Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Devil on Your Christian Shoulder

In those old comics, there's yer main character needing to make a decision, and there's a tiny devil on one shoulder, and a little angel on the other.  The little devil tells him to do exciting, fun things he wants to do, but maybe shouldn't, and the tiny angel tells him not to do those things.  And offers no better things to do, normally.  The angel is Nancy Reagan.
    For some of us, it was a bit different.  As far as we could tell, there was just the one thing: an angel sitting on our shoulder, telling us not to do any of the exciting or fun things that we wanted to do. Many of us kind of suspected that the devil who wanted to do fun things was, simply put, us.
   But it wasn't really an angel on our shoulder anyway, it turns out. We were meant to think that, of course.  It always seemed like an angel to us when it was saying "no."  Because we were taught that only devils/naughty girls say "yes."  God certainly doesn't say yes, right? To anything good?
   Thing is, how were we ever going to love a spouse, a child, dare I say it, God Himself, so long as we had an angel-of-light-garbed devil on our shoulder, whispering away, making us unable to reach out in love to far more mundane good things?  I mean, I wanted to go see a movie, go hear people sing the songs they'd written, see if I could like wine and beer at all.  Good things like that.  Normal things.  Life things.  Love things.  Sanity aids, even.  But when nice people who I liked casually invited me to go do mundane nice things like this, I had a handicap.  A special need.
   I didn't believe in my heart for moment (eventually) that it was wrong to do these good things, but there was that sparkling, white-robed little harp-playing devil on my shoulder, saying:
   "But how is that okay for a Christian?  It sounds like it would be really nice and everything, but think of what GOD wants for you. A life of failure, sacrifice, service and endless tedium.  You KNOW that.  It sounds fun, and isn't wrong in and of itself, but if it's fun, HOW could it be ok?  How could it be in keeping with God's special plan for you to be miserable and have a life that doesn't work?  To drive that Ferrari of your life into a brick wall for Him? It could be okay for other people, maybe.  Not for you, though. You know what YOU'RE like..."
   And other such stuff.  I don't know what was being whispered in Peter's ear when he was actually walking on actual water.  I can only imagine.  (You're just doing this to look cool.  Jesus doesn't do miracles to satisfy your frivolous whims.  If you get scared, the magic will wear off.  You only have enough magic pixie dust for three steps.  You're not remembering to think your happiest thoughts.  Remember, you're keeping yourself up, through your positivity, and the strength of your own faith.  God wouldn't help you do this, anyway.  Not really.  He is toying with you. He knows what you're like and what you're thinking.  You're no Jesus, that's for sure. He's going to let you drown and then put a hilarious story in the bible about how you drowned trying to walk on water.)
  And all this whispering that I was hearing made God, who'd presumably sent this little voice coming into my ear at all times, pretty unlovable.  He sounded a lot more like me, hating myself whom God loved, actually.  So I had trouble loving having God in my thoughts.
   I wasn't good at loving anyway.  If I loved a band, I couldn't even get out the door and hear them play.  If I loved a movie, ditto.  So God was definitely beyond my loving skills.  And really, who could love a Sky Bully (TM Joss Whedon) of that kind?  Not me. He clearly didn't love me.  Wasn't into happiness. Was anti-life and anti-love.  Anti-joy.  Heaven was going to suck!
   When I started to try to build an adult life, time after time when things fell crashing to the ground, every time I dreamed a dream and it popped like a burst bubble, I had the choice to:

a) take it as sent directly from God, as a crap-package addressed to me, and go off and pout, give up and stifle my anger,
b) or else keep getting back up, and keep waiting for a God I could love to show up, amid all the chaos and soul-grinding tedium. To wait for the God of the bible to reach out, rather than a purely imagined him, with all of my messed up, shame-addicted, self-loathing psychology stamped all over his purely fictional face.
And He did.  Show up for real.  You see, God seems to have taken exception to this former view of imaginary him.  He's not the principal in The Breakfast Club, after all.  He likes to have fun too.  (invented, it, and the capacity and all the various means for having it, as you know.  Invented the clitoris, for example, which serves only one purpose.) Important to invite Him along when intending to have fun.  He's an excellent wingman.

Yesterday, I went to see Malificent with someone who hasn't ever really been to the movie theatre before, for well-intentioned "religious reasons."  And we enjoyed it, she and I.  The movie is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  I was very impressed, having started out with low(no) expectations, which is what I seem to need to do to enjoy movies, lately.
   It was the 90s (starting more or less with Spawn and Shrek, and moving on eventually to stuff like Twilight) when writers really started to really flip all the hero/villain roles, because the old ones had gotten stale. 
   "Gasp!" gasped many Christian adults. "They're muddying and perverting children's stories with what used to be perfectly straightforward black and white, good and evil morals back in the days when America was white and Christian.  They're scheming to make our children grow up to be morally ambivalent!"
    "No," I said. "They're taking simplistic, one-dimensional stories with evil people who stay evil for no reason, and good people who are 'just good, y'know?' and infusing them with more nuanced, thought-provoking stuff.  Explorations of growth, change, redemption, repentance, forgiveness, grace, mercy and other evil, unscriptural, anti-Christian stuff like that."
    But we went to the movie theatre, she and I.  And the really good part?  She and I were finally free to go see that movie yesterday.  To see what the story was, and be encouraged to think about bitterness and growth and change and redemption and repentance and all of that.   Those little devils dressed as angels seem to have buggered off somewhere, as they weren't fooling anyone anymore. No point their even showing up nowadays.

Of course, I didn't really think there was actually a little angel on my shoulder, back in the day.  That's just me using descriptive language in a vain attempt to try to help people understand what it was actually like.  Those demonic ideas, though, were literally coming into my actual ears, right out of the mouths of people all dressed up as terribly serious Christians, who genuinely thought they had my best interests at heart, but were unable to do anything but see fear and evil in what interested my heart.
  Years past, these devil-words had come into my ear, for example, right out of the mouth of she who sat beside me yesterday and cheered for Angelina Jolie, and was all weepy over her little daughter having a cameo.  Yesterday, she didn't see evil and harm and disobedient wayward license.  She saw a story about love and forgiveness and redemption.
   Because times change, and fear, superstition and evil are eventually unmasked and repented of.  And relationship, life and freedom can come out to play.
   Sometimes people pray and that stuff happens.  And eventually good makes us feel good instead of ashamed, and bad looks...well, pretty silly actually.  And we laugh and feel good together.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

"Bad Words"

(this blog entry is mainly inspired by people repeatedly telling me "Look, I swear in real life and everything, but on a blog like this, you shouldn't swear. It will turn away readers. Your intended audience.)
Growing up, we didn't say "bad words" in our house.  Now, our house (and quite a few of the other Brethren houses) had no shortage of rudeness, coldness, nastiness, innuendo, character assassination, sarcasm and all manner of passive-aggressive, nasty crap.  But we wouldn't say a word like "crap." Too close to "shit."  We wouldn't even say "fart."  (we "passed gas," in our house)
   Another thing: I wasn't the only one in my culture who really wasn't terribly comfortable with compliments.  Giving or receiving.  Oh sure, there were a few Brethren people who were real charmers.  They stood out.   But most of us sucked. (and wouldn't say "sucked," because it was too colourful and might possibly sound like we were referring to fellatio). 
  There wasn't a lot of skilled flirting among us, or even a lot of guys casually and uncreepily complimenting women.  But there was a whole lot of sarcasm and mocking each other.  Often harmless.  Sometimes not. We were skewed to that bile-flavoured side of things.  If I got a new shirt and looked good, someone might give an odd smile and say "nice shirt..." and I could be pretty sure there was a double-sarcasm going on.  Or fake sarcasm. Genuine compliment hidden behind pretend sarcasm.  Levels of sarcasm.
   And it was the 90s, when I was in my 20s.  The 90s, in music, comics, film and television were nothing BUT sarcasm, grittiness, "darkness," post-modernism, deconstructionism, flawed anti-heroes, satire, parody, mockery and that kind of thing.  It was the time for a  new openness about mockery and a new awkwardness about "positivity" (which British Spell Check still does not accept as a real word.  I kind of approve of that).

Very Superstitious
My friend Curry and I would argue, when I was, oh, about twenty.  And he'd say "Mike, stop being an asshole."  
   Then I'd say "You are a complete and utter idiot" or call him a "moron" or "cretin" or something like that.
   He would often say "Complete and utter?" to tease me.  He was (correctly) saying I was being a jerk, in a quaint way.  He was saying I was being annoying, but I in turn was instead insulting his intelligence, because I was superstitious about certain words.
  I would NEVER, for example, have said "asshole."  At all.  Not when I was only twenty.  That was a bad word.  Like, really bad.  But I'd call my friend "stupid" more ways than he'd understand.  Would delight in using words he'd never heard before, which maybe I'd only read and was a bit shaky on the proNOUNCiation of.
  All of this meant he was dead-on about exactly what I was being.  Now that I have embraced the idea that I was being superstitious about "bad words," I have come to realize that there really is no other more suitable, accurate or appropriate word for what I was being than an "asshole."  A "jerk" comes close, but falls short.  Doesn't tell the whole story.
   But I was superstitious, back then, about these English words and many other things (playing boardgames (on Sunday).  Going into movie theatres (ever)).  If I wanted to repeat something someone else had said, and they'd used one of those words I was superstitious about, I'd spell it.  Superstitiously.  Because that somehow didn't count:  "He said 'I slipped and fell right on my A-S-S.' It was hilarious."
   Deep down, I felt like I was too good to swear.  My lips too pure. (Isaiah said he was man of "unclean lips."  Once he got them purified, oddly, God inspired him to use a great deal of sexual and poo imagery in what he then said on God's behalf. I wonder if he meant what we assume he meant?)

What Sayeth the Scriptures?
Sometimes Curry would say "Move your ass" just like his Mom would say to him when she was coming by with a laundry basket, or he was blocking the TV, and I'd be a bit offended by him saying it to me.  When his mom said it to him, he'd do a little hip-shimmying dance, to make her yell it louder.  Which was funny.  But when he said it to me, I was annoyed.
  You see, maybe he did, but I certainly didn't have an "ass." Oh, I had a backside, or a bottom, a posterior, a seat or a derrière, but I certainly didn't have anything near so vulgar as an "ass" anywhere about my person.  (There were other things I didn't have either, worded how Curry worded them.  I merely had a penis and scrotum.)
   Back then I really felt that way.  Too good to have an ass.  Too good to be talked about casually in that way by someone who meant no harm at all, and wasn't communicating anything corrupt when he said it.
    Because it came down to that; I justified my superstition, my superiority about language, my prissy fastidiousness, with two bible verses, really:

But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool


Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good

(you can Google those if you want to read the full context. It's worth doing.)

So, I would never say "move your ass," and I felt that to do so would sink me down to 'their' level. The lower level of vulgar, unChristian people. If I spoke just as 'bad' as they did, people might (heaven forfend) mistake me for being merely one of them. Might not notice I was freakishly superior. A True Christian, who acted like one, and said "bottom."
   But when I had a look at those two verses, they really just didn't support my language superstitions the way I really needed them to.  The first one clearly referred to "swearing" in the sense of vowing.  Promising. As in "I swear by my honour/my mother's grave/on a stack of bibles/my country/by Crom, that I will surely deliver this package safely to Asgard.  By Odin's beard, it shall be so."  It refers to an affirmation.
  I think it is more of the bible telling Christians "let your yea (yes) be yea, and your nay (no) be nay," like it does in one of these bits about not "swearing by" anything.  If you say something, people should know you're not the kind of person who lies.  If you say you will do something, you shouldn't have to swear it.  You shouldn't have to act like normally, you might be just talking out your...backside... but THIS time, you're going to swear by Odin's Beard, or upon a stack of bibles, or your mother's grave or something like that, so you can be trusted as being honest.  This time.  Because you're stuck being true to your word.  After all, you pinky-swore... 
   This is why I hate the modern expression "I'm not gunna LIE..."  It sounds like you normally would lie.  Like you seriously considered it, but then decided against it at the last minute.  Else why bring  up lying to begin with?  "I'm not gunna stab you in the NECK and dispose of your body in a quarry...I think you're okay."
  And all of that "I swear" and "Honestly" and "To tell the truth" and "to be really honest here" stuff leaves me cold for the same reason.  I think habitual liars talk like that far more than regular folk do. I try not to talk that way. I don't want to sound like a liar, (I swear).
   So I am very supportive of that bible idea, of yea meaning yes and nay meaning no. I want to be the kind of person who, when I say something, no one's ever going to make me swear or vow or promise.  I like to think they know they can trust me to mean what I say.  In fact, when someone makes me promise after I already said something, I get a bit peeved at them.  Because I mean things.  I'm known for it.
   And yet?  I don't think saying "move your ass" to my friend, who knows I love him, yet is for some reason blocking my path for an inexplicable amount of time, is going to make my yea and nay anything other than yea and nay, nor is saying "move your ass" swearing/vowing/promising/affirming.  It's not even close.  It's being colourful.  Fondly vulgar.

And what's "vulgar" mean?  Colourfully middle-class. The regular folk.  The opposite is "patrician." The lordly folk.  Princesses who get bruised by sleeping with a pea hidden under the twentieth mattress and so on.  It's a class thing.  The idea is that royalty and nobility would not use colourful language like us commoners, who'd do well not to put on airs, or speak above our station.
   Not only is all that no longer the world we live in, I think we know exactly what the bible folks thought of rich people and their ways.  And we know that many bible people, including Jesus, purposely chose vulgar wording on occasion, when they felt it appropriate.  And it was recorded in the actual bible and everything.
   Much becomes clear in the Greek.  I had to read a different translation to learn that Jesus and John the Baptist both called Pharisees, not sons of bitches, but sons of vipers, which isn't, I don't think, less rude. And that Elijah was mocking the god Baal to his knife-wielding prophets, saying "Call for him again.  Maybe he's taking a dump...."
   And I figured out early on that in my Christian circles, it wasn't solely about simply not saying the "bad words." It was about remaining carefully colourless.  Even our fashion, hairdos, singing and movements, as well as our speech patterns, were (unintentionally?) encouraged by grownups to be muted.  Toned down.  Colourless and unemphatic.  Lacking individual expression.  To do otherwise was vain and attention-seeking.  You know?  Like wearing a red sweater would be.  (But somehow dressing twenty years out of fashion, to look seriously pious/like George McFly without having seen Back to the Future, wasn't.)
   We used a lot of body function humour, but we avoided "those words."  We said infantile stuff like "You see, he'd gone to the washroom in his pants" or "so she kicked him you-know-where" as the punchlines of jokes.  When we were older teens.  Sounding infantile.  To avoid being more colourful, while still being, really, straight-up vulgar anyway, as to joke content.
  Which we rightly had no problem with.  Because there's nothing wrong with a bit of body function imagery, even for laughs.  The bible is packed with that imagery, particularly in the prophets, though only used humorously a couple of times.  And I don't think that this biblical vulgarity somehow makes it not okay for us.  I've never understood that opinion.

Corrupt Communication
And the second verse:   

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.  

People at our church would suggest or hint that teenagers were feeling each other up behind the boathouse/barn (carefully avoiding vulgar expressions like "feeling each other up," because it was too colourful or graphic) though they'd communicate the same idea anyway.
  And as I said above, if Curry said something like "Mike, move your ass," I would be superstitious about that word "ass."  But if I made any attempt at honestly looking at what the bible itself was trying to say, instead of using it like a puppeteer with his hand rammed up a puppet's...posterior,  I was forced to admit that really, nothing corrupt was in any way being communicated by Curry.  He was asking me to move out of his way.
  He wasn't, for example, suggesting euphemistically that Todd and Maryanne were having it off behind the potting shed, or that single Mr. Black was gay with married Mr. Chronos, or that Mr. Steel was embezzling funds, or any of the other stuff that we Brethren people were constantly hinting might be going on.
   Upon reading this verse more carefully, I decided that yes, we should probably stop communicating corrupt things in this way.  (the "saying something bad, but avoiding 'bad words' we are superstitious about" way) We should stop sneering and laughing and joking about people possibly doing dubious things we have no real evidence of, and whom we have no intention of ever speaking to about any of it personally.  We should not communicate corrupt stuff like that, just to gossip and feel superior.  It stinks up the room.  One oughtn't to go to the bathroom where one eats, nor do number two in someone's Cornflakes.
  I suppose then, that saying something truly horrible and untrue like (skip to the next paragraph now if faint of heart) "My great aunt is no doubt the sort of perverse person who gets very aroused by going to the bathroom in the right ear of an unwilling, or perhaps recently deceased, physically-challenged woman, both of them with bare backsides, crotches and bosoms" would be a very corrupt communication.  Needlessly so, unless being used as an example.
   Not just vulgar, and though it carefully avoided saying even ONE of those "bad words" I was raised to be superstitious about, it is, I think, a thoroughly inappropriate, disgusting, corrupt and horrible thing to say.  (I think that, because I designed it to be.  I felt I needed to really make a point.  And not subtly.  I trust it's been made.)
   And I think that when God inspired His prophets to say things with that very sort of imagery (whole lot of fecal imagery in the Old Testament, along with the bloody hills of foreign foreskins and other gross stuff), He knew what He was doing, and felt it needed to be said like that.  God felt Ezekiel ought to say that the Jewish nation "lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey's and emissions like those of a horse." I guess God needed to have His feelings worded that way so His they'd be felt accurately. And I imagined it sounded ruder than that in the original Hebrew.  I do think that making one's own language unnecessarily overcolourful is tacky, but:
   I don't feel I can be prissy and superstitious about words like "ass" or "shit" anymore.  So, when it comes down to "Stop talking shit" or "The people in the Trenton assembly are probably being inappropriate with their daughters!" I think I know which one is a corrupt thing to casually say, without much behind it.  The second one only pretends to be "good manners."  There is a frankness in the first one that I find hard to argue with. (In fact, if someone responded with the first comment, to someone who had made the second comment, I think I'd really support that.)

Why Do Normal People Use Those Words?
Why would normal, nonBrethren people say things like "Move your ass!" or "That's bullshit" (where instead we'd use gluten-free substitutes like "boloney" or "bull roar" or "horse feathers" or, under extreme duress, "B.S.")?  Three main reasons, none of which seems terribly harmful, to me, are:

a) to ensure the vehemence of their feelings are adequately understood,
b) to be funny,
c) to add colour to their sentence in a way that even a large vocabulary which painstakingly sidesteps these words cannot.

People with large vocabularies do not use the "bad words" less.  I've been paying attention, and have decided that that idea is sheer poppycock.  Purest rhubarb.  "People who swear have small vocabularies."  Bull dust!  Balderdash.  People with large vocabularies have many words to choose from, including our "bad words."  They use whichever ones they feel do the job.  And sometimes, for a), b) and/or c), they reach for those good old honest Anglo Saxon terms which have been in use for centuries, accepting no substitutes, and not snipping the you-know-whats off their sentences.  Not any more than God did, when having Ezekiel write stuff.  And the whole "God can be vulgar, but you can't, because you're not God" thing?  Never made any sense to me.
...Foiled Again
Americans sometimes refer to using these "bad words" as "cursing" (or, if you are Southern "cussin'").  Now, Jesus literally cursed people and random objects like fig trees, as did prophets, apostles and God Himself.  Cursing is wishing ill upon someone or something.  Jesus cursed a fig tree so hard it died.  But is saying "Ah, lizardshit!" when you kick an end table in the dark "cursing?"  Clearly, no.
   If you said "God damn that end table!" you would no doubt be taking the Lord's name in vain (using it in an empty, pointless way), and also speaking nonsense.  God doesn't damn living room furniture to eternal torment in hell, after all.  Not even for having pointy corners.  But yes, I think that latter ejaculation would be an example of cursing.  In fact, to say "I hope your company goes out of business" or "May your kid fail all her courses this year and get mono" would be cursing too.  Even with carefully avoiding all those "bad words." 
   Man tends to look on outward, superficial things like language, while God looks on the heart.  And out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. And you can read a lot more than "Oh, she used a bad word" from someone's language.  Bad words or not, you can read a lot.  When people say horrible things in a mock-loving, or coldly bureaucratic, or carefully pious way, a lot of the heart is being seen. And very few people can help but taste what kind of heart is wielding language in that underhanded way.
   So, nowadays, I retain a fastidiousness about using the name of God in an empty, vain way.  Because I take God seriously.  I don't feel terribly obligated to be reverent about hell, though, and will sometimes be heard to say "what the hell?!" because I don't see the point of reverence to hell.  I owe it no allegiance, do not need to fear going there, and don't think that a Christian saying the word will "make unbelievers less afraid to go there themselves," nor cause them to mistake me for an atheist/Satanist.  I think being plainspoken and direct is quintessentially Christian. I think Jesus himself was the very model of it, in fact.  Not politically correct/indirect.  He said things outright, vehemently, or didn't say them at all, I believe.
    So I want my yeas to be yea and my nays to be nay.  I want to use plain speech I clearly mean, with enough colour to make sure I'm not only being honest about my feelings, but might even be communicating them slightly.  Demonstrating that I mean what I say, and feel it.  And so I'm not into doing anything weak like hiding passive-aggressive sliminess behind formality. I don't want to be anyone's frenemy.
  I'm more than capable of that latter vice, of course.  Rusty razor blade hidden in cotton batting.  I grew up that way.  Nowadays, though, I want to say what I mean, and be understood and felt and have people know I mean it.  If I have a problem with someone, I want them to know. I want to admit it and convey it.

One thing I try to avoid is what Wikipedia refers to as "minced oaths."  These were words we church folk all used when we really wanted to swear, but weren't at liberty to.  We were fastidious and superstitious about the precise "bad words," so we scrambled a couple of the letter sounds so as to be (technically) not really quite saying those bad words.  Superstitious.  Thought saying those words would be unlucky in our week/would make God stop blessing us.  Like stepping over a crack, or saying "the Scottish Play" instead of Macbeth, tossing salt over one's shoulder, or avoiding black cats.  Sugar, it sure was darn stupid baloney!  Gosh.  (Does a Christian really talk like that, all superstitious about honest talk/feelings, seeing them as common or unclean?)
   Not only do I not feel remotely like a genuine 21st century man with any you-know-whats if I say "Dang it" or "Oh my gosh!" or "I fell on my tush" or "Frick off!", but I actively try to avoid doing that.  I think it reveals me to be someone superstitious, who wants to eat his cake and have it too, swearing, pretty much, but not really, but yeah, kinda.
  If there is anything my upbringing taught me instead of straightup, cross-bought Christian liberty, it was "Want to.  So can't, of course.  But kinda did, anyway.  But only technically, so it doesn't count.  Not really."
   Fuck all that, I say.  And in having said that, I really don't feel like I cursed anyone, communicated something horrible and corrupt, nor swore anything at all. I think a trained superstitious temptation to want to cross one's self or spit when a Christian uses that word, sounding no better than a dirty "rank unbeliever," is often seen.  And I wish that would die with the twentieth century, along with dayglo,  white afros, Segregation, disco and KJV-only.
   And some will say that I'm just constructing solipsistic arguments so I can be free from any responsibility to meekly bind myself to the various expectations we've been trained to feel are normal for Christians. Well, I like being free. I make no apologies for that.  I think Jesus cared enough about my freedom to die for me. 
  And besides, I didn't used to "swear," and my change regarding it is maturity and a matter of conscience, rather than merely slipping in my resolve.  I have a bad conscience about saying "baloney."  I feel it's dishonest and isn't yea = yea and nay=nay.  And I don't like how non-swearers curse and impugn each other instead.  I don't like it one bit.  It can so easily hide behind a screen of sanctimonious piety.  "I love you, George, but with the disgusting language you just felt at liberty to use, I can't but wonder if you are really even a Christian, and I certainly don't feel comfortable inviting someone like you to our not-Christmas party, given your obvious low spiritual state and rebellious walk. You need Jesus.  Repent of your path of independency and rebellion."

Idol Meat
But I can say that kind of thing (that I prefer people to give it to me straight), and then with boring regularity that old Destroyer of Christian Freedom inevitably comes out: 
the bible says that if eating meat offered to idols causes my brother to offend, I will eat no meat.
But that verse clearly is not actually about making my brother claim to have had his feelings hurt due to my liberty.  It's not about people in charge, playing the old game of "He who is offended by more things isn't weak, but is actually The Boss."  If it were, that would make it inevitable that any legalist who claims to be feel offended about anything at all, would have carte blanche to demand the immediate limiting of enjoying whatever that thing was.  Making any freedom we might claim to have, purely theoretical freedom.  Not to be used.  For show.  No, it's about this, near as I can say:

Some early Christians used to believe in idols.  Really believe.  Like, ones erected to gods they depended upon to make the month turn out well.  And there aren't any gods, and idols are just wood and stone, the bible teaches.
  But I think Paul's saying that, if you buy meat that had been part of a idol ceremony, and you don't know it, there's no harm in it.  But if your eating it will make a new Christian lose sight of the fact that the idols aren't alive, and will tempt him or her to eat it as a sacrifice or ritual in honour of them, really starting to lean on that idol again to try to make his week go better, this is bad for him, spiritually. 
  So, if eating the meat puts people at risk of sliding back into bad behaviour like worshipping idols (and that's mostly bad because idols aren't real anyway, besides it being cheating on God), then of course you shouldn't do it.  Just like you shouldn't drink whiskey with an alcoholic.  Because there is harm in alcoholism.
  But someone recently said online that he won't celebrate Christmas because he's afraid of "stumbling" his nonChristian neighbours.  It sounded like me like he was worried he'd tempt his neighbours to slip back into human sacrifice to bring about the advent of spring during a worrisomely chill winter, or start to believe in Santa Claus, or become druids or something.  I couldn't see the actual danger, the demonstrable, likely, not-entirely-imaginary harm.

Untheoretical Harm
And I think if we're going to be asked to actually give up the freedom Christ died to give us, and which some of us sacrificed membership in our entire birth culture to reclaim, then there needs to be Real Danger we're being irresponsible about.  Some actual harm that runs deeper than a control freak claiming we're not being traditional.
   Someone this week asked me to not say "effing" on an online forum, because although I already was self-censoring (in a Facebook group called "Brethren Believers Uncensored" of all places) he publicly requested that I not stumble him by feeling free to just say things like effing.  (Well, type it.) It might tempt him.  Into thinking or saying things like "effing." (Or maybe even "fecking.")  What a pain in the you-know-what to even try to think that way.  Goshdangit.
   I had to ask myself "If I truly believe there's no actual harm in him saying "effing," and I do think there's actual harm in legalism, in him going around limiting all kinds of people's freedoms simply on whims, and not understanding about Christian liberty, I might just have a problem with helping this guy do what he's doing.  If eating meat offered to idols might make someone start to worship idols, of course I will eat no meat offered to idols. But if wearing a Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt might make someone want to listen to "Us and Them," I think I'll wear that shirt.  Until someone explains the concrete, purely untheoretical havoc that my t-shirt is truly capable of and demonstrably likely to wreak.
   And guys like that effing Facebook guy are invariably very rude to a lot of people online, in ways I do not approve of, the yeas not being yea, nays not being nay, and eff offs definitely not being eff off (but more commonly sounding more like "I must admit I find it sad, dear brother, that you feel free to engage in this sort of uneducated, unscriptural, shameful twaddle. How dishonouring to the Lord! I guess I should have known not to expect anything better from someone such as yourself, who feels free to use profanity!  Makes me wonder if you're even truly the Lord's...")  I think it would be more honest of him to flat out say "eff off." (But then it would be hard for him to be superior about insulting someone.)
  And something else?  The very worst things, the very worst things that have ever been said to or about me in my whole life?  Have all been said by guys who fastidiously avoided "those words." Who talked just like that (effing) Facebook guy.  And wore ties and shark-like smiles when they tore me to shreds.   And quoted scripture as readily as Satan does, on occasion.  They'd never call me an "asshole." But they would write letters which publicly describe me as a wicked person, with bible verses about vile, profane and unclean persons, to be consigned unto Satan for destruction of the flesh.
   That's what I really think on this subject.  And it matters to me.  (Of course, I might just be being an asshole, who likes to do whatever he wants, loves to stir up trouble so he can enjoy being socially ostracised, alienated and insulted, and just generally be a malvivant.  You be the judge.)
Note-for those still wishing to use gluten-free substitutes, here is a helpful list:

Begorrah --> By God
Bejabbers --> By Jesus 

Blankety blank --> [expletives of your choice] 
Blazes --> hell 
Bleeding heck --> Bloody Hell 
Bleeping --> [expletive of your choice]
Blimey --> Blind me
Blinking heck --> Bloody Hell
By George --> By God
By golly --> By God's body
By gosh --> By God
By gum --> By God
By Jove --> By God
Cheese and Rice --> Jesus Christ
Cheese it
--> Jesus
Chrissakes --> For Christ's sake
Christmas --> Christ
Cor blimey --> God blind me 

Crap --> shit
Crikey --> Christ
Criminy --> Christ
Cripes --> Christ
Crivvens --> Christ defend us
Dad gum --> God damn
Dagnabbit --> God damn it
Dagnammit --> God damn it
Dang --> Damn
Dangnabbit --> God damn it
Dangnation --> Damnation
Darn --> Damn
Darnation --> Damnation
Doggone --> God damn
Drat --> God rot it
Egad --> A God

Feck --> Fuck
Flip --> Fuck 
Fig --> Fuck
Fink --> Fuck
Flaming heck --> Fucking Hell
Flipping heck --> Fucking Hell
For crying out loud --> For Christ's sake
For Pete's sake --> For St. Peter's sake
For the love of Mike --> For St. Michael's sake
Freaking --> fucking 

Flipping --> fucking
Frig --> Fuck
Frigging --> fucking
Fudge --> fuck
Fire truck -->  fuck
Gadzooks --> God's hooks
Gat Dangit --> God damn it
Gee --> Jesus
Gee whizz --> Jesus
Gee willikers --> Jesus
Godfrey Daniel --> God
Golly Gee willikers --> Jesus
Good garden party --> Good God
Good grief --> Good God
Goodness gracious --> Good God
Gorblimey --> God blind me
Gosh --> God
Gosh darned --> God damned
Heck --> Hell
Holy spit --> Holy shit
Jason Crisp --> Jesus Christ
Jebus --> Jesus
Jeepers Creepers --> Jesus Christ
Jeez --> Jesus
Jeezy Creezy --> Jesus Christ
Jehosaphat --> Jesus
Jiminy Christmas --> Jesus Christ
Jiminy Cricket --> Jesus Christ
Judas Priest --> Jesus Christ
Land sakes --> For the Lord's sake
Lawks a' mercy --> Lord have mercy
My goodness --> My God
My gosh --> My God
Odds-bodkins --> God's sweet body
Sacré bleu --> Sang de Dieu (God's blood)
Sam Hill --> Hell
Shoot --> shit
Shucks --> shit

Shut the front door --> shut the fuck up
Strewth  --> God's Truth
Suffering succotash --> Suffering Saviour
Sugar --> shit
Tarnation --> Damnation
What in Sam Hill? --> What in damn Hell?
Wish to goodness --> Wish to God
Zounds --> God's wounds

Monday, 14 July 2014


In the Old Testament, this time that Moses spoke to God face-to-face, when he came back, his face was glowing all radioactive-like for a while. It scared people, so he started wearing a veil over it.   I'm picturing this mysterious glow coming from behind the veil.  Very Doctor Who.  
   Moses had gotten to look at God Himself. Either God was a bit coy about this, or He was protecting Moses, but He acted like it would blind Moses worse than staring directly at the sun for the whole conversation if Moses got to look at Him casually the whole while.  I dunno. But it wasn't casual.
   And then later, once Moses started following the instructions given him, he supervised the construction of the Tabernacle, God's Own Place to Live among the Israelites.  A temple they could disassemble and bring along with them, to have God living among them, as they travelled through the desert.  And God was in there, as a blinding glow.  He could be seen as a pillar of fire above the Tabernacle by night, looking more like a column of smoke by day.  And there was a veil in there, blocking people's view of Him.  One supposes, for their own protection.
   Normal people could not go into the Tabernacle and meet God close up, like Moses had done. They'd drop dead if they tried.  So there were rooms within rooms, and the veil, blocking the way.  The high priest could go in once a year, and he needed to bring animal blood with him if he wanted to survive it.
   Then, God puts on a body, and comes to Earth as Jesus, to no longer only live disembodied in a religious building, but in a body like everyone else's.  Being born, eating, sleeping, singing, drinking, bathing and all the rest, shoulder to shoulder with human beings.  And eventually dying shoulder to shoulder with two criminals. And being buried.
   And when his spirit leaves that body, some odd things happen.  One of those is that the veil of the then-temple in Jerusalem (a few temples had been built after the Tabernacle was no longer needed) is violently ripped in half.  From top to bottom.  There was then no veil between people and God.  They'd seen God in a person, and now there was nothing to block their view of Him.
   And Jesus told his disciples that, once he was gone, God would once again live among human beings.  But not in a mobile temple or a temple.  Not behind a veil.  Not even in a single human body with a human life.  The Holy Spirit would indwell/live inside willing people.  The disciples were told that their bodies were Tabernacles/temples for the Holy Spirit.  And all through Acts, Luke (probably) writes that new believers received the Holy Spirit.
   And then Paul and Timothy wrote to the Christians at Corinth and said that when the holy scriptures were being read to the Jewish people who did not recognize Jesus as the messiah, that these people "wore a veil" on their hearts.  Not just their minds.  Their hearts.  To unnecessarily block a direct view of God, or to supposedly block His view of their hearts?
   I was raised Christian, and every time we would read in the bible anything that was critical of the religious Jews of that time (Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers and scribes), we gleefully tut tutted about that.  Just like we did over how stupid the disciples, particularly Peter, were.  (We complained of Paul being stubborn, perhaps, but got less laughs out of his adventures.)  Sometimes we even applied those verses to other Christian groups not fortunate enough to be as correct as ours.  But we didn't apply them to us.  We didn't make that connection between ourselves and these other religious people, assuming that they had the inside track as to God, but getting much of it wrong and needing to be told that they were less spiritual, and more interested in being known as religious folks.
   Well, let's try it.  Picture reading the bible, with a veil acting as buffer between you and God.  Making sure you don't let it shine on your heart too directly.  Not wanting certain corners of your heart to see that light.  Do we do that?   Obviously this is dumb.  The reason for a veil was never to keep God out.  A "heart-veil" when reading is not only obsolete, since the death of Christ, but backwards anyway.  It's dumb. It's pre-Christian.
   I think sometimes that "veil" is made of doctrine.  Then the bible isn't us experiencing God, but us seeing that the teaching in our Christian group is correct.  Putting it to work, supporting the notion that the decisions and positions made and taken by our group are correct, or at least the Best Thing Going.  Well, that's not the same thing as letting the book speak, so we can know and be known by God. I think that's dumb.  I think we are assuming that if we listen to, rather than use the bible to support our human religion, that we'll have to stop doing more and more enjoyable stuff.  (like the bible is some kind of Joy Extermination Manual).  Might have to give up comfort and go to Africa.  That's all incredibly stupid, clearly.  But I do it sometimes.
   So.  The answer?  Let God shine on your heart.  See if He, as scripture promises, give you its desires (and deeper and realer and darker and brighter than you yourself know them to be) or if He asks you to stick it in a vice/box.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Divided By Mirrors

I say:
"God meant you to be free.  He accepts you today, exactly as you are.  Be free! I want to see it."
And she hears:
"You live in bondage.  I disagree with you.  I reject you. You're not free."
I say:
"There's good stuff out there that God wants you to have.  There's a whole world of goodness out there for you to enjoy.  It's not all bad and dangerous."
And she hears:
 "I reject you just the way you are.  You don't have any good stuff. Get the kind of good stuff that I'd recognize.  There's seductive, dangerous stuff out there I think you need to try."
I say:
 "You and I are no different, anymore.  You're not part of a religious group that rejects me anymore. We're just Christians now."
And she hears:
 "Your religion isn't good enough, anymore. I rejoice that it let you down just as I predicted.  Try mine."
I say:
 "We can talk.  Really talk.  I want to know you."
And she hears:
 "I want to nose into your business and try to fix you, so you're more how I think you should be."

I swear we're not failing to deal with each other so much as
we're repeatedly refusing to have a fistfight with ourselves in a mirror,
in which everything we see and say is the same,
only backwards.
We're trying to give up the attempt to make that reflection of ourselves
flip around to face the right way,
to point accusingly with the right hand,
to part the hair on the right side.
It seems we can't see or hear anything that isn't a reflection of something in us.
Everything else gets edited away.
Not one new word of thought or feeling can be added to the dynamic.
It's just reflections of our own stuff.
We are divided by mirrors.
My mother and I.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

No Wonder I Don't Want To Be Friends

I'm not "over" the things I write about, in my upbringing.  I don't "know better" than those who raised me, or who still think that way.  I still think that way, all too often.  And I try to face it.
   It's Sunday.  I want to do something for God.  I wanted to watch TV a bit first, and at first I wasn't going to, because I thought "No, I want Sunday to be for God."  And then I remembered how dumb that was.  For "for God" to always and only mean "sacrificing fun."
   I was trained how to "do Sunday" as a kid.  I could do it right now:  Must go to church (even though there is nothing that consistently makes me feel more like Christianity is something for other people than that.  I can be having the greatest connection to Jesus Christ possible, and if I go to a church service, guaranteed, by the end of it, I'm doubting my Christianity.  Because whatever those other folk are just isn't any more what I am than what Mormons are).  Must watch no TV today.  Must read no more chapters from George R.R. Martin and edit no more student work into a book until tomorrow.  Reading the Anne Lamott (Operating Instructions) that I've been alternating chapters with Storm of Swords is fine, because her writing is "kind of Christian."  I must try to feel grateful. I must ask God to forgive me for not feeling more grateful, and to make me feel more grateful.  I must try to make myself more grateful, by talking and acting more grateful and claiming I am more grateful.
    It's quite a time.
   Things is, I recognize the good in sitting by the river at dusk, music on quietly, drinking beer or wine, eating snacks and watching fireflies with a few people, laughing and talking about whatever.  I recognize the good in sitting around with musical instruments and voices, food and drink to hand, playing whatever we like, because we want to.  I recognize the good in talking on the phone to someone who is physically far away, but during that conversation, no one else is closer to either one of you than each other.  I recognize the good in holding a woman.  I recognize the good in dancing with someone you care about.  I recognize the good in holding a baby.  I recognize the good in chocolate cake and quiet conversation, the two of you being the only customers in a cafe that's not going to be open much longer.  I recognize the good in a forest silhouetted against moon and stars, wind blowing through it.
   But there's something I've never moved beyond/grown out of/really learned properly: I know God made all that good stuff.  I know He made us able to enjoy it.  But whenever I imagine spending time with God, or getting close to Him relationally, there is this stupid, unmatching, incongruous assumption deep down that it must, of necessity, involve giving up all of those things, and anything like those things.  I assume He doesn't recognize the good in any of that.  Even though the good in it is obvious.  To me.  I assume that He wants it sacrificed to Him, on His big altar upon which we burn good stuff He's jealous of.  And that's so dumb.  He's not like that at all, is He?
   When I was a kid, no one told me it was okay to go and try to have fun, without worrying about anything.  And I have never managed to learn that lesson, either. Not really.  I have my moments.
    So it's Sunday.  And I want today to be about God in some way.  About connecting with Him. Not about going out to the big building in which we house Him, to sing at Him and then leave, like we've seen a hippopotamus at the zoo, so have proven we love the planet.  I want to be friends.
    But I'm afraid it will be like taking a nutritionist to dinner, a Shakespeare professor to see a movie, like kissing an oral hygienist, like going for a Sunday drive with a driving instructor.  I guess it's no wonder I don't want to be friends.
    I'm assuming that every time I might have been able to be happy in my life, it wasn't Satan, or mean people who ruined it, but God.  Always wanting everything to be deeper and truer and realer and purer. And how could anyone be content, hanging out with Someone like that?  And "content" is something I'm starting to want.  More than ever.
    It's like the bible tells me to rejoice, and then says nothing's good enough for God.  It says God loves me just the way I am, and then life is a positive marathon to get through, trying to be able to handle things and not let go the wheel and not slip up.  And every time I've slipped up, it seemst hat someone's always right there to accuse.  And half the time when I haven't, too.
    So, I know and believe that God is possibly good company, that He'd not ruin a party.  Jesus seems to have provided more wine for one, and doesn't seem to be giving his big ranting speeches at dinner very often.  Seems to tire and want to go off somewhere quiet, or just hang out with a couple of people, and not have to tell the parables and explain everything.  I know all this.  But I don't really get it.
   Church couldn't be less helpful in this.  I've gone to church a lot in my life.  And I've gone to all kinds of different churches in the last year.  The buildings in which we think God is housed.  The human activity we chide people for not paying enough mind to, for not being involved in deeply enough.  But the only time I have felt like I'm in any danger at all of being touched by a friendlier, happier, warmer, acceptinger side of God, it has always and only been sitting down with one or two other people and just being ourselves.  It's happened in bars and in restaurants.  It's happened in cars, sitting, chatting.  It's happened walking around aimlessly.  And not with just anyone.
   Lately it's pointed me repeatedly toward the idea that I need to stop being God's Employee, His Customer Service Representative, His Agent, so much.  I need to hang out more.  Connect.  Not make Him and the bible a series of personal lessons.  Not study or serve Him without relating to Him.  Connection.  That's not easy.  Church certainly never requires it of me.  Most Christians couldn't be less into it.  But I'm going to have to try it.
    I guess we'll see how that goes.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Positive Element

People are always saying stuff about being "positive" and often they mean nothing more than being cheerful.  Which, clearly, isn't a terribly sane or workable attitude to any number of human experiences.  Just resolving to walk around being/seeming cheerful all the time isn't going to fix most problems in the world, nor is it possible or advisable for absolutely everyone. In fact, there's nothing that shuts down openness more than an environment of mandatory cheerfulness.  But there's something to the idea of "the positive."  I'm positive there is.
    For instance, the word that is usually translated "virtue" or "virtuous" in the King James Bible isn't about piety or abstinence from bad fun stuff.  It's about effectiveness.  Power.  Workableness.  Excellence.  That kind of positive. Not just "upbeat."  The "virtuous" woman in Proverbs that everyone says we should all try to marry/be isn't being praised for her self-control and her piety.  She's being praised for her industriousness and her effectiveness.
    There needs to be a workable, worthwhile, excellent outcome, in order for us to bother with most things.  For instance, it's not enough for people in an oppressive culture to simply get free of it.  Sure, we want to get free, many of us.  Being free's nice and all that.  And God seems to insist upon freeing our hearts and minds, whether we want Him to or not.  But free to what?  From what only takes you to the door, to stand looking out.  Or maybe standing around on the lawn, feeling good about not being cooped up in the house.  But there's a whole world out there.  If there's nothing worth going exploring, then why would you even get off the couch?
    If God wants us free from stuff, then it's pretty sure that He wants us free to stuff also.  Stuff that will increasingly become clear.  Good stuff.  Because it's not just a case of God allowing us to be,  being willing to let us be, a tiny bit freer than we'd been led to believe.  It's so much more.  It's about God needing to free us, because He needs us freer than we currently are, in order to ensure Jesus didn't die for nothing much, and in order to do what He wants to do with and through and in us, next.
    Seeing exactly what it is we've been doing that's dumb, ineffective, twisted, cowardly and weak is one thing.  Actually wanting to try something else, though, is what's required to finally take us somewhere.  Knowing what we haven't, until now, been terribly good at, is one thing, but the decision to try to get better at it, to face the 'negative' as part of understanding the whole, and become better seems terribly worthwhile.
    I mean, avoiding looking at harsh realities isn't "being positive."  It's being blind.  And wallowing in the unpleasantness is perhaps a token step toward bettering things (insofar as recognizing that things need to be bettered), but only a token step.
   I think we have to look at most of it (pleasant, unpleasant, whatever) and lay aside the comforting idea that we more or less know what's what, and start new, sometimes.  I think we should be opening our minds to rethinking stuff.  To God.  Today God. Not fossilized God.
   I think hope comes from that process.  From trying to be more good things.  Not just imitating or resolving (even, for example, resolving not to say anything negative to one's spouse at all today, Love Dare style), which is only about restraining or forcing outward behaviour.  Actually looking to be transformed inside by the work of Christ over time, and become (inside) a living, growing, saner, braver, loving, strong person.  That's where it's at.  And that stuff only comes from God.  Who clearly has Stuff in mind for the future.