Talking $h*t in Church

So, in the course of giving my message at church today, I managed to swear.  Actually, to be fair, I was quoting a book in which the author was quoting herself swearing.  So I was actually at least twice removed from actually swearing myself.  But nonetheless, the words came out in the reading of the story, and the truth is, I skipped over where it said shit, supplying the usual ‘blank’, and reduced goddamn to just plain damn.  So don’t call me insensitive.

The story was about a conflict.  And in choosing to use the words the author herself spoke, I was hoping to bring us into the depth of the situation.  Allowing things to unfold as she experienced it herself had the potential to draw us into the raw ugliness of the moment.

But for some, I imagine, it was perhaps a bit too raw.

I mean, church, after all, is the place we can go and know we won’t encounter this kind of language.  We’re surrounded by it throughout the week, whether at work or on television, or, dare we admit it – uttered ourselves.  But at least for an hour on Sunday morning, we can have respite.

We can have the gloriously clean language expected in a church service.

Then the pastor has to go and fuck it all up.  (Is typing it as bad as saying it?)

Suddenly mothers are covering their children’s ears, people who weren’t listening nearly get whiplash spinning their heads toward the front, and for some, perhaps this just was beyond the pale, and for their own sanity they will choose to attend a worship venue that has the decency to respect the dignity of its hearers.

I sympathize with those who felt this was entirely inappropriate.  I wrestled with actually saying it, knowing full well not everyone would appreciate it.  But to be honest, I kind of forgot it was in there until I was reading it again, and it just felt right to say it.  To let the author speak.  To allow the emotion of the conflict be felt by everyone.

And I wonder if perhaps this reflects a (mis)perception we have of the church.  As long as the church and the liturgical hour of worship remains a bastion of purity and decent behavior, I can get by with the language and behavior I encounter and use myself throughout the week.  I might swear regularly at home or at work, but when I’m at church, goddamnit, there better be clean language.  So the church acts as a convenient fiction which allows individuals to continue their own inappropriate behavior, so long as they know the structure in which they seek forgiveness for this very behavior exists and maintains a certain ‘code of conduct.’

a necessary fracture?

Yet what if keeping Sunday morning clean perpetuates the very behavior we might full well prefer not to be committing?  What if it is the release valve that allows the otherwise intolerable behavior we commit to continue?

When you encounter it at church, worlds collide, and you are actually face to face with the depth of your own brokenness, not to mention perhaps a bit embarrassed to hear this in front of all your pious church going friends, who you will momentarily join in the foyer over coffee, shaking your head about the pastor who is such an asshole, leaving aside the very real possibility that you’ll go out to a film together later that same day where such inappropriate language is a matter of course.

So perhaps we need to occasionally ‘break the spell’ of church as this pious shelter in which our fictional holy selves can continue to exist.  By bringing in our real experiences in life throughout the week, isn’t there a greater chance that the behavior we aspire to live into, the people we actually want to become, might gain greater traction?

It’s just a hunch, but, by golly, I think perhaps dropping the f-bomb at church today might have created a holy (Spirit) moment, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one.


(listen to the message: A Necessary Rupture?)

17 Comments

Filed under Culture, Relationships, The Text, Theology

17 responses to “Talking $h*t in Church

  1. AJ

    Is it ok to say this is the most fucking honest and compelling thing I’ve ever seen you write? Don’t know about how other people took it, but I’d say getting this blog (insight) out of it was worth it.

  2. AJ

    Yeah… I’m sort of cheering over here… I really liked this.

  3. I haven’t read everything you’ve ever written, but this is the favorite sentence I’ve seen from you. Thanks!

  4. So the church acts as a convenient fiction which allows individuals to continue their own inappropriate behavior, so long as they know the structure in which they seek forgiveness for this very behavior exists and maintains a certain ‘code of conduct.’

  5. Tom

    Love it! Bryan, we haven’t met but I have been following your blog after talking about how church looks among the Roma in eastern Europe with some of those who attend your church. I totally agree with your assessment of how stupid it is to make the church some kind of pious “escape” fantasy. If you go to church to have a moment of comfort and escape your “real life”, you have completely missed the purpose. Jesus was a real person who scared the shit out of the religious authorities (and even his own disciples who spent years with him). He got down in the mud and related with those who other religious people wouldn’t even associate with. He focused on relationships with broken and hurting (and some very unrefined) people. He never tried to sell the kingdom of God as an easy and comfortable place on earth. Heaven will be great! But life on earth can be hell and we all know it. We can only make it though this side of heaven together if we stay real, curb our judging others, and give a helping hand to someone who we don’t want to be like.

    Will be praying that the holy spirit moment has far ranging ripple effects!

  6. Craig

    I just had to put my two cents in and say that I loved this post!

  7. Hey Bryan, thanks so much for reading my blog and contacting me. I always enjoy connecting with people. Your blog is great and your thoughts here are really interesting. Have you read my thoughts on the true meaning of taking the Lord’s name in vain? I hope you’ll write me again if you’ve got anything on your mind, and I hope God is blessing you and your ministry.

  8. Mark Hoffmann

    From Facebook:
    Maybe our honest use of language does more to connect us with God than attempting to sterilize it. Perhaps saying things outloud allow us to see what is inside so we can deal with the reality of what ever it is that is going on. Not gratitous language, but language which reflects what is really being felt and experienced. We shed light on what’s going on inside to ourselves, others and God. I think that might be a good thing.

  9. Clay Lubbers

    Interesting. As a guy who doesn’t swear (but has a plethora of other issues), I think it just makes one sound like a hillbilly. To me, church is a place of healing. It’s a place to be surrounded by those who help lift me up to God- a place to meet God. It’s a place where I can openly struggle and seek help from God and my fellow humans, and carry the battle on for the week.

    I do think there are ways to “break the spell” without resorting to the very behavior that is the problem.

  10. Rob Toornstra

    I was dissappointed. I wonder if Paul’s admonition to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth” has anything to say here. Can the church be too pious, and holier-than-thou, towards broken people? Absolutely, and may we repent, and not try to force morality (in speech, or otherwise) upon them, as a measure of spirituality. But why the need to join in? (I’m referring more to your blog post, than to the sermon)

  11. Clay Lubbers

    One thing that struck me yesterday- instead of bringing our world, falleness, and sin into church, shouldn’t we be trying to bring the wholesomeness, Godliness and love into the world?

  12. Rob Toornstra

    I agree, Clay; I don’t get this fascination with our own brokenness — or, “realness” as it is called…

  13. I appreciate the pushback, fellas.

    I’m not saying it was an infallible thing to do. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision. It was not some big premeditated thing. But it happened, and in retrospect, it seemed like it fit. If you disagree, that’s cool. But there’s no reason to now start drawing unfounded conclusions about what I think church or worship is, or that I’m instituting some regular liturgical practice of ‘hymns to swear by’. Wait – that sounds like a great idea. :)

    The point was, piercing the pretense (by whatever means) that often accompanies church might be a powerful thing, and for some people it was. One of the top reasons people don’t attend church: hypocrisy.

    So what you perceive as a ‘fascination’ with brokenness is likely a genuine response to what most people have experienced as the holier-than-thou attitude encountered in Christians and at church. But perhaps we should prefer a fascination with façades?

  14. Don Bromley

    I don’t think ‘cussing’ is among the top 10 (or top 100) issues that Jesus has with his followers today, particularly in the U.S. (Keep in mind that ‘cussing’ is a lot different than ‘cursing,’ which does matter). Talk about straining out gnats and swallowing camels! This is the righteousness of the Pharisees. If only people would be so shocked and offended if someone drove up to church in their $35k SUV, or dropped $2k on a big-screen TV. But ouch–that hits too close to home. Our greed and gluttony actually has a big negative impact on people. But cussing?

    We’d rather concern ourselves with irrelevant issues like ‘cussing’, because it’s actually pretty easy to not use the f-word. It’s quite a bit more difficult to be generous and merciful. So we get the veneer of holiness without the real sacrifice of discipleship.

    Bryan, I think a lot of your critics on this issue might also be among those accusing Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matt 11:19). So you’re in fine company. ;-)

    • Don – thanks for the reminder that this is, after all, a relatively ‘light’ issue. The deeper things you note are actually much more pervasive, with broader and deeper implications for ourselves and our world. Well said.

      It is funny how worked up we can get over something this benign, while the things you mentioned are ‘respectable’ and not up for critique.

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