pull the trigger?  No.  Did they play a role in inciting someone with violent tendencies who was also mentally unstable?  They certainly didn't do much to help the situation.  I grow weary how regularly we give people the platform to spew hateful language as though it accomplishes anything or even provides some level of entertainment.

I may be young, naive, and still learning how to be a better leader, but I have realized that the way I speak from the pulpit, the way I speak when counseling others, the way I speak to my wife and my kids, all has a profound effect on those lives.  

How do you speak around others?  How do you speak of others?

I recently spent some time with a family that has dealt, and is dealing, with a lot of turmoil.  It isn't the kind that's thrust upon a family.  Nobody lost a job, became the victim of a crime, or anything like that.  These tribulations have been brought on by the way that these people love and speak to each other.  

Have you ever been around someone and found yourself exhausted after listening to them talk for a while?  That person usually has an endless supply of things to complain about and they want you to know every detail.  In this particular family that I mention, one of the parents has this ability to complain ad nauseam.  In addition, whenever this parent speaks to the children, even in regular conversation, it has an air of trouble to it.  The children's names are rarely called in love or with a tone of kindness.

What's the result?  The members of this family can't ever seem to get along and they are good at making those around them miserable as well.  Misery loves company, I guess, but it sure seems to alienate those who are perpetually miserable.  Do you know anybody who's never happy unless they're unhappy?

So how do you speak when others are listening?  What kind of fires does your tongue spark?  Do you build up or tear down?

Jesus (Matthew 5:43-48) -
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.