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How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire . . . with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” –James 3:5-6,9

One of the most rampant urban legends that pops up in every rural community is the certainty that a large mega-retailer wanted to build a store in town but “they” kept them out. (I’m aware of the campaigns against Walmart and Home Depot in some larger communities. I’m talking about spot-in-the-road towns that barely have populations to support grocery stores, let alone mega-retailers.)

angry-face-715449At one public meeting I attended where that statement was made, I looked at the gentleman and said, “Who is `they’?”  He stammered a bit and said, “You know . . .  `them’.”  “Well, who is them?”  I asked.  He blustered a bit more and then said, “Well, the city council, I suppose.”  Although I assured him that I attended nearly every council meeting and never heard a discussion or saw a vote taken to deny a building permit to any retailer, I’m afraid I never convinced that gentleman to question the source and reliability of fodder tossed around the local coffee shop each morning.

Although Christians try not to take the Lord’s name in vain, (Commandment #3), what are the limits on not bearing false witness against your neighbor (Commandment #9)?  Aren’t we taking the Lord’s name in vain if we pass along negative stories about other people–who are God’s creation, just as we are?

The most troublesome aspect of our tendency to criticize a vague “they” for the problems of a business, community, school, church, or country lies in the way those attitudes discourage and demoralize large groups of people.  Even people who are healthy, financially stable, happy with their jobs and activities, and have good personal relationships with their family, co-workers and neighbors can get caught up in mass hysteria when exposed to negative comments and attitudes.

Our best example of that fact?  Backbiting statements and innuendoes circulated about Jesus stirred up the crowd—and was ultimately responsible for his arrest and death.

We should take a stand against wrong.  That, however, involves getting our facts straight, examining our motives, and becoming involved in finding solutions that bring about positive change.

Psalm 139:44 is a sobering thought: “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” We should approach every conversation as if God is listening in—because we know God is listening in on our every conversation.

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