A few months ago, I made a post on the blog of my church’s Children, Youth, and Family page. It was the live, slightly more foul-mouthed TED talk version of this video by Shane Koyczan. The blog is intentionally geared towards young people, who are actively dealing with real issues and sadness and bullying and, sometimes, despair. These are young people who speak a certain youthful language, and who simultaneously are wonderfully perfect and yet deeply flawed, just like you and me.
About halfway through the video, there are some uncomfortable topics addressed and mildly foul language.
You know, the kind of language that the “Christian Industrial Complex” has tricked us into thinking should never be used, as if– despite the Lutheran theology of grace, the paradox of human living, and the things Jesus actually did and said— you are somehow… less… if you use it. As if you’re wrong to speak to issues of bullying and mental illness and injustice with the fervent anger and frustration they deserve.
You know what I’m talking about here? Yeah– it’s that “christian” attitude that perverts and masks the actual messages of good news. It’s that holier-than-thou speak that actively drives out the very young people we claim to invite in.
I received a phone call this afternoon from a truly wonderful and supportive member of the congregation. Despite the disclaimer at the top of the post, this person indicated their discomfort with any language that “I wouldn’t use with my parents”, and advised me to consider that before I post anything.
I’ve been thinking about that conversation all day. (Funny fact: my Leann Chin fortune last night read that I’d be having an important conversation about myself today.)
While I appreciate this person’s concern and the fact that somebody had an issue with something I’ve done and actually talked to me about it, I don’t feel apologetic about the post. The single swear word in the video wasn’t used flippantly; it added to the effect of the anti-bullying message and poignancy to Shane Koyczan’s story.
I read this blog post over and over today, with the following quote ringing true over and over:
[…] there are other folks out there who are comforted by ambiguity, who need a Word of grace which is not covered in strawberry syrup. Who need the stark truth of what it means to be broken and blessed at the same time. Who are at home in the Biblical story; stories of anti-heroes and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. They tend to not really care that I use colorful language. If anything, they are relieved that they don’t have to watch what they say around this particular member of the Christian clergy.
That being said, I took the blog post down, because I appreciate a message this person felt comfortable enough to say to me: “change needs to happen, but take it slow for the sake of some of us”. I understand that it’s difficult to change “the way things have always been”.
But I do stand by the idea that The Church needs to use– just like Jesus did, Martin Luther did, and lots of incredible pastors do– language that can be immediately understood and is appropriate in its context. The Church needs to directly address issues that matter in the lives of God’s people: mental health issues, social justice, and bullying.
Frankly, when I see injustice; when I see jokes at the expense of “the other”; when I see bullying, I am committed to addressing it directly, immediately, and using whatever version of English I feel is most appropriate for the intended audience.
I’m deeply faithful and deeply flawed all at the same time. I appreciate good use of swearing, and think Jesus probably did sometimes, too.
Best of luck, and be good to other humans (you brood of vipers).