Bad Words

Three of the women that I most respect, though I have never met, have tweeted or blogged (somewhat) recently about something that is near and dear to my heart.

The use of words that “offend” some part of the population. Swearing, cursing, cussing, vulgarity – whatever you want to call it.

For some Christians, this is basically a salvation issue – they feel so strongly about it, that it comes across that if you partake in this ‘sin’, you can have no hope of heaven. It’s practically up there with denying the fact that Jesus died and was raised again on the third day.

Of course, I have some Christian friends that don’t feel this way (I LOVE Episcopalians!) But I’ve been caught up in the midst of some controversy because my language can be…well…colorful.

And honestly, I think I do a pretty good job of reigning it in. I normally don’t say offensive 4-letter words around people I think that will be offended by them (or around people I don’t know). I try not to swear around my kids, because I think that can be a bad habit if the words are overused. (We teach them not to use these words, but that they’re not as bad as words that we use to hurt people.)

But when it comes down to it – that’s all they are. Words. They have no innate power outside what we give them. Why is ‘poop’ worse than ‘doo doo’? Why is ‘crap’ worse than ‘poop’? Why is ‘shit’ worse than ‘crap’? I have no idea. And honestly, I’m probably not going to spend the time to study to figure out why some words are more offensive than others.

I’ve been called out in Bible classes and Bible studies for using language that might not be considered ‘polite’. I remember one Sunday morning, I was teaching a class of about 20 or 30. I was talking about being open and transparent with each other. About being real. And I used the word ‘pissed’. Oops. I got talked to by one of the church leaders for that.

And over a period of three years, I met with a small group of (adult) men (about 6 or 8) every Friday morning. Over these 3 years, thinking that this was a group of mature adults who could handle who I really was, I said the word ‘shit’. Twice. Over 3 years. The second time I said it, the self-appointed leader of our group just had to make huge deal out of the vulgar language I was using. It almost brought him to tears. That was the last time I attended that study.

I know some people reading this might say, “Those words were inappropriate, and those responses to them were appropriate.” But I know a lot of people would say, “WTF?!?”

But back to where I started. To the women I respect that have been talking about it.

A couple years ago, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary talked about the Strong Words she sometimes uses.

Earlier this year, Nadia Bolz-Weber explained, “I love Jesus, but I swear a little”.

And yesterday, Rachel Held Evans tweeted about this very same subject: In Defense of the Four-Letter Word, by Addie Zierman.

It seems like there’s a trend here. People are realizing that following Jesus is not about moral superiority. It’s about loving people. About opening your hearts and homes, and caring about people. We cannot do that when we’re focused on what we look like (or sound like) on the surface. Unfortunately, for most of the folks in our culture, it really is a major paradigm shift.

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Having a Bad Day?

Some days are harder than others. Even in the midst of all the crap, sometimes there are a few threads of light peeking through the clouds. But then there are those days that are just tough to get through.

Some days you feel like King David, when he says:

But as for me, I am a worm and no man,
scorned by all and despised by the people.

I have those days. I guess we all do.

But on top of that, did he make a mistake balancing his checking account, just to find out he only had a fraction of the amount that he thought he had? And was that the same day all the drains in his house backed up and he needed an emergency visit from the plumber?

Sometimes I don’t understand.

But I heard a great sermon last night.

The gist of it was, in the midst of the pain of life, we can’t understand God. Our priest is wonderful, and this is some of what she said:

We can’t understand God. But we can be honest with our struggle to understand. We can give up our certainty and the need to have all the answers.

When we do this, we are more truly the church.

We are to stand with those in their darkest hour – that is what we are called to do. When we think our job is to give people answers, we are sadly mistaken. We don’t have the answers. We have so much more. We have the love of God and it is our on mission to show that love in the world.

This turns on its head the contemporary Christian ideal, which is to have all the answers, to act like we understand God and everything He wants. And to share that knowledge with the world. But that’s not it at all.

As Christ loved us let us also love another. I love that this is part of the blessing in the Episcopal Church. John said this in one of his letters, and Jesus said it about God.

So maybe, in the midst of my own pain, the best thing I can do is try to love someone else.

Guilty!

Not only are Edgar Allan Poe’s stories disturbing (often very disturbing), but they’re always told in the first person. And most of the time, they are of someone doing some horrible deed, and then being discovered. Have you read The Tell-Tale Heart? Or even more horrifying, The Black Cat?

What kind of guilt must Poe have been carrying around to be forever writing like this?

Guilt is a funny thing. Sometimes we carry it around for years and years about stuff for which we’ve been forgiven for a long, long time. And yet, we have very little guilt for that shit that we continue to do on a day-to-day basis.

I know this is related to shame that I talked about recently, but it’s so pervasive. If we could just switch it around, our lives would be so much better. If I could take away the guilt for this stupid crap that I did years ago, that I carry around with me – all that shame that I have for stuff that I’ve actually been forgiven for. I could take that guilt and put it on the stuff that’s not so great that I’m doing today. And actually become a better person.

Because guilt has a place – it should prick us and cause us to want to change. But guilt can’t do it’s job when we don’t feel guilty about our day-to-day sins and only carry it on stuff that happened along time ago and doesn’t matter any more.

Think about it. What’s someone more likely to have guilt about? That divorce that happened 20 years ago? Or for yelling at their coworker, or some stranger today for no reason?

It could be a healthy thing if we used it correctly.

Shame on You

We live in such a culture of shame, constantly teaching people to be ashamed of themselves.

It’s bad enough that we teach people to be ashamed of what they’ve done. I know people that had a bad experience 20 years ago – maybe they got caught up in something they shouldn’t have done. But even with their past behind them, people – self-proclaimed followers of Jesus – still throw it in their faces.

The most despicable thing, though is that we stoop to a much lower level, not only encouraging people to be ashamed of what they’ve done, but to be ashamed of who they are. I grew up a nerd. Socially backward, not grasping the finer intricacies of dealing with other people. Not knowing what to do and to wear to fit in. Sometimes I like to think that I understand a little bit of what it’s like to be outcast for who you are. But being a straight white male, I’ll never have any idea of what it’s like to be taught that I am less than for the color of my skin, for my sexual orientation, for my gender.

I got to thinking about this reading one of Rachel Held Evans’s posts, Is Ambition a Sin? It’s amazing how men generally treat women like less. Couched in the language of “equal but different”, it’s just obvious that women are treated as less important than men. We see this every day from the misogyny of that comes from the anonymous Internet, to the fact that one of the worst insults that you can give a man is to call him a woman or suggest he has feminine qualities. We live in a culture – church included; or church especially – that continues to devalue people. This is polar opposite to the way Jesus lived. In his day women were second-class citizen but he treated them equally. The people who broke religious laws were outcasts of society but he treated them with love and kindness.

I just don’t think we’re ever going to make any kind of impression on this world as people of God until we love and accept everyone as equals regardless of whether they are male or female, black or white, gay or straight.

It seems like Paul said something like that somewhere.

“The Test of Fellowship”

I was talking with a study group as we were discussing Wright and Borg’s The Meaning of Jesus and I expressed my frustration with the back-and-forth, I started to say “who cares”? (As I mentioned in my last post.) Now I could get to the piont where I saw Borg’s argument that if there were still really bones in the tomb, who cares, that doesn’t remove my faith.

I was asked if before I read this book if I would have seen that as a test of Christianity – or what is sometimes called a “Test of Fellowship”. What some people call the test to determine if one is truly a Christian. For some Christians this is whether or not someone has been baptized. For some it’s whether or not they’ve been fully immersed in baptism. Still others the test is whether or not you have a specific belief about baptism. For some, it’s just whether you believe Jesus died, was buried and was raised again.

So what he was asking me, was whether or not I would believe a person was a Christian if they believed it was possible that there was still in a body in the tomb of Jesus.

This made me think – what is that test for me?

I couldn’t really think of anything – so I said I was through with tests. I grew up in a tradition that the tests were very specific, and there were many (meaning there were many ways you could prove someone wasn’t a true Christian). So I think I’m over all that. Before I read this part of the book, I probably would have asked someone why they wanted to be a Christian if they could believe the possibility that the bones of Jesus were still in His tomb – but I wouldn’t have said they weren’t a Christian.

To me the only real test of whether or not someone is a Christian is whether or not they love.

That’s what Jesus said, isn’t it? “By your love they will know you.”

Sometimes it seems like I’m in the minority.

Borg vs. Wright (The Meaning of Jesus)

I’m about halfway through this book, and I admit, I’m a bit disappointed.

But maybe just in an intellectual sense. I think it’s having a positive effect on my faith.

From the copy of the book I have, this is what the title states on the front:

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions: The Leading Liberal and Conservative Jesus Scholars Present the Heart of the Historical Jesus Debate

Yeah; it’s a bit long. N.T. Wright presents a more conservative viewpoint of the historical Jesus; Marcus J. Borg’s view is a bit more liberal.

At first, I got into the debate. But then it started to get pointless. Even when they disagree, they seem to agree. So often it seems like semantics. And there seem to be so many logical problems, it starts to get annoying.

Borg has his share. He’s constantly referring to a “majority of mainline scholars” who agree with what he says, but never gives any evidence. He suggests that Mark was written first, containing the most accurate stories of Jesus, but then reverses himself and uses some passages in Mark to prove that other passages in Mark aren’t true. And he suggests that Jesus was a healer, states that this was some sort of paranormal ability, but that His healings weren’t miracles. Huh?

But Wright has his problems, too. One that stands out is the idea that the eyewitness testimonies of Jesus after his resurrection contradicting each offer some sort of proof that the eyewitnesses were real. (The fact that they don’t match proves that they are true?)

It seems like some of the arguments are so bad that even when I agree with the conclusions, I want to throw out the assertions.

Plus they continually refer to their own work – it’s as if they can’t explain their points without going back to their entire body of work. But doesn’t that make them poor scholars if they can’t?

Everything Borg argues seems to be dependent on the fact that Jesus was basically two different people before and after he died (a pre- and post-Easter Jesus). Before he died, he didn’t know he was the Messiah; but became the Messiah at His death.

According to Wright, Jesus knew he was God and the Messiah while he lived.

So far, pretty much all of their arguments rest on these assertions. (Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but for the purposes of a blog post, I think it’s fair.)

And I’ve gotten to the point in this debate where I’ve said, “Who cares?”

And maybe this is good. Before reading this book, if someone suggested that there could still be a body in the tomb of Jesus and still keep their faith, I wouldn’t have thought it made sense. (Borg suggests this stating that he thinks that the resurrection was different from a bodily resurrection.) But now – I’m almost done with a lot of this discussion. Whether Jesus knew he was the Messiah when he was on earth or the exact nature of the resurrection of Jesus – I don’t really care because it doesn’t impact my faith.

But maybe the discussion is good – because I think it’s helping me see clearer the meaning of Jesus…even if (or especially if) all this arguing over semantics is pointless.