When Will We Ever Learn?
When Will We Ever Learn?
So goes the refrain from a song of innocence that was sung over and over again as I lived through the 60’s. “When will they ever learn,” was the haunting and repeated words in the folk song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
So we now have yet another hate-filled killing, this time in a synagogue. As I write this, a sixteen-year-old kills a fellow student because he was bullied. We seem not to even be able to step toward any kind of gun control in the midst of calls not to trample on individual “rights.”
Civility has become something of a dinosaur. The language of division, and even hate, has become accepted. We no longer are aware that the room is smoke-filled. We have become accustomed to angry rhetoric, and so we breathe in the smoke and go on.
The trouble is that we are not “going on” really. We are going down. We long to be a “great” nation again, but the price of the longing is the danger of losing our collective soul.
My heart aches to hear the psalm of lament coming from my Jewish brothers and sisters. They are of course accustomed to such Psalms. There are forty-two individual Psalms of Lament in the Judeo-Christian scriptures and another sixteen that are deemed “collective or national” Psalms of Lament. Seems there is nothing new about the soul’s ache in the face of oppressive forces.
But, at least, can those of us who say we are people of faith begin to take seriously the power of our words. The biblical book of James warns us that it appears that “no one can tame the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison…with the tongue we bless the lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3: 8-9)
Two old expressions come to mind:
Watch your thoughts for they become your words.
Watch your words for they become your actions.
Watch your actions for they become your habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
Watch your character for they become your destiny.
The political and civil rhetoric in our land is leading us to a destiny that is below the character of a nation that longs to be great.
The other expression is, “A sent arrow, a word unkindly spoken, and a missed opportunity cannot be retrieved.”
We are in danger of missing an opportunity to regain the knowledge that our words determine our character and destiny. It all begins with our words, so I challenge us to “watch our words” in a land of rising violence and name calling.
I close with some words of blessing that I wrote for a recent sermon I offered on the before-mentioned words from James:
May your tongue be tied when it can cause harm.
May it be loosened when it can offer blessing.
May it rest when it could have cut another soul.
And may it speak clearly when it can offer love.
When will we ever learn that our words matter and that they so often become our destiny.
Dr. Jody Seymour
Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.