Homily for October 2019

                                          Watch your language!


James 3:1-12 New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

Taming the tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


 1400 athletes, 90 countries represented, an estimated TV audience of 250 million and 1000 volunteers! Like it or loathe it, it is hard to ignore the effects of the World Cycle Championships on the county of Yorkshire. It is equally difficult to quantify the potential for good, though I feel sure there will have been plenty to find fault with some aspect or other of the organisation, the impact, the annoyance, the nuisance.

To my mind, this has been a huge opportunity for us, through sport, to come together as a nation, as a union of nations, as an international sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity. This at a time when there is…

… disunity, division, discord,

… crisis, chaos, cataclysm, catastrophe!

I count myself as very fortunate and not least because these last few days, as a “Proper Volunteer”, I have had the chance to meet and talk to all sorts of people: from Russian oligarchs to Iraqi security operatives, from Japanese cycle team representatives to Eritrean cleaners. This veritable cacophony of humanity has been brought about because of the faith of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and on the back of the Tour de France Grand Départ in 2014 and the subsequent Tour de Yorkshire, which has taken place every year since on the roads of our beautiful county. The latter began as a three-day and has now developed into a four-day event, but nothing on the scale of the World Championships has ever been anywhere near us since the last such competition graced the UK in 1982. How different things were then!

The roadshow and the money that goes with it is mind-boggling! Not only are there the riders whom we see, but there is a host of technicians, mechanics, dieticians and medical experts, who are rather less obvious. Added to this are the ubiquitous media people, video and camera operators, journalists and report-writers. Often whilst races are taking place, a plethora of meetings happen, to discuss future strategy, successes and failures, new ventures and emerging countries and teams. This coming-and-going of so many people from so many different places around the world was mesmerising to me.

I have said it before and will say it again, a few words exchanged in the native language of our guest, whoever she or he may be, goes way beyond the few words themselves and so in as many cases as is possible, this is what I tried to do, whenever the opportunity arose. Of course, mistakes are made and lessons learned, but when this happens, though the accuracy may be lost, I believe the gesture of friendliness is not.

Not everyone has been enamoured of the arrival in their town of this event, but gentle words to put the other side of the story often  suffice to calm tensions and if not persuading the other party of the legitimacy of your case, at least enable them to see your point of view. One of my colleagues had been seriously inconvenienced as she tried to take her son from Bradford to Newcastle for the start of his first University term, due to road closures which she felt were insufficiently notified. At one road block and when explaining the situation she was greeted with an “I don’t care!”, obviously a poor choice of words in this particular circumstance. Instead, something like “I am very sorry for the inconvenience, but can I suggest you… “ might have engendered a more positive response. This would imply that the listener hears the concern, appreciates the difficulty, but can gently and diplomatically offer, if not a wholly satisfactory alternative, then at least a possible compromise.

We have heard so much lately about the choice of vocabulary and expressions and specifically within one language, that of English. This is nowhere more evident right now than in the UK Parliament. The decision to call a referendum on Britain’s continued membership, or otherwise, of the European Union in 2016, whatever you think of it, was a bold one indeed. Successive governments had successfully booted the ball further down the road, not knowing, but perhaps fearing the consequences. No-one, however, could have predicted the level of fall-out that would ensue. It is not my place here to pontificate upon the rights or wrongs of the “in-or-out” argument, but merely to observe and comment upon the damage that has been, is being and will continue to be done, through an inability to talk to each other properly.

For this United Kingdom of ours is deeply divided. Opinion is deeply entrenched on either side. Many cruel words and thoughts and opinions have been exchanged, nowhere more obviously than in this, The Mother of all Parliaments. Our reputation as a country within Europe and the world as a bastion of democracy, fairness and tolerance, built over a thousand years and more is in complete tatters. It will take generations to mend and repair this damage, long after all this mess has been cleared. I worked for long enough in an export sales environment to know that a trusting relationship with a customer base takes years to establish and can be destroyed in an instant.

What I find hopeful and so encouraging in all the bad news we hear is the fact that so many young people are finding a voice and that older ones are being forced to listen. The former may express matters in a simpler, uncomplicated and even naïve way, but is that not what we need to hear. We need a reminder that we, the older ones are here to set an example, that is to say a correct way to behave. So much of the time it seems that all we do is to set a bad example.

So it begins with those of us who are in the public eye, in positions or responsibility, authority, leadership and power. Yet it involves all of us. As the scripture says, there are many ways in which our tongue can be used for good or for evil. We must learn to moderate our language, at home with our loved ones, at work with our colleagues, at play with our friends, when we talk to God in prayer. Let us all take care with what we write, when we send messages by card, letter, text, What’s App, Facebook. Messenger and all the like. When we write it is difficult to convey the proper meaning. Think of the simple question: “What are you doing?. See how many ways you can express it. Do you see what I mean?

I believe in the awesome power of few words, for good or bad.

Let’s see that we watch our language.

Let’s do it proper!

                                                                                                        Peter Lambert – October 2019