Who knows? Maybe this will find its way around to the topic of Lent. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m suspecting it might be something that concerns you, too, and if we can at least gather something of value from it, then great.
So here goes…
Have you noticed that more and more Christians are finding it perfectly acceptable to use profanity in their social media postings, whether it be casual conversation, sharing of memes, or whatever? And I don’t mean the relatively inane adjectives employed for emphasis on rare occasions. I mean the worst of the worst. It sure seems like more and more believers are practicing the crassest corners of our language as they’d so easily employ any other portions the dictionary might claim.
I don’t get it. Somehow these words have found a comfortable home in the vocabulary of so many believers.
At the Marriage Seminar we held at Our Savior this past Saturday, the leader of the event, Pastor Ron Farah, asked all in attendance to consider and then define the term “communication.” I didn’t speak up too often throughout the four-hour workshop, but in that moment, I raised my hand and took the opportunity to speak. I shared that I’m one who believes words to be the clothing in which we dress our thoughts. In other words, the thoughts in our mind are presented to others through the avenue of language. The best communication, I believe, occurs when people take care with the words they choose. Mindful of this, why would I seek to dress the thoughts of my intellect in gutter rags when I could adorn them for respectability?
I don’t know if that makes any sense, but hopefully you get the point.
Along these lines, however, past partners in exchanges on this topic have been quick to pull studies from thin air suggesting that people who swear a lot are above average in intelligence and may actually have better communication skills. It’s funny how the internet has made everyone into an expert. Playing that game, I’m equal in digital expertise by finding an equivalent number of studies proving the exact opposite. Put differently, I don’t believe the premise that profanity proves the swiftness and depth of a person’s intellect.
Anyway, my purer point isn’t how smart a person is or isn’t, or whether or not they’d beat me in Scrabble. First of all, my point is that profanity seriously devalues dialogue and the people engaging in it. Perhaps further, it grossly misrepresents the Christian faith. For these reasons alone, believers should avoid using it, that is, if they want their words to matter.
I’m sure there are plenty out there who think I’m nothing more than a shrieking ninny in this regard. Maybe. Although, I did take time to do a radio bit relative to the subject a few months back, and it’s gotten a pretty positive response. You can listen to it here: https://aminutetostopandthink.podbean.com/e/concern-for-others-must-always-be-a-part-of-your-calculation/
In the meantime, Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 5:4-5 deal directly with this issue… so there’s that, too.
Another little something that comes to mind…
First off, we don’t swear in our home, and I dare say it isn’t just because we’re a “pastor family.” It’s because we know words matter. Think of it in the sense of swimming. Swimming is fun. Sure, you could swim in any kind of water. But why not the crystal clear shoreline of a pristine oceanfront instead of a sewage overflow. Or how about the attempts of a young man to woo the one he desires as his bride? He could hand her a wad of flowers he haphazardly ripped from the neighbor’s flower bed at the last second. Or he could present her with a well-arranged, and color-coordinated bouquet demonstrating he cares, that he took time, thought, and expense to show her his love. Some bodies of water are healthier than others for swimming. All efforts to communicate will in some way display the value of the participants to one another. Innately, some words are just better, too.
Along these lines, and as another example, every chance I get, I ask my daughter, Madeline, about her school day. She’s in high school. As I pry, I’ll ask her about the “boy” scene—you know, just to stay in tune with what she’s thinking in that department and to be ready to help her navigate. We have a great relationship, so we can have these conversations. Her response to the boy question is almost always the same.
“Dad, all of the boys at my school swear all the time.”
“All of them?” I’ll ask.
“All of them,” is her reply. “I guess,” she’ll begin with gentle passivity, “I’m just not interested in dating anyone who swears all the time. It feels sort of disrespectful.”
Good. I’m glad she’s keeping her eyes and ears open for someone better than what the vernacular of this generation of classmates is betraying. She doesn’t need to settle for the gutter. She’s valuable. How a boy speaks to her, while it reflects a lot of other things—culture, maturity, and the like—it also shines a light on his understanding of her as a person. I should also be sure to point out that it presupposes what’s important to the boy’s parents. Again, take a listen to the radio bit I shared above. It’s a true story. And you’ll see what I mean.
So, what does all of this have to do with Lent? Well, hold on a second. I think I’m almost there.
Since I’m already at this (and most likely have offended a few folks), when speaking of Christians using vulgarity, I should add that I don’t just mean the typical words that make PG movies into PG-13. There’s another particular phrase that’ll cause me to bristle.
“Oh, my God!” a woman will say emphatically in discussion, and the Thoma’s will get a little tense.
“Daddy,” Evelyn will whisper while tugging at my coat, “she just took the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Yes, I know,” is my returned whisper. “How about we just continue to show reverence for God and not do what she did, okay?”
“Okay,” is her reply.
Again, good. I’m glad Evelyn was so bothered by this that she felt the need to speak up. It means she not only has a sense of an acceptable manner for calling upon the name of the Lord, but she also understands that language itself has gravity and it affects people in its orbit. The way we use it matters. Habitually tossing out “Oh, my God” exclamatorily in casual conversation is not one of the ways it should be employed. Personally, when I hear the phrase used carelessly, I cringe. When I hear a fellow Christian say it, it takes everything in me not to claw my ears out of my skull. It’s an outright affront to the Second Commandment. Sure, I get how cultural swear words may slip into our lives undetected, but with this one, Christians should know better.
But they don’t. Why?
Because there are plenty of things Christians do that they shouldn’t. I do stuff. You do stuff. We’re humans. Humans are burdened by the human will. The human will is infected by the Sin-nature. The Sin-nature is great at establishing habits. Habits can become things we do but don’t necessarily realize or see, as if we’re completely oblivious to them. Yes, oblivious. Better yet, ignorant. The Sin-nature is an ever-present reminder that, indeed, we are ignorant humans. On the other hand, and as it meets with this thread, we need to understand that ignorance is by no means a justifier for behavior. You can’t kill someone because you didn’t know it was wrong. We can’t say we’re innocent because we’re ignorant.
At its barest minimum, ignorance will always be proof of our nature—a well-defined footprint of Sin.
So, why bring all of this up? Because again, it came to mind. I suppose it was worth pondering because Lent is good for this kind of discussion. Lent is a time to deal with the ignorance of sinful habits.
Okay, okay. I know some out there will say, “We should fight our sinful behaviors all year long and not just at Lent!”
Yes, I know.
And by the way, Lutherans do fight it year-round. At least they should. In my church, every service begins on bended knee in humble confession, followed by the absolving word of God’s forgiveness. Such a rite and ceremony are regular ammo for taking out the underpinnings of every ignorant thing that haunts us. We humbly submit to God all of the sins we know and the ones we don’t—thoughts, words, and deed—things done and things left undone. And then God replies with a gracious Word of love that washes away all of the specters, and He lifts us to our feet ready to engage in the war.
Still, Lutherans go a little further with this during the season of Lent. It’s a season that provides for the deliberate taking of aim at the deepest and darkest parts of the human nature and frame. This is the tarry muck from which the Sin-stained habits crawl. Lent calls for six weeks of thoughtful self-examination. It sets us at the shoreline of the tar pit so we can see these things for what they are, and it does this as preparation for viewing Good Friday and Easter Sunday rightly—for knowing the immense price tag of Christ’s efforts on our behalf. Certainly we are self-examiners all year long. But when it comes to the precise targeting of particular Church seasons, Epiphany doesn’t necessarily take aim like Lent. Christmas doesn’t either. Lent is a unique time of the year.
Self-examination. It’s good stuff. My Lenten encouragement for you: Do what you can to benefit from this aspect of Lent’s intentions. And I suppose as you do, be sure to know that by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, you have, as Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “the mind of Christ.” This means that by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel you have all the weaponry you need for waging war against the sinful flesh and being in alignment with the will of God—which is the salvation of your soul.
As you live your life of faith, you can do so with the Godly desire for wrestling and winning against the craving to embrace Sin—whether that be gossip, adultery, covetousness, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. And speaking of, when it comes to the other colorful bits of vocabulary we employ that have the tendency for misrepresenting the Church’s identity, well, you can pin those down for the count, too.
I’ll pray for you in your ignorance. You pray for me in mine. I certainly have plenty of sins that I need to lay before the Lord daily.
As we do this together, let’s “fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Let’s look to Him and know by faith that when we fail, He won’t be waiting in the wing to condemn us. He took that condemnation into Himself on the cross. The price for our failures was paid. By His victory, He stands at the ready to pick up all who look to Him for help—to dust them off, to bind up their wounds, to forgive them, and to send them back out into the world to be His people once more.