Advent. Day 13 of 24
I guess it’s time to explain myself. Some things have happened this year that make me think I should try to articulate why I sometimes use words that may be considered inappropriate for a Christian to use.
First it was the Christian magazine interview about Christians that use ‘vulgar language’, as she put it. When the reporter was asking around as to whom she should talk to about this, she was pointed to me. More than once…
Then it was this interview I did on a podcast called ‘Wikigod’. (You can hear it here. http://www.wikigodpod.com/home/82) For the first time in 82 podcasts, the interviewer felt that he should put a warning of strong language at the beginning of it before people listened and were surprised by what they might hear.
And finally my 14 year-old daughter, though never having heard me swear I hope, knows that I sometimes do.
I guess that was when I realized it’s time to try and spell out how I see no conflict in my life as a Christian who ‘swears’.
But first some disclaimers;
i) I absolutely hate and cringe at anything I view as taking God’s name in vain. So you’ll hopefully never hear me say ‘Oh my God’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ in any other way than out of the deepest respect for God/Jesus. To hear these words as swears to this day makes me squirm.
ii) The language I’m specifically referring to are my use of the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’. From this point forward I will refer to these as ‘the s-word’ and ‘the f-word’ for the sake of readers who might struggle with these.
iii) I use these far less than I did 10-15 years ago when I thought swearing made me cool. I’m at least old enough now to realize that ‘cool’ is irrelevant.
iv) I realize that I may be wrong about all of this but that God has grace.
So, with all that said, here goes my attempt at figuring this out. I think there are 5 main reasons as to why I’ve decided this is ok for me;
1. Because I can and I don’t think God cares about if I do or don’t. This might be the same type of question as ‘how can you be a Christian and dance, or drink, or ride your bike on Sunday, or go to movies.’ Maybe it’s an irrelevant question.
2. It’s biblical. I think we’ve sanitized our holy book. Read the Psalms. Read Paul (Did he really say ‘dung’ or does our English translation just curb his language a tad?)
3. It helps un-bottle pressure. There was a recent study done of people experiencing low-level pain. Half the group could swear and the other half couldn’t. The half that could reported a much more manageable experience than those who couldn’t. I’m physically quite sick. Swearing sometimes makes it easier to cope. Sometimes that’s all I’ve got.
4. Sometimes swearing is useful to make a point. Sometimes dropping an ‘f-bomb’ is the only way to wake up a sleeping giant.
5. It’s honest. It humanizes me. One time, a while back, a man was struck and killed in front of our shelter. We brought in a pastor to lead a debriefing prayer time. One guy was so distraught by the loss of his friend and the violence that caused it, that his only prayer was ‘Ah f%#&’. It was the most honest and profound prayer I had ever heard. I will never forget it.
So in this Advent season, while watching the world stay messed up and possibly getting worse, sometimes a swear here or there is all we can muster.
Come Lord Jesus.
11 thoughts on “I’m a Christian…and I swear”
Very intriguing post, got me thinking as I am surrounded by guys that use the f-bomb in every sentence and find myself swearing under my breath at times. However it still bothers me as I have always considered that swearing are words used by ignorant people that don’t know what words to use. That’s my opinion so if other people want to swear, doesn’t bother me but swear at me in a offensive way then I’ll be pissed.
Interesting that my friend posted the link below the around the same time you posted your blog. I totally understand both points but I guess for me, I consider how I would speak if God was right beside me (as He is always right beside me).
Might I add some more?
1. Jesus regularly used ‘offense’ as a ministry tool. He offended the religious in order to expose deeper heart issues… usually rooted in superiority and pride. I find that using offensive words strategically does the same thing. It offends. We naturally assume that all offense is ungodly but Kierkegaard reminds us that “If you haven’t been offended at Jesus, you haven’t heard him correctly.”
What helps me in this regard is paying attention to what offends me and why. It’s been a constant source of repentance in my life because what is almost always offended is my pride. Check it out.
2. Real everyday people swear all the time. Seriously. From police officers to nurses and lawyers to stock traders, swearing is a culturally appropriate way to express emotion. Your point that it ‘humanizes’ you is extremely valid. We have so many barriers that create distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Sometimes ‘watching our language’ stops us from expressing our heart. That’s when we’ve got it wrong… expressing our heart is God’s primary concern. Let’s get this in the right order.
3. Extreme poverty, injustice and systems that keep people enslaved need our outrage. If ever there was a time for the church to express legitimate outrage and emotion over the state of the world it’s now. Who can watch the people in Aleppo tweet their last words and not swear? The world is sometimes total shit. And to say that is important. There is nothing worse than a glossy faith that refuses to acknowledge pain and suffering.
anyway, some thoughts from a fellow potty mouth.
Love ALL of this my friend.
Thanks for weighing in.
This issue arose in the Clinical Pastoral Education program which I taught for many years at Scarborough Grace Hospital. Not only did M. Div. students and chaplains need to be comfortable and non-judgmental while hearing such words and even stronger ones, coming from patients and families as they lived through the painful realities of sudden death, a still born child, tragic circumstances, and frightening diagnoses, they also needed vocabulary which conveyed the depths of their own feelings as they ministered to others, and faced their own inner responses to their current circumstances. I think that Christianity’s dismissive stance towards the ‘four letter words’ (especially the s and f ones) is mainly the fact that they are angry words. Good Christians are not supposed to appear angry. Remember the Sunday School ditty?: “Root them out, get them gone.
All the little bunnies in the field of corn,
Envy, jealousy, anger and pride,
These must never in my heart abide.” The fact that the f and s words are verboten makes them even more powerful expressions of anger, which we absolutely need when being honest about how deeply we are affected by life’s inequities, injustices, and hurts. Anger is a healthy human response and healthy people find appropriate ways to articulate it. Anger buried by guilt or shame or fear (the Church has used these feelings to control its flocks) can lead to a very serious depression. Their vulgarity is not a bad thing, their over-use and familiarity may have weakened their value!
Thank you for this Jim. This seems so crucial for the work you and yours have spent so many years doing.
I’m so thankful to know you and to be able to regularly benefit from your wisdom.
I deal with a lot of mean spirited people in my family (extended) and if I’m trying to talk to them and if it comes out because of their ways then they change the subject completely and focus on their judging me for using one of the two words so since most of them are narcissistic, it’s all my fault for being a bad Christian. Hope that makes sense. I’m still trying to not use the word but can’t help it sometimes. I just want to be right with God. Thanks for the article and prayers.
I also curse. And I am only 12. I do very unpure things. I swear listen to rap etc. But then I am preaching a sermon in 2 weeks. And I know I am not the best example of a Christian right now
I don’t think I know you but Godspeed in your sermon and in your pursuit after God’s heart
I have to disagree with the original post.
First off, before anyone says that I’m being self-righteous, I freely admit that I swear when I get upset. I’m a former Marine, and I can cuss like, well, a Marine. But, as someone here mentioned, I live with the knowledge that the Lord is always with me and I feel bad when I do and have to apologize to the Lord. We are told in James to gain control of the tongue.A very difficult job. But here’s our guide.
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
The mark of a disciple of Jesus is his/her demeanor. We are commanded to be holy, just as He is. We are infused with the Holy Spirit of God. Our speech should reflect that. We are to be Christlike. I sincerely doubt that the Lord would use the f-word or other kinds of profanity if he were in the flesh today.
“This might be the same type of question as ‘how can you be a Christian and dance, or drink, or ride your bike on Sunday, or go to movies.’ Maybe it’s an irrelevant question.”
No, it’s not. David danced before the tabernacle and we aren’t under any Sabbath laws, Sunday or otherwise. And it would depend on the movie and its content.
I’m not judging anyone. As I said, I do it. Daily. Especially when I’m driving. But we shouldn’t just shrug off our failures as just being “human.” We are supposed to be more than human. We are representatives of the Creator of the Universe on this planet. Being human is what put us into the horrible situation we were in before meeting Jesus. This earth is not our home. It’s our temporary abode and we are not to be of it, in other words, the same as those who aren’t believers.
We are a holy priesthood. Being a Christian isn’t just part of our lives. It’s who we are. We are going to be realizing that very soon based on what I’m seeing happening in this country. It may not be very long before admitting that you are a Christian can get you “canceled or worse. If you think I’m being paranoid just know that Governor Newsome in California just banned singing in church. Mark that he said nothing about mosques.
We are commanded to be IN the world but not OF it. We need to realize right now that this world is owned, controlled and managed by Satan. Jesus said that he is the prince of this world. That hasn’t changed. He is here on this planet. And his minions are manipulating everything that is happening to our world.
We are infiltrators in his world. Living in this modern world with all the temptation, nudity on tv and in movies, incredible violence and monstrous evil happening all around us, it is so easy to let little sins slide by. But sin is sin. There is no such thing as little sin or big sin. It’s all sin and it drags us down and if not confessed and repented of, will become a habit. And one habit leads to another. Then, before you know it, you’re right back in the world. I’ve done it a few times. I’m an old man. I’ll be 69 next month . I first met the Lord when I was in the Marines in 1971. I’ve done street and prison ministry and have been a Bible teacher. I helped start a Christian coffeehouse in the red light district of a large town. I helped usher in the early days of Jesus music in the 70’s before it became accepted by the churches. I thought I was such a strong Christian. But I have fallen backward a few times. After my wife died 14 years ago, I got angry at God and turned away from Him, almost to the point of denying Him. Thanks be to God He didn’t let me get that far back before bringing me to my knees.
We know will never be completely holy as long as we inhabit these fleshy bodies, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the attempt. As long as we live, we will sin somewhat. That’s why we are told to confess our sins daily. It’s what Jesus was telling us when He washed the disciples’ feet.
When you are clean but wear sandals outside, you pick up dirt on your feet. Our spirits are clean and our sins covered by His blood but living in this world, we pick up spiritual dirt from it and it needs to be cleaned. I see the little daily things that we do that we shouldn’t do, as that dirt.
Remember, my brothers and sisters. Every thing you do in public as an avowed believer in Christ is scrutinized by non-believers. If they cannot see a difference between you and them, they’ll never believe. Now, more than ever, the world needs to see Christ in his people.
Confess your sins, but don’t excuse them as being only human, because He doesn’t.
Lord bless and keep you safe.
PS. To the 12 year old girl: I’m a rock and roll guitarist. I still listen to rock, although I’ve stopped listening to some bands that I used to like because of their message, like some kinds of metal music. Listening to rap isn’t necessarily sinful. But ask yourself what kind of message it’s giving? Is it glorifying violence, sex, drugs and hatred of police? I’m not judging you, but there are good Christian rap bands I’ve been told.
As for impure things, I can’t comment on that. But I highly advise you to talk to your mother or some Christian woman you trust about it. Believe me, you won’t be saying anything they haven’t heard before, or done.
I can’t imagine what being a 12 year old girl in this decadent world must be like. It was hard enough in the 60’s for me as a guy before the sexual revolution and social media. The pressure to conform must be very difficult to manage.
But don’t degrade yourself. When you confess your sins, they’re wiped away as if they never happened. Each day we begin anew. All Christians sin in one way or another. You aren’t any worse or better than anyone else. There’s no such thing as a good Christian or a bad Christian. We are all sinners who have been saved by God’s grace. The fact that you can be humble enough to admit to strangers that you are imperfect is proof that you are a wonderful child of Jesus.
So before you deliver your message, pray and ask God for His help knowing that you are one of His chosen disciples and a beloved daughter of God.
I will remember you in my prayers tonight. God bless you.
I have to leave an email address to post here, but please, if you have comments, leave them here, not in my mailbox. thank you.
Thanks for this Rick. Sorry I dropped this somehow along the way. We seem to be on v4ery different pages when it comes to our faith but I do appreciate your thoughts here.
Thank you Rick for your most excellent reply to the original post. Your response was biblically sound in doctrine. I also was warmed by your Christian Grandfather wisdom given to the 12 yo girl. Gosh, I can’t imagine what she is faced with on a daily basis. Bless her heart.