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Cussing not cussing

July 1, 2010

About three weeks ago, I encountered my first experience as a mom whose child let loose a curse word. Our darling four year-old, in anger at his mother who closed a baby gate to keep him from following her upstairs to get a pair of socks, yelled while banging said gate, “Open the frakkin’ gate!”

Frak is not a recognizable cuss to some of you unfortunate readers who have yet to discover the awesome wonder that is Battlestar Galactica. And honestly, I found the situation hilarious. But it is disconcerting that out of all the choices of words he had (and he had a few Earth swears in his memory, I’m sure), he chose the one that is most like the f-word, even if it’s a few million light years away from the real deal.

Before I became a committed Christian, I was a prolific swearer. When I first met my future husband in college, he commented to mutual friends that my language was “unsanitary.” Now, he could let the s-word fly with the best of them, but he was not accustomed to a sassy Southern lady with a propensity to morph the f-word into every known part of speech in the English language. To this day, most of his cusses are phrases like “frakkin’ frizzles!” That’s right, ladies. My man swears like a muppet. Hands off!

Bah, Humbug

His objection to my profanity was one of the reasons I decided to tone down my language. The other was that I frequently got in trouble for it at my job at a movie theater. Those box office headsets don’t have the most reliable mute buttons.

Moving into married, pre-baby Becky life made swearing a major no-no. Early in our marriage we worked with our church’s youth group and in order to be a good example, you had to refrain from those certain words that our kids could only encounter when they sinned by watching PG-13 movies or listening to secular music. I also taught in a Christian high school where the word “crap” was considered borderline. Being an English teacher, I made full use of my euphemistic creativity and began using phrases like “crudmuffins” or “fudgemonkeys.” You know, grandma swears. A friend of mine who taught at a different school had been using the word “frazz” to curtail her own cussing since her days at a Christian college.

Personally, I had a pretty good handle on swearing most of the time, with the exception of one unfortunate incident on a water slide with some of the youth during a Christian Music Day at our local theme park. Fortunately, the noise of the rushing water covered my exclamation, and my reputation remained untarnished for the time being.

Since my kids have been born, my tongue has actually gotten a little loose again. I expend so much patience dealing with them that other things like traffic or my laptop’s sorry excuse for booting up tends to inspire profanity. I’ve also become more discerning about all language, not just “the bad words.” So much of what we think of as swearing is cultural or generational and doesn’t really detract from or oppose the good.

I know people debate about this, just like people debate about whether or not Christians should drink. And all that seems silly and distracting to me. The Bible is pretty clear that it’s the heart of the thing that matters, and even while Paul tells us in Ephesians to refrain from obscenity, that same Apostle of Apostles is over in Galatians telling people bent on circumsizing all believers to castrate themselves. Is Paul a hypocrite? I don’t think so. It seems to me that he gets that language is important. It can be a tool for edification and a tool for rebuke. The obscenity in Galatians is the false doctrine of the circumcision group, not the use of strong or explicit language on the part of their teacher.

There is a place to be concerned about language. But language is always a barometer for the heart. And obscenity lurks there in chapters and paragraphs, not just in four-letter terminology. I’m not saying let’s get all Melanie Griffith in our language (Rosie O’Donnell used to do a bit about how Griffith would misplace profanity in the middle of commonplace phrases or even compound words like “I want a hot f-ing dog”). I am saying let’s get even pickier and call attention to what’s really profane in our world.

A couple years ago, my friend CJ joined our writers’ group at church. We were a merry little band of aspiring authors who met together “to spur one another on to good literary works” and other slightly self-congratulatory endeavors. Mostly, we were fans of good writing who were making an attempt to suck less than contemporary “Christian” “writers” (both sets of sarcastic quotation marks apply). CJ was the token Catholic in our so-called ecumenical group that, before his membership, ranged from three-and-a-half-point Calvinist to four-and-a-quarter-point Calvinist (whoa, Star Search flashback). Ceej was more than comfortable jumping right into our discussion about whether or not writing could be considered definitively Christian in nature:

Do you allow your characters to swear? Do you employ profanity if making a larger, holier point? Clearly we were going after the big theological questions of our day. Some of my pals were firmly set on the “let ‘em rip” side of the debate. Our more meek and conservative members just looked at those folks like they were aliens who were about to be beamed up for bad behavior. Newbie CJ, who had been coming to meetings but was, in this discussion, an impartial observer until now, leaned in and with a tone that indicated he was about to unleash some ancient wisdom on all of us said, “If I drop a hammer on my toe, I’m going to say, ‘Fuck.’” And with that, he matter-of-factly dropped the f-bomb in a classroom at my megachurch.

But he didn’t stop there. “If we believe Christ is redeeming all things to himself, including us and how we think and, by extension, what we say, then if I say ‘fuck’ in that context, ‘fuck’ is redeemed.” The “fuck” count was now at three. I have to tell you, even typing this out on the ol’ blog is making me simultaneously giggly (because it’s bad) and fearful (because my Christianometrics are being measured and probably found wanting). But I go on.

CJ sat back in his chair, apparently done unloading on us, and I slowly looked around the group to see if any one of our silent members had a demerit pad in hand. I could tell by one woman’s eyebrows that there was an email to our elders being drafted in her head. It was a shock-and-awe moment. Even those of us who were moments before extolling the virtues of a well-placed swear were stumped for a follow-up to CJ’s show. He didn’t seem to notice that he’d just annihilated the conversation. He just sat satisfied that he’d said his piece, even though it cost our group its peace.

I know I found some way back to bringing the discussion to closure, but I honestly can’t remember anything that happened after CJ’s brief but thoughtful diatribe. He was pretty much right. I know if I injure myself, there will be cussing, and I don’t think there’s anything particularly sinful in that. I’m not even sure if there’s anything particularly sinful about most of the language we deem sinful.

But I do know this: I’m a mom. And the Becky in me wants my kids to be happy, wholesome children who do not drop the f-bomb in Sunday school classrooms—even if that f-bomb is a sci-fi knock-off of the original. But the un-Becky part of me wants to give my kids enough freedom to express themselves so that I can hear their hearts and get to work on the inside parts that really need tending. So while the debate can rage on in hip Christian magazines, writers’ groups and theology discussion circles, in my house, we’re going to laugh at the things that are frakking funny and I’m going to try not to worry too much about the reputation that might give me among those who have no sense of humor and no appreciation for the perils of fleeing Cylon attackers through unknown galaxies.

99 44/100% pure

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2010 5:01 pm

    I love you Becky. I did not realize that Megan was reblogging your words. (I’m a skimmer-reader sometimes, to my loss and embarrassment)

    You’re right, I was completely oblivious to destroying the group’s peace. In fact I really thought I had said something enlightening and helpful. And hardly shocking. But as I recall, I was a bit stupefied by the puritanical tone of the conversation. Even annoyed by it, tbh.

    Sometimes I wonder if there are parts of me that enjoy the shock-and awe. But I haven’t had a moment like that in a long, long time.

    As a few commentators on Megan’s blog mentioned, i might’ve been grasping a bit.

    • July 8, 2010 5:10 pm

      Love you, too, bro! Frankly, I thought it was funny. And sometimes, a group’s peace needs to be disturbed. I’m not convinced you were grasping; I think you made a good point (which is why I included it in this post). I haven’t had time to comment on MJ’s blog, but I hope to really soon.

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