Words of wisdom in a time of coronavirus

Posted 3/20/20

The Bible does mention a pandemic capable of spreading across the globe…but it is not an infectious disease. It is language: How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a …

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Words of wisdom in a time of coronavirus

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The Bible does mention a pandemic capable of spreading across the globe…but it is not an infectious disease. It is language: How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire (James 3:5).

Words are destructive. A vicious no can deflate a dream. And yet James also points out that speech can guide us to safety like a small rudder can turn a massive ship into harbor (James 3:4). An enthusiastic yes can fill one’s sails and launch a life in a new direction.

Therefore, we must mark our words carefully in a time of coronavirus.

Theologian Roger Owens recently claimed that people of faith should avoid the two extremes of “catastrophic” and “magical” speech, meaning to talk as if we have no hope, or as if nothing is wrong. As we speak into the middle of these extremes, we need language that is clear, concise, and informative about the exact symptoms of the coronavirus, about the highly infectious nature of this disease, and about the grave danger facing our country and our world. Our words need to be hard facts…

And we need tender truths. We need metaphors, not only statistics. We need poetry — language that, as Bob Dylan sang, “was written in my soul from me to you.” Perhaps most of all we need a little humor. As a friend said, have a Corona…with an extra lime!

Last Friday was the last day students would attend Chatham County Schools for weeks, if not months. After school, my wife and I succumbed to our children’s pleas and dished out Fruit Loops cereal for them. High on sugar, our three youngsters were rocketing across the ceiling of our home when I told my dearly beloved that I needed some peace and quiet so that I could work on my sermon…

Now that was the wrong thing to say!

This is an anxious time. We should not make light of a serious situation, but we must not lose the ability to laugh at ourselves. A light-hearted moment not only provides relief, it lets our defenses down that so that we might hear what we most need to hear.

Talking about kids and public schools, I am reminded of the families that depend on the meals served in the school cafeterias. I say to you, gentle reader, that we should provide for these children through programs such as the CORA Food Pantry. You and I can go online and make a donation. Helping these students in a time of need reminds me of something written in James 2:14: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?

In a time of coronavirus, may all people of good faith speak the truth with humor, and then put our words into loving action.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the poet pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and the author of the book “Gently Between the Words.”


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