Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sticks and Stones

"...a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.
And the tongue is a flame of fire...

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.

And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!

Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?

Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs?
No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring."

-Book of James, Chapter 3

When I think about how much power I have to give or take life from another person it is very sobering.

Do you ever think about this?

We all have this power within us. The power of words, and sometimes words can just wreck another person.

The words we choose, and how we choose to use them affect, on a daily basis, those we interact with.

It's a simple idea, something that I sure take for granted, but can you imagine if people felt the truth and full weight of responsibility for it?

Last night, I was reading a blog post written by an author I greatly admire. He had posted an entry about an article he is working on and, apparently, the way he worded something in the post didn't sit well with some of the readers.

What shocked me, however, was the manner in which certain readers disagreed with him. The way in which the comments quickly shifted from disagreement with the content/wording of the article to name calling, and hasty generalizations.

They even linked to another post that referenced this particular post, and the comment thread on the new post was downright nasty. The vitriolic criticisms were mostly directed at "uptight conservative males", which is a terrible stereotype to begin with, if I'm completely honest.

There were also claims that the Bible was written for rapists, accusations that those who believe the Bible endorse killing, domination, and treating women as "spoils of war", calling people of faith "religious creeps who are terrible in bed" ...well, you get the idea.

Just plain nasty stuff.

Christians are no better when it comes to this sort of thing.

I've seen "Christian" blogs and articles that, while not as blatantly outrageous in their claims, are equally as venomous. Christians are better at playing games though, they have simply learned to hide behind masks of sarcasm and coded messages in the interest of keeping up a nice external appearance.

Sadly, a veil that covers a poisonous spike, doesn't make it any less existent, or deadly for that matter.

I digress however.

Back to the blog comments...

Quite honestly, they made me sad.

To be labeled these super offensive things simply because I believe differently than these particular individuals. To have these sorts of accusations, which in my experience are completely unfounded, leveled against my personal convictions was tough.

Mind you, I'm not going to let it ruin my life.

I don't know any of these people, and I don't know where they've been. I don't know what they carry with them. All I know is the brief snippets they wrote for comments on an article, but it caused me to think...

If the words of a stranger can affect me in such a way, how much more then will my words affect another who is in my immediate sphere of influence?

How can my words affect someone who can put a face with my name; someone who knows more about me than a simple online profile will reveal?

Again, do we truly realize how our words or the way we say things can affect those around us?

Maybe we have never caused someone to bleed physically, but our words may have further wounded a heart, desperately in need of healing...

Perhaps one simple bit of encouragement from our lips could make some one's day go just a bit better.
Perhaps that encouragement would help them raise their head just a little higher.
Maybe, just maybe, they'd feel a tiny sliver of peace in their souls knowing that there is someone who cares in this world.

Wouldn't that be worth it?

There are several passages in the Bible that talk about the power the tongue can have, but James gives one of the clearest word pictures to his readers.

I think the analogy is just brilliant...

A spring is life giving.
It has fresh clear water.
Imagine this...especially in the hot swelter of summer days.
All you need is a sip of that cool refreshing water; something to soothe your parched lips and trickle down your scratchy dry throat.

Water can bring life, if it is fresh...

But imagine taking that drink from the spring and find that the water is not fresh, but rather some of the saltiest, grossest tasting water you have ever experienced.

James says that blessing and cursing can't coexist; he also notes that followers of Jesus have a great responsibility when it comes to their words.

When someone professes to love God, and yet use their words as weapons by which they destroy another human, it contaminates the fresh spring with salt.

Their words are no longer life-giving.
They cause another to choke.
Perhaps careless words spoken to another could lead as far as the rejection of the possibility of the divine...

It is my belief that every last human that walks this earth is made in the image of the divine. God has placed his spark within us all.

How can we love God if we curse those who are made in his image?

Very good question James.

This is something that I am personally wrestling with. Not the concept really, but the practice.

When I see comments like the ones on the post above, my immediate reaction is to retaliate. I want so badly to put these misinformed people back in their places, and with that attitude my tongue, and my words can become deadly.

My spring will no longer give life to those who drink from it, but rather leave a bitter taste with them.

What I'm learning, as I stumble along each day, doing what I can to try to follow this Jesus guy, is that as Christ followers, we have to let things go.

We cannot hold onto slights, and the hurtful words that are directed at us.
We cannot retaliate because we are called to be different.
Jesus called his followers to conduct themselves in a new way.

Turning the other cheek may seem passive, but it is actually powerful.

By letting go, and refusing to go on the offensive, you are working toward preventing further bloodshed with your words. You are refusing to act maliciously against others who have the divine spark within them, as you have within yourself.

Forgiveness and letting go are beautiful things in a world full of antagonism.

Can you disagree, then? Absolutely.

This is not a call to be some sort of spineless, politically correct individual who walks on eggshells all day long.

One thing that Jesus and his followers emphasized, though, is to voice your disagreements in love and humility.

The Bible is calling for something deeper than political correctness, which is purely societal and cultural...

It does acknowledge that we are human, and will have many disagreements in our short time here on Earth, but the call to settle disputes with love and humility is a better way.

It is a better way, because it gives another person dignity, rather than stripping it from them.

This is a very difficult task, because it goes against our natural human tendency when a disagreement happens, and this tendency is to "win" the disagreement. Often that involves tearing another down, leaving them demoralized.

This is not what God desires for us when we relate to others who are made in his image.

I admire my friend Theresa a lot, because she has incredibly strong convictions, yet she is one of the most approachable people I know. She has great relationships with people who have completely opposite views and convictions than she does.

How is this possible?
Is it possible?

It is, because, while Theresa has extremely strong opinions, when she disagrees she does so firmly, yet with love and humility. She is able to look at all sides of an issue, rather than dogmatically arguing one way of looking at things.

We need more people like Theresa in this world, I think.

Humility is beautiful and freeing because it is unassuming.
It leaves you free to be human, and to submit your opinion without claiming omniscience.
You don't have to know everything, and defend your position viciously if you are humble when you voice your opinion.

Here is another interesting thing about disagreeing in this fashion...

Voicing disagreements in love and humility make it very difficult for another to find fuel for their anger.

When we retaliate angrily, the argument does not diminish, but rather escalates.

The converse tends to happen when someone chooses to react to anger with love.

Whether we like it or not, we are powerful beyond our imagination.
It is what we choose to do, or not do, on a daily basis that shapes the world we live in.
I pray that you and I would choose, each day, the way of love and humility.

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