The Tongue is a Fire

On the way to work this morning, I was listening to a local rock station. It’s not just classic rock, exactly. It’s hard to characterize because they play such a wide range of sub-styles, which is one of the main reasons I like to listen (besides the fact that they’re local).

This morning the two DJs were meandering through their stream-of-consciousness dialogue when they landed upon the topic of mothers protecting their kids from “dangerous” rock group marketing gimics (ones I’d never heard of, except for “Kiss”). What caught my attention was the disparaging tone they used about mothers who are “against everything,” playing off the organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

My first thought: “Don’t these guys have mothers? I wonder how their moms reared them.” My next thought: “It’s so easy to demean and belittle people we don’t know whose beliefs we don’t like.”

Which sent me on my own flight of fancy. I caught just a portion of the “Cafferty File” yesterday evening on CNN. If ever there was an acerbic TV journalist, it’s Jack Cafferty. He always ends his segment on Wolf Blitzer’s show with a few emails from viewers. The hot topic yesterday was Barack Obama’s ability to say “Pah-ki-stahn” rather than the Americanized “Pakistan” (as in “Pacman”). “Finally!” one emailer opined, “A candidate who pronounces the word correctly,” as if doing so proved Senator Obama’s worthiness to be president. Another emailer noted, however, that we don’t get upset when other words are Americanized in the same fashion, so what’s the big deal?

That exchange made me think of popular opinion about President Bush. Right now, he’s one of the most unpopular presidents ever, exceeded in that status, we should not forget, only by Congress. I’ve heard him referred to as “stupid,” “embarrassing” and “a cowboy.” So, maybe he says “Pakistan” (with short a’s). He also says “nukular” for “nuclear,” and people snort and moan about that, too. But he also speaks fluent Spanish. By the way, it might be a Texas thing. I recently heard the present Governor of Texas pronounce “nuclear” the same way. Come to think of it, I believe my dad pronounced it that way.

So, we feel liberty to belittle people whose intellectual deficiencies are demonstrated by their mispronouncing certain words. It’s funny. They also just happen to be our ideological opponents. I wrote in my journal a couple of days ago, “The tongue is a fire” (or “fahr” for some of you). Yep, I’m guilty. I don’t want to be. I use the word “idiot” far too much. I get riled up and spout off and feel (momentarily) justified because the stakes are high. There’s a difference, however, between venting hostility and speaking prophetically. We Christians often don’t recognize the distinction. But we should.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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