In today’s first reading we read: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain” (James 1:26)
The tongue, speech more broadly in our understanding, is a mighty thing. We are people driven by very strong reactions and emotions. The tongue can become unbridled. It can teach, counsel, praise, bolster, speak words of love, give comfort and assurance, offer peace, forgive and more. It can gossip, slander, criticize, condemn, and more. It is fueled by emotion, shock, hurt and other events.
In the moments when that fuel has exploded, wounding and damaging relationships, it is then we are dismayed at how far we are from who we claim to be a faithful people. We have taken on the name “Christian” but in that moment we have taken Jesus’ name in vain.
“It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes.” (James 3:5)
It is this later image that speaks to a way forward. To try to bridle the “fierce winds” that fuel our inner reactions, is perhaps only an effort to bottle the tempest. That which we hope will cork the storm, eventually gives way. But in prayer and wisdom, better to find that small rudder of a chosen response that steers clear of a storm of words.
The action of the pilot whose response becomes a habit of course correction. The habit that becomes our character. The character lived out in the word that lets us live into the name “Christian.”