No one can tame the tongue.
So says the Letter of James in today's Epistle reading.
That's pretty discouraging, isn't it? But I know it to be true. I can hear things coming out of my mouth that my brain has told me not to say and is still telling me not to say even while I'm saying them. Only after we get burned (and sometimes not even then) do we begin to hesitate before blasting off - in one area at least. We may have to learn all over again in another area.
In the Letter of James, we pretty much get just the negative about the tongue. Oh yes, we use the tongue to praise and to curse, but that's an indictment which only implies that we ought to lean toward blessing. How might we actually, affirmatively think about how we use speech?
One suggestion comes from Psalm 45, an interesting psalm that seems to have been written for a royal wedding. I particularly like the translation found in the New International Version (NIV):
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
One of the "dynamic equivalent" translations (i.e., one that takes a few liberties with the individual words in Greek but ) says "my tongue is like a skillful poet."
So what would happen if we, instead of focusing on our tongues as lit by the fires of hell, readjusted our focus on our tongues to think of them as being like skillful poets ready to expound on noble themes?
Of course, one thing that might happen is that we begin to be considered Pollyannas. Everyone loves a bit of snark here and there. A sharp tongue often is the weapon of a sharp wit and a sharp wit adds a lot of spice to the world. I love wit, myself, and enjoy the game and challenge of it.
But I find more and more that I need to bite my tongue more than I need to use it to send out biting wit. As a child, I was the one who talked too much. I still talk too much, and listen too little. It is hard to listen when I'm busy thinking up the next riposte. I easily get caught up in the verbal repartee and then I'm thinking about myself and not about any one else (other than perhaps to laud a worthy opponent).
In everything, moderation, then. A little wit goes a long way.
Indeed, my tongue can be like a skillful poet focused on noble themes, and my ears can tune to the cares and trials and fears and joys of others much of the time, but only if I will let go of my need to control the conversation and broadcast my own worth and intellect and wit. I'll never be the wittiest or the smartest or the funniest, so I can drop out of that competition and reconnect my tongue to my heart and to my brain and to my ears.
Easier said than done.