Today, because my own local church services had been cancelled due to snow, I had the chance to watch the webcast for my former congregation in Tampa, which I do not get the chance to do because I am invariably at choir practice and services myself when church services are being held in Florida. The young man giving the sermonette gave a message on a subject of particular personal relevance, one I wrestle with often, so that even though the passages that he cited are particularly commonplace, I thought it worthwhile to mention it anyway because of its considerable relevance to my life, and to my own writing here. There are certainly many people (myself included) who have had concerns about the nature of discourse in person and on the web in our society, and about our own role in that discourse. In that light, therefore, I wish to ponder a bit about this subject today.
I am always pleased when I see young people deeply involved in the local (and worldwide) affairs of my church. Part of this is a bit selfish, as I am not so old myself to forget my own desire, from childhood, to be involved in speaking and writing, singing and serving to the greatest extent possible. The young man giving the message today is (like me) a former ABC student who was formerly one of the singers in the teen choir that I had the chance to direct while I was a member in Tampa before going to Thailand. Given that my own history of involvement (especially speaking) in church has often oscillated between heavy involvement and none at all (having shown three such dramatic changes since my own graduation from ABC in 2004–a period of frequent speaking from late 2004 to early 2006, none at all from 2006 to early 2011, heavy speaking from early 2011 to Fall 2012, and not at all since then). In light of these whipsawing shifts in involvement, largely due to personalities and politics more than to character and ability, I feel at least a little bit envious of the ability that my younger peers have in developing their own God-given talents in ways that build up our local congregations.
It is, in that light, particularly striking (and ironic), that the subject of which the young man spoke was one of particularly personal relevance to me. His comment was on the way in which we need to speak and act in ways that are kind and encouraging to others, rather than being harsh. The center of his message was an unsurprising one, but no less worthwhile for that, in James 3:5-10, which reads: “Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
In light of this passage, the speaker today told of how we do “damage from a distance” rather than use our words to build up and show respect to others. We cannot forget that while we wish to honor God, that other human beings, including ourselves, are created in the image of God and are worthy of honor and respect for that alone (even if no other reason for honoring us could be found). The respect of others may not always be easily seen as respect, nor may our own. Some people maybe respectful but also intensely and openly critical, while others may have a surface appearance of politeness but may be full of slander in their hearts. We must be wary that surface appearances may not be the most accurate portrayal of the truth about ourselves and others, while also aware that we must strive to work to avoid even the appearance of evil in our dealings, which is at times a seemingly impossible task. Rather than causing damage from a distance, as is all too easy for us to do, let us strive, as best as we are able, with all the help that we are able to muster, to build up close at hand and as far away as our influence may spread.