After I graduated from college, I went to Italy with my friend Carsten. While in Rome, we went to the Sistine Chapel. I really couldn’t fully grasp what I was seeing but I still stood there amongst a swirling mass of people staring up at the ceiling. In the midst of what was otherwise a reverent moment, somebody accidentally bumped into the woman next to me. Without blinking an eye, she turned to another tourist and said, “Don’t swear word touch me you stupid swear word swear word.
I looked at her and said, “That’s just the way the Pope would have said it.” And then I bought a popsicle.
OK, I didn’t say that and that I could tell, the Vatican doesn’t sell popsicles. I rarely can think of funny things to say in the moment and usually tell them to my shower the next day. (Oh the stories Pantene could tell). The reason I remember that incident out of all the other things that faded into my memory in the last 10 years is that the words she was saying felt really out of context. For some reason, they felt super wrong because they were in the midst of a super holy place.
But as I started to write this remix, I started to think, “How are swears any different coming out of my mouth?”
I don’t swear a lot. In junior high I could have counted the number of times I did. But in college and for a few years after that, I didn’t have a problem dropping both the F bomb and wearing the Christian label. So why do I still occasionally swear? Why, if I’m supposed to be the temple, do I still cuss? I have a few theories:
1. Swears are 19 times more powerful coming out of the mouth of a Christian.
That’s a scientific fact right there. If you’re a non believer and swear a ton, it’s just not that big of a deal. If you’re a Christian though and you swear, birds fall out of the sky. Trees shake to their roots. Magma gets fourteen degrees cooler under the crust of the earth. Wielding that kind of power is tempting.
2. It’s really hard to tell what constitutes a swear these days.
Is “sucks” a curse word? I remember telling my friend in the third grade that he should not call lollipops “suckers” because that was a swear. Is suck still bad? I use that all the time and one of my favorite sites is churchmarketingsucks.com. What about hell? That’s contextual right? I mean if you say, “I don’t want to go to hell” that’s not a swear but if you say that same sentence only without the words, “I don’t want to” then you’ve sworn? And what about “gosh?” If you say, “Gosh, it’s hot” that’s fine, right? But if you say, “Oh my gosh” you’re substituting the word for God and kind of doing a blasphemy two degrees of separation thing, right?
3. The alternative swear words stink.
See, even saying “stink” there had less impact than “suck.” If you say “oh fiddlesticks!” when someone cuts you off in traffic or “melon farmer” when terrorists take over your high school and you have to organize the local football team to fight them back, you sound like Ned Flanders. Or you sound like you want to be tickled. So until they come up with a better list of alternative swears, it’s hard to quit the real thing.
4. I’ve heard that Tony Campolo story 19 million times.
According to Christianity Today, evangelist Tony Campolo told many audiences in the 1980s, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a swear word. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said swear word than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” I agree with that idea and dig Tony Campolo. Children dying is a whole lot worse than swearing. And I have friends that are incredibly unloving, the second most important commandment, but would never, ever swear. So I think it’s easy to get wound up too tight about swearing. At the same time though, if I swear and then get called on it by a friend, I’m not sure saying, “Yeah well kids are starving,” is going to be a great excuse for me.
5. I don’t really believe the book of Proverbs.
I blew a number of posts on this site by making them about an individual rather than an issue. Instead of honestly talking about an issue, I personally attacked a few people so that I could be sensational or funny or look smart and holy or a million other things. But then I read verses like, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18) and “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be cut out.” (Proverbs 10:31). Attacking someone is clearly not cool and I work hard to not make this a “Jerk Christian blog”, but let’s pretend swearing is a fuzzy thing. Should I consider the f bomb something that is going to bring forth wisdom or something perverse? It’s a tough call, tough call indeed.
Again, I don’t swear much, but if the title of this post is “occasionally swearing” then certainly I am qualified to write it.
How about you? Are you a Christian that occasionally swears?