Reading through James, I’m struck by how persistently he warns us of the abuse of words. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” I wonder what would happen if we took this as our motto for one solid day? Would our facebook and twitter feeds come to a grinding halt?
The theology of the first section of James 3 (with its descriptor of the tongue as a fire connected with the flames of hell and the tongue as a restless evil full of deadly poison) might be summarized something like this: if you want to sin less, stop talking.
James provides treacherous ground for those of us who spend our lives wrangling with words, but perhaps James only says something every writer or preacher knows, even if we fail to practice it. Listening must come before speaking. Watching must come before writing. We must receive the gift of another before we have any gift to give. If we are full of only our own words and our own self-absorbed visions, our words will prove to be scraggly and brittle. There will be no life in them. When we are more consumed with pronouncing to another than actually receiving the other, we have lost our way. Our listening should be quick, and our speech should be slow.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, grief-stricken over the capitulation of the German Church to the Nazi program wrote, “Sometimes I think Christianity will only live after this time in a few people who have nothing to say.” When I hear our angry rhetoric and our speed to announce final words…When I watch how we dash past the actual stories that surround us… I wonder the same thing.