Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Talkin' 'Bout My Potty-Mouthed Generation

Warning: The following blog entry contains language some may find offensive.

During television commercials, I usually get up for a snack, a stretch, or any little diversion that allows me to avoid watching the ads. But sometimes, I feel too pooped to exert the energy required for standing. So I sit there and just let my eyes glaze over for the four minutes of commercial agony.

I was attempting to ignore a Kia commercial when my ears perked up at the words "kick ass." I couldn't believe a commercial would use the a-word, so I pressed rewind on the Tivo remote. Sure enough, there it was. That same night, I watched a commercial suggesting I drink Pepsi while naked, and a Nike spot that praised "boobs" (of the female variety, not the British one). In another, a pre-teen spells out "OMG" in a Cingular commercial. (The ad translated her acronym to "Oh my gosh," though that usage of God's name is rarely softened on television.)

While I'm not surprised by the words used in the commercials--anything goes on TV these days, right?--I was shocked by the tone used for the words. It was commonplace. Natural. Normal and informal. References to bottoms and breasts were spoken as if the words had been "weather" or "mayonnaise."

Seems my generation considers many naughty words to be everyday language. I recently attended a young-adult church event where the speaker was a pastor who used such colorful language as "heck," "PO'ed," and "crappy." Nowadays, I guess those aren't considered swears anymore. And honestly, I probably wouldn't have blinked twice at the pastor's language. Except that night, I was sitting next to my mom. I saw her wince every time the pastor used a bit of colorful language. Afterward, I asked her what she thought of the pastor's presentation. "I guess I'm used to people talking that way these days," she said with a sigh. "But it makes me sad to hear it from a pastor."

Of George Carlin's 1972 list of "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," one word, "piss," is now commonly used by, um, just about everyone. Including that young pastor. And me. I work with teenagers, so I make every effort to watch my language in front of them. But I've noticed how some of the more widely used potty words have slipped out when the students aren't around. I've said, "I'm pissed off" and "I feel like crap." I've said, "That's so gay" and "He's a retard." My current fav is "Dangit!"

I've tried to clean up my act, and it's really been difficult for me to stop swearing and making deprecating remarks because I enjoy them so much. I like to use this language because it provides a quick release of emotion. Since I don't usually swear, these words get people's attention. Others are quickly clued in I either want to talk about an issue, or I definitely don't want to talk about it.

It would be easy to dismiss, figuring, "Hey, what's the big deal? It's not like I'm dropping the f-bomb, or even the s-word." Yet, I'm troubled by my own swearing on many levels. It bothers me because I'm a writer and those saying don't make any literal sense. (Excrement doesn't have any feelings, emotional or physical, to be sure.) It bothers me because I'm relatively intelligent: My brain works well enough to churn out words better suited to express myself. It bothers me because I'm representing a trend I hate: using slang just because everyone else uses it.

And it greatly bothers me because I'm well aware of what the Bible says about speech: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (
Ephesians 4:29, NIV). I love the simplicity of the CEV translation: "Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say."

My use of profanity is always negative and helps no one. In fact, my swears probably hurt people. While it was no biggie to me when that young pastor said he was "PO'ed," his word choice sure made my mom feel sad.

As a youth leader, I know it's important to guard my words. Some students from our youth group regularly say, "Oh my G--!" Except they use God's whole name. Meanwhile, I'm so offended by taking the Lord's name in vain I refuse to even type out the saying. This is offensive to God, and the Bible is clear about this (
Exodus 20:7).

I could probably make a strong case for the difference between swears involving bodily functions and blasphemous ones. But before I can dismiss my poo synonyms as benign, I have to think, "Can my teenage students really differentiate between my use of "crap" or "dang," and their use of "Oh my G--!" Probably not.

So rather than defending my words, I'll try to take
1 Corinthians 8 to heart. In that chapter, Paul discusses whether Christians should eat meat that had been offered in the temples of other gods. Paul probably shocked a lot of people by saying it was OK to eat this meat. At the same time, he cautions that one's actions can negatively affect others: "Don't cause problems for someone with a weak conscience, just because you have the right to eat anything. ... Suppose a person with a weak conscience sees you and decides to eat food that has been offered to idols. Then what you know has destroyed someone Christ died for. When you sin by hurting a follower with a weak conscience, you sin against Christ."

Then Paul brings it home by pledging to change his own behavior: "So if I hurt one of the Lord's followers by what I eat, I will never eat meat as long as I live."

I'd like to believe it's OK for me to use little swears like "crap" because it seems insignificant--many people don't even consider it a swear. Here's the thing: Why would I want to put myself in the position of having to explain myself to God or others? Would I drink half a glass of wine in front of an alcoholic, then explain, "I'm drinking just this small amount because I won't get drunk and I can enjoy it without going crazy." 'Course not. It's selfish and disrespectful. Just because I have the right to behave a certain way doesn't mean I should do it.

We use swears to express our own negative emotions or to insult other people. Maybe we use them because it's easier than discussing what's troubling us, easier than trying to tell a friend how they've hurt us. Maybe the swears protect us by pushing people away rather than letting them in through disclosing our deepest feelings. Sometimes, they just make us feel cool--we're on board with the latest foul lingo that's edgy yet can be used in public.

Personally, I'd rather not hear, "Oh my G--!" everywhere I go. I'd rather not see the day when 7-year-olds are casually saying the f-word on TV. Maybe it won't make any difference whether I stop saying "crap." But maybe it will. At the very least, it will make my mom happy.

If Paul was willing to go without a whole food group, I guess I can keep trying to hold my tongue.

To ponder:
Do you think there's a difference between expletives about God, hell, bodily functions, etc.?

2) Why do you think our society swears more now than in past generations?

3) Holly sez: "It's really been difficult for me to stop swearing and making deprecating remarks because I enjoy them so much." What things in your life are you trying to let go of? Why do you think you hold on to them? How do they seem to benefit you?

Aw, Shucks: Are Americans Getting More Swearful?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Christians & Atheists Debate Existence of God on Tonight's 'Nightline'

Think carefully--this is so important. Please don't look at this as simply a debate to see who's going to win a theological discussion here. Look at this as an opportunity to help you make a personal decision about what you will believe about God."

--Actor Kirk Cameron, on the upcoming "Face Off" debate on ABC's Nightline. Cameron and evangelist Ray Comfort debate the existence of God with two atheist/agnostic members of the Rational Response Squad tonight on Nightline. Portions of the debate are currently available on ABC's website; portions will air on the show tonight. The entire debate is supposed to be available online tomorrow. There are already more than 1,200 comments on the website, and the piece hasn't aired yet.

Holly sez:
I've watched the clips from the debate and found it to be exhausting. While I enjoy debates, I usually don't find much that's personally productive. I'm sure there are people who have the gift of debate, who are able to use it as a way to convince others of their faith. I'm not one of those people. I like discussions, where two folks are trying to get to the bottom of their thoughts and feelings. For me, debate is about pushing power around. For me, discussion is about making myself vulnerable. I do much better at the latter!

Still, I gotta admire Cameron and Comfort for going on mainstream TV to share their faith. It will cause a lot of people to think deeply, if only for a few minutes. If you watch the debate, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Holly Gets an Award--Yay!

Got some exciting news today. I was recognized in the Evangelical Press Association's (EPA) annual awards contest. They awarded me fourth place in the Freelance Article category for "Unearthing Unearthly TV," an article which appeared in the Sept/Oct 2006 issue of Today's Christian Woman magazine. This is my second EPA award.

I didn't expect to win, so this was a nice surprise today. (No, I don't get any money. I don't get a trophy. I do get a groovy little award certificate!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Iraq Church Leader Reflects on Life in Baghdad; PLUS: More Tangerines!

The church is clearly the most wonderful church I've ever been part of. Everything might be terrible on the outside. But inside, the worship is incredible. The children are amazing. We've had 11 of our staff killed in the past year. Our lay pastor was kidnapped last week. So everything is terrible outside. But inside [the church]--just great."

--Canon Andrew White, rector of the 1,300 member Anglican church in Baghdad, speaking on PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. White, who is also president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, says if troops left the area now, violence would escalate. He asked for patience and a continued commitment to bringing peace to the region. White's own commitment has been to stay on in Baghdad despite bombings, kidnappings, death threats and his own struggle with multiple sclerosis. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently added Iraq to its watch list of countries where religious freedom is threatened.

Full Story:
Canon Andrew White on Iraq

Holly sez:
"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." (Psalm 37:8)

I recently wrote about how some tangerines taught me to take a closer look at what God has given me. I'd been given some ugly tangerines, which also happened to be the best ones I'd ever tasted in my life.

Last week, I walked into my local produce store and found more ugly tangerines, pictured right. The ridiculously high price ($2.99 a pound!) and my past experience with ugly tangerines were the only clues these might be really good. The rest of the citrus in the store was selling for less than 80 cents a pound.

It seemed no one was buying the ugly, expensive tangerines. I must have looked like a goofball as I stood in front of the bin, filling up my bag with them. I wondered, Would people notice I was buying them? Would they give them a try based on how many I'd bought?

I'd never seen ugly tangerines in any store, so the fact they were in the entryway of the store where I regularly shop alerted me: This was one of those God moments. I needed to pay attention.

On Saturday afternoon, I heard the above quote from Iraq church leader Andrew White. And on Sunday morning, my pastor spoke about how his wife had long begged God not to send her to Africa. She just returned from a Sudan trip, and she'd absolutely loved the people and wanted to remain in Africa. (Amusingly, she also didn't want to marry a pastor--they've been married seven years.)

As my pastor explained it, we're often afraid of God's will. Perhaps we're afraid he doesn't have our best interests in mind. Or that he doesn't really understand us. So when we ask him to assist with change in our lives, we add in, "Change me God, but just don't do it that way!" My pastor challenged whether we really believe Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Admittedly, I often don't trust God. I've had moments of blaming him. I sometimes wonder, Do you even know me, God? And are you really good?

When I received those first ugly tangerines, they were a free gift. It was easy to take them, even ugly as they were. I figured I could always throw them out later. When I saw the ones for $2.99, the high price did make me question: Will these be any good, or am I just fooling myself? Am I willing to pay this price?

They were excellent. Still, every time I see ugly tangerines, I know I'll still wonder, Are they worth it? By experiencing a good flavored tangerine, it will become easier for me to buy them next time, to take the chance and make the investment. I hope my faith works the same way. I hope--through acknowledging God knows more than I do--that my experiences will lead me to choose his way over mine more easily in the future.

My pastor says we're not going to get closer to God through a how-to book, systematic religious practices, or some life plan. Rather, our goal should be this: to develop a relationship with God. And relationships are about building trust, right? Seems we don't experience trust and comfort at first in any relationship. Perhaps we never experience it completely.

Honestly, I'll know I'll continue to ask those questions: God, will following you be worth it? Will you really work everything out in the way that's best for me? I don't like having those questions, but I do love how God's answers to me have so far been: "Yes."

To ponder:
1) Is is easy or difficult for you to trust God? Think about the times you feel God has been there for you. Think about the times you feel God has let you down. Try to be honest with God about your feelings on both.

2) What questions do you have about God? Do these questions ever scare you?

3) Do you believe there's a place for doubt in your faith?

4) Does your investment in God seem worth it? Are there times when the price seems too high? What do you do at those moments?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Higher Learning: Interest in Religion Growing Among Students

There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years."

--Peter J. Gomes, the preacher at Harvard University, speaking about religious interest among students. Gomes, who has been at Harvard for the past 37 years, remembers how in previous years, religious students were looked down upon and considered not very bright.

A survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, found more than two-thirds of 112,000 freshmen surveyed in 2004 said they prayed, and almost 80 percent believed in God. Almost half of the respondents said they wanted to grow spiritually.

Matters of Faith Find a New Prominence on Campus