It was 10:37 pm EDT when I received a text from my mom, "Problem at the Oscars." Accompanying those words, she sent a recorded video of what she had just watched on our guest room television downstairs. Mommy was in town for a couple of days to spend time with her seven Georgia-based grandchildren and had settled in for a quiet night of golden Oscar statuettes, glamourous dresses, and dramatic speeches. I still struggle to find a folder in which to file this incident in the cabinet of my brain. A silent, swift smack followed by a profanity-laden threat on global television at the Academy Awards, where acting and filmography take center stage, seemed to fit the theatrical, concocted, and preposterous categories more than reality. Did that actually just happen? As a husband, I understand Will's rage at that moment, even if his actions were indefensible. My fists and my mouth stay unapologetically ready to defend all those who bear my last name without equivocation. But the issue here is more profound.
We were lied to as kids. Instead of ending with "words will never hurt me," the popular children's saying should say, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words WILL break my heart." Generational comedic talent Chris Rock's insulting GI Jane joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's bald head was a bridge too far for her husband Will Smith, especially after years of speculation and mockery concerning their self-revealed "open relationship." (Too much irony to unpack here.) Critics posit that Jada's recent admission of entanglements with other men, Will's subsequent embarrassment, and previous comments by Rock and others created the perfect concoction that produced the "greatest night in the history of television." As lifelong fans of the fresh prince and his incredible talent and seemingly big heart, such an outburst has been difficult to digest. The internal struggle that seems to be bubbling over, impacting his psyche as a husband, father, and man, is even more concerning. Chris Rock was dead wrong. And so was Will Smith.
Death and Life are in the power of the tongue. Duplicitous in nature, it blesses others one moment and curses them the next. No one can tame it. It spews its deadly venom, setting a life's work ablaze with an errant, reckless, seditious word camouflaged as wit or retort. We witnessed at the Oscars a glaring reminder of the power of words to ridicule instead of inspire, to threaten instead of thwart. Envisioning an alternate Hollywood ending, I would cast Will Smith as the spousal defender who stormed the stage, not for violence but to seize the microphone to speak a poetic, poignant word about the struggles of alopecia and the tacit acceptance of passive-aggressive behavior against black women. Maybe next time.
Perfection eludes even the most disciplined. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way (James 3:2). Since humanity is imperfect, every human interaction contains core elements of volatility and similar measures of grace. As one additional oxygen atom makes hydrogen peroxide toxic and one less makes water life-giving, one decision can disarm nefarious intentions and usher in peaceful, substantive dialogue. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
I hope proper discipline is imposed and relationships can be restored, including Will and Jada's. While the King Richard lead did not mention Chris in his acceptance speech for best actor, Will did issue an apology the following day. Public offense always requires public contrition, and forgiveness is not the same as forgetfulness. On the contrary, it releases the offender from his transgression and the offended from the graveyard of revenge. Consequences and restitution still exist, but bondage is eradicated for both parties. As ugly as the evening was, Denzel Washington delivered the best punchline of the night, wrapped in grace birthed in truth;" 'At your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you,' he said. Scripture offers a wise prescription for these moments when pride rises within. In those times, James 4:7 cautions, "Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
What a warning for us all.