In case you missed it, here were the topics on the sheet at Harmony Brewing Co. last Thursday.
1. Rousseau said that ‘it is impossible to describe true enjoyment.’ Can words fully convey an experience?
2. Is grace unique to Christianity?
3. Scientists say dark matter is inferred, not seen. Could you call that faith?
4. Is science the discovery of what’s really out there or the construction of a way to perceive it? What about theology?
5. “‘Real people’ are just as fictional as the characters in a novel; all our encounters with other people depend on our ability to ‘fictionalize’ them.” Discuss.
6. Does temporal and cultural distance create an unbridgeable gap between biblical texts and us?
— No Pub Theology this week at Harmony in Grand Rapids, or Right Brain in Traverse City, as I will be on the road, and the TC group will break for this month’s Etcetera gathering, at the Good Work Collective. Still looking for someone willing to help facilitate an ongoing Grand Rapids group – Harmony is a great setting and there is an interested group forming!
So, in the course of giving my message at church today, I managed to swear. Actually, to be fair, I was quoting a book in which the author was quoting herself swearing. So I was actually at least twice removed from actually swearing myself. But nonetheless, the words came out in the reading of the story, and the truth is, I skipped over where it said shit, supplying the usual ‘blank’, and reduced goddamn to just plain damn. So don’t call me insensitive.
The story was about a conflict. And in choosing to use the words the author herself spoke, I was hoping to bring us into the depth of the situation. Allowing things to unfold as she experienced it herself had the potential to draw us into the raw ugliness of the moment.
But for some, I imagine, it was perhaps a bit too raw.
I mean, church, after all, is the place we can go and know we won’t encounter this kind of language. We’re surrounded by it throughout the week, whether at work or on television, or, dare we admit it – uttered ourselves. But at least for an hour on Sunday morning, we can have respite.
We can have the gloriously clean language expected in a church service.
Then the pastor has to go and fuck it all up. (Is typing it as bad as saying it?)
Suddenly mothers are covering their children’s ears, people who weren’t listening nearly get whiplash spinning their heads toward the front, and for some, perhaps this just was beyond the pale, and for their own sanity they will choose to attend a worship venue that has the decency to respect the dignity of its hearers.
I sympathize with those who felt this was entirely inappropriate. I wrestled with actually saying it, knowing full well not everyone would appreciate it. But to be honest, I kind of forgot it was in there until I was reading it again, and it just felt right to say it. To let the author speak. To allow the emotion of the conflict be felt by everyone.
And I wonder if perhaps this reflects a (mis)perception we have of the church. As long as the church and the liturgical hour of worship remains a bastion of purity and decent behavior, I can get by with the language and behavior I encounter and use myself throughout the week. I might swear regularly at home or at work, but when I’m at church, goddamnit, there better be clean language. So the church acts as a convenient fiction which allows individuals to continue their own inappropriate behavior, so long as they know the structure in which they seek forgiveness for this very behavior exists and maintains a certain ‘code of conduct.’
Yet what if keeping Sunday morning clean perpetuates the very behavior we might full well prefer not to be committing? What if it is the release valve that allows the otherwise intolerable behavior we commit to continue?
When you encounter it at church, worlds collide, and you are actually face to face with the depth of your own brokenness, not to mention perhaps a bit embarrassed to hear this in front of all your pious church going friends, who you will momentarily join in the foyer over coffee, shaking your head about the pastor who is such an asshole, leaving aside the very real possibility that you’ll go out to a film together later that same day where such inappropriate language is a matter of course.
So perhaps we need to occasionally ‘break the spell’ of church as this pious shelter in which our fictional holy selves can continue to exist. By bringing in our real experiences in life throughout the week, isn’t there a greater chance that the behavior we aspire to live into, the people we actually want to become, might gain greater traction?
It’s just a hunch, but, by golly, I think perhaps dropping the f-bomb at church today might have created a holy (Spirit) moment, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one.