Sunday, January 9, 2011

Death and Life Are In The Power of the Tongue

Most Christian, Jews, and other persons of faith are familiar with those words which are found in the book of Proverbs Chapter 18, verse 21.   

The entire verse reads:

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
      And those who love it will eat its fruit
."  -- New Kings James Version 

or as another Bible translation reads: :

"Words kill, words give life;
   they're either poison or fruit—you choose."  -- The Message

Yes, those words of wisdom from the Old Testament are familiar to most people of faith but sadly they are words that are seldom heeded until the aftermath of a tragedy.  Such was the case yesterday.

As I write this, CNN is reporting that 6 people are dead and 12 injured in a mass shooting in Arizona and their news anchors and political pundits are being careful about drawing any ties between the shooting an the current political climate. 

However, New York Times, Columnist Matt Bai was not so careful in his column, "A Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?" and wrote:

"Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

Odds are pretty good that neither of these — nor any other isolated bit of imagery — had much to do with the shooting in Tucson. But scrubbing them from the Internet couldn’t erase all evidence of the rhetorical recklessness that permeates our political moment. "
Bai further writes: 
"Modern America has endured such moments before. The intense ideological clashes of the 1960s, which centered on Communism and civil rights and Vietnam, were marked by a series of assassinations that changed the course of American history, carried out against a televised backdrop of urban riots and self-immolating war protesters. During the culture wars of the 1990s, fought over issues like gun rights and abortion, right-wing extremists killed 168 people in Oklahoma City and terrorized hundreds of others in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park and at abortion clinics in the South.

What’s different about this moment is the emergence of a political culture — on blogs and Twitter and cable television — that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. It wasn’t clear Saturday whether the alleged shooter in Tucson was motivated by any real political philosophy or by voices in his head, or perhaps by both. But it’s hard not to think he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon.

The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists like most of those who populate the Tea Parties, ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.

Consider the comments of Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite who unsuccessfully ran against Harry Reid for the Senate in Nevada last year. She talked about “domestic enemies” in the Congress and said, “I hope we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies.” Then there’s Rick Barber, a Republican who lost his primary in a Congressional race in Alabama, but not before airing an ad in which someone dressed as George Washington listened to an attack on the Obama agenda and gravely proclaimed, “Gather your armies.”

Let us not forget conservative radio show host  and onetime choice for Chief of Staff to now Rep. Allen West [R-FL], Joyce Kaufman who once commented in reference to undocumented workers:  "If you commit a crime while you're here, we should hang you and send your body back to where you came from, and your family should pay for it."

Now our nation has once again been shaken by what the late Robert F Kennedy described as "the mindless menace of violence" and we must examine the cause and effect of violence and political rhetoric and imagery..

 Of course most rational people will not blow up a federal building; shoot a doctor who performs abortions; try to assassination a political figure; or, randomly attack the homeless or people who appear to be illegal immigrants or Muslims,   But are the rest of us responsible for not feeding their illness.

Since we all recognize that there will always be the mentally ill, the bigoted and the easily impressionable  in our society are not individuals who run around spouting rhetoric about "second amendment remedies" and using images of politicians in crosshairs every bit as guilty for inciting the violent actions of the mentally ill as the person who yells fire in a crowded theater is for inciting a riot?  If a person yells fire in a crowded theater and as a result, people are trampled to death in a rush to leave that theater, did the action of shouting, "FIRE" cause the deaths?    So, while Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Joyce Kaufman and their ilk may never whisper instructions in the ear of a would be killer, could it be that their rhetoric is all the affirmation that a mentally ill person needs to carry out a violent act?

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Yes, words have power.  They can be the seeds for actions and sometimes they produce strange fruit..

So what do you and I do?  Marianne Williamson gives shared this thought  on her blog:
"Life is a serious business, and to whatever extent we haven't been playing it seriously, let tonight be the night when we awaken from our stupor and decide to be a player in the healing of our world.

Among other things, let's look deeply at how easy it is for deranged people to get guns not only in Arizona, but in other places in our country as well. If you feel this isn't right -- that it isn't safe for us or for our children -- then know the only way we will override the resistance of the National Rifle Association is if we ourselves get involved in the effort. THe NRA is right that guns don't kill people -- that people do. But with so many unstable people out there, there is no rational reason for us to make it so easy for them.
May those who died in today's massacre rest in peace. They have done what they came to do this lifetime, and it is time for them to sleep.

But for the rest of us, it is time to wake up. To pray yes, but also to act. To think deeply, but also to speak powerfully. To feel concern, but also to act with courage. God's blessing doesn't just mean that He does something for us; it also means that He does something through us. And now is the time to let Him. God bless Arizona, God bless America and God bless us all."

Friends and fellow bloggers, decide to be a player in the healing of the world.  Your words have power so decide now, what type of fruit do you want to bear. 

I leave you now with  "The Mindless Menace of Violence - A Speech by Robert F Kennedy"

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