November 20, 2004

No One Can Tame the Tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And 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. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

-- James 3:5b-12

In a way its kind of consoling to know that all the church politics, the gossip, the pettiness, the stupid vicious cruel things that go on in churches and Quaker meetings today were also happening in the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Its also sad we haven't changed much in 2000 years. But at least its evidence we haven't fallen too far from the tree. Yep, we're still Christian: we crucify our ministers. And we are all ministers.

Can we place ourselves in the sandals of those who bless the Lord and Father, and curse those who are made in the likeness of God? Notice James uses the first person plural: we. He includes himself in that injunction.

What is the payoff for blessing the creator and cursing the creation? Power. Control over the community, its direction, the interpretive agenda. Its the old self-will, the me and the mine, in guise of guidance and wisdom.

We do this. We are this. Its we who love our church congregations, love our Quaker meetings, want it to be all it can become, want it to look a lot like us. We want to shape it in our own image. The biblical word for that is idolatry, by the way.


At 8:30 a.m., Blogger Marjorie said...

I imagine you had some specific instances in mind when you said that the payoff is power. I'm thinking about instances when I gossip and its usually about trying to get past hurt. I guess there are many reasons why we gossip, but its probably always because we want to do our will and not God's. I want to vent my hurts rather than seeking righteousness. Idolatry, you've said, and you're right.

My mind has been turning around the ideas of free will and thought control, but that is a topic for another day.

At 10:23 a.m., Blogger david said...

Sometimes venting hurts frees us to seek God's righteousness. I'm all for it. Sometimes speaking about the hurts only keeps the hurt alive.

And sometimes continuing the talk -- is about injuring the one you think hurt you. Or is about gaining control and the other stuff I mentioned in my blog.

The wisdom to know which is which. As the Bard said, Aye, There's the rub!

At 12:43 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

My knowledge of early christian church history is little, what was James referring to?

It's an interesting topic. Good and bad thoughts, good and bad words (written and spoken), good and bad acts ... all can come from the same person - I guess it's human nature. That's kind of the subject of this weeks Creighton retreat too :-)

At 3:12 p.m., Blogger david said...

As we don't know James' setting its pretty hard to know what specific circumstances this refers to.

Sorry. We just gotta take him as is.


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