Jun 21 2017

Taming the Tongue

SM509Deadly wildfires are in the news again. In central Portugal a large forest fire has claimed over sixty lives and has yet to be contained.  At first the fire was thought to originate with a lightning strike but a BBC report today indicates that a “criminal hand” might have actually caused the massive fire.  We know from history that it doesn’t take much to start a giant forest fire.  A single match or a carelessly discarded cigarette can start a blaze that takes lives, destroys homes, kills wildlife and devastates a forest.  That is why we must be very careful when handling such objects.

I thought of the Portugal fire as I was studying the third chapter of the book of James this week. In this section James talks about the deadly potential of the tongue.  He notes that though the tongue is small it has a way of directing or controlling our lives.  James compares the tongue to a bit that controls a large horse and to a relatively small rudder that directs a giant ship.  Then James says “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (vs. 5-6)

e_DSC7161The graphic images that are being shown of the forest fire in Portugal are not only a reminder of the dangers of fire, they are also powerful reminders of the dangers of the tongue. The words we use can, like fire, be deadly.  They can hurt people and destroy lives.  As a child I remember learning the rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  Whoever came up with this saying was an idiot!  Careless and harmful words can cause wounds that hurt worse and last longer than those caused by sticks or stone.  Most of us can bear witness to that.

James declares that “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (vs. 7-8)  This is a sad commentary on our state but who could deny it is accurate?  Perhaps we’ll never be able to fully tame the tongue but surely we can do better than we have. I certainly hope so.  In so many arenas our language has become caustic and vitriolic.  People get hurt every day.

_CES0880Obviously I cannot control what others say but I do have some control over what I say. So do you.  Let us, therefore, choose to speak words that encourage, help, comfort and heal, not words that hurt, discourage and tear down others.  Long ago the Psalmist offered this prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil.” (141:3-4)  If we would be willing to offer this prayer at the beginning of each day, I can’t help but believe it would go a long way in eliminating a lot of needless and harmful words.  Smokey the Bear used to say “Only you can prevent forest fires.”  James would have us understand that same thing holds true for the verbal ones.


Sep 4 2009

Fire and nature

FL-prescribed burnRight now there are some big fires burning outside of Los Angeles. The media wants to make this a Los Angeles fire, but it really isn’t. The big Station fire is mostly burning in the wild areas to the north of the populated areas.

Fire confuses us. On the one hand, it gives us warmth and provides energy for many things. On the other hand, it can quickly burn down a home and or destroy a business.

For some people, fire related to God is seen only as fire from hell, as punishment. Yet fire is also a way that God has spoken to people throughout the Bible, from the burning bush and Moses to I Kings 18:24, “…the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” These are not negative or bad things, but a positive use of fire. Fire is dramatic, but then so can be God. Fire in the wild can be a mesmerizing thing, something wild and uncontrolled by man. Maybe that is why fire has often symbolized God’s speaking to man.

The Station fire has covered 226 square miles. Note I did not say it destroyed that area. It didn’t, no matter what the news media has said. Much of Southern California is chaparral, a landscape that does burn. However, the plants growing there are adapted to recovery from fire. Few woody plants are actually killed. Most resprout quickly after a fire. In addition, there are many plants whose seeds only sprout after fire or smoke.

It would seem that God has made this land to meet specific environmental conditions. Those conditions can mean drought and dry weather, so the plants and animals that live there adapt. Such conditions can also mean fires, so the plants and animals adapt to that, too. For man to be horrified and feel the fires are only destructive is to be man centered, and to me, a bit arrogant that somehow we know better than God what is right for the world.

This is not to say that fires aren’t a problem. A big challenge is how we build homes and businesses into areas that are likely to burn. One answer that short-sighted folks have is to bulldoze the plants, the chaparral instead of appreciating it for the miracle of life in a specific environment. Are we to believe God randomly created chaparral for us to destroy as we desire? Bulldozing chaparral is far worse than fire. The challenge is living with this place with understanding and smart building rather than trying to impose arbitrary man-based ideas on a world that was not made for that. Lives and buildings can be protected through proper community design and fire preparation around homes, not trying to strip the backcountry of native plant communities, ecosystems that have long been adapted to the conditions here.

The fire in the photo here is from a prescribed burn in Florida. Such fires keep the long-life pine/wiregrass ecosystem healthy and less likely to burn inappropriately. Unfortunately, such fires are not appropriate for chaparral as the ecosystem is not the same. Some people want to apply ideas from one area blindly to another rather than understanding how every ecosystem is unique. I believe we need to understand and appreciate God’s world as it is, not make it into something else that is centered on man’s ego. I like the expression I heard the other day that ego is Edge God Out. Our ego can make us believe we know everything about the world and how to control it, but as these fires in Southern California prove, that is far from the truth.

— Rob