Faith Works 10-1-16
A decent end to a difficult conversation
Talking about decency means, of course, asking about what's indecent, and why.
For some of the "Nones" or what are also called "Spiritual But Not Religious" folk (SBNRs), our emphasis in the established church on so-called decency, of language and image and propriety in general, is off-putting. "Why are you so prissy?" That's one of the nicer ways people ask me why my Facebook feed is cluttered with (language alert) parentheticals at the top of posts.
Since I'm a congregational minister, a Scout leader, and part of other youth serving organizations, I have everyone from teens to moms to senior citizens on my feed, and many of them are hesitant about social media in large part because of decency. If there's a curse word in the post, I'll think twice or thrice before reposting, and if the obscenity is in the header, I just won't use it generally. Yes, that includes the d-word and the s-word, let alone the f's and m's and so on.
And for those who think this kind of circumspection is a boutique interest, a concern only shared by a dwindling few, I'd point out that a big factor behind the whole contemporary Christian music scene, the radio stations playing them, and the recent surge in Christian-themed movies, is less about a national revival of decency per se, than it is a parental and family based reaction against the prevalence of nudity and nearly-so, profanity and swearing, sounds and pictures that communicate sexuality and anger and hostility as forms of casual entertainment.
Lots of people are not so squeamish as they are sick of it: enough. I can watch "The Godfather" or even "Pulp Fiction" on occasion, say many, but I'm tired of a steady diet of the harsh, the edgy, the graphic. And that puts lots of people in a mood, even when their theology isn't what's driving them, to enjoy seeing a movie where they don't have to see body parts they don't want to have shoved into their faces, or hear words they'd rather not hear, let alone their children.
Count me as part of that number. I know pretty much all the swear words you're likely to think of, have had them said to me, and know quite a few in a couple of other languages if you're interested. I know what consenting adults do in their free time, and am not overly concerned with what folks are turned on by, nor do I want to control or restrict it. I'm just starting to feel like we're all getting a steady diet of entertainment-grade Red Bull and musical Cheetos.
So to turn away, or looking for a haven of healthier options (so I claim, anyhow) doesn't mean censorship. But then I turn back to the church, and our life as a congregation. Are we too prudish? Is the effort to clean up our act in worship and in our life together unrealistic?
What I'm trying to say is that I understand all too well what some SBNRs are saying when they see church life as a bubble of pretend, and they want to know if we can accept people on their own terms. They wonder if we are turning away from the world so completely that we don't understand it. And they ask: with my tattoos, my piercings, my lapses into profanity in everyday conversation, will I still be accepted by you folks inside the church bubble?
I think it's an ongoing dialogue we have to maintain. I also don't think I have to get a tattoo to be welcoming to those who do; I hope I don't have to curse in sermons to reach out with my message to those who believe their lives are a pile of mess. And part of the tension and confusion in this murky political season is that now even into electoral campaigns we're all being asked to accept coarseness and crudity as the new national normal.
Discernment, though, is clearly the calling of the faithful. We are requested by God to look with the eyes of the heart, and see beyond the surface, and I would add to hear and read beyond the cultural conventions we've become accustomed to, and listen to what angry and hurting people are saying. Even in 2016, there's still some challenges out there in congregational life, where we need to remember that we're not a museum of preserved saints, but a hospital for wounded sinners.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's been cussed at even in church, and it doesn't leave a mark. Tell him, cleanly we hope, what you think about standards of decency at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.