Saying Shit for Jesus

I have never been one to cuss.* That’s a lie. In fifth grade I had the mouth of a sailor. Yeah, that’s right parents, almost everyone in my class of 11 year old’s dropped four letter words like they were Goro (the boss in Mortal Kombat for those of you who are not males born in the 80s). But after fifth grade, I resolved to be a better Christian. Sadly, now, looking back, I knew the first thing that had to go was those four letter words.

If there was one thing that marked “Christian” from “heathen” as an 11-year old, before the introduction of drinking, drugs, and sex, it was cuss words. So, in my new found zeal to be a “good witness,” I slapped on my WWJD bracelet (<— anachronism for dramatic effect, they weren’t out yet) and replaced the usual words with “dangit” and “crap.” And I kept this up through high school. Even in the midst of my days of debauchery, heavy drinking, and drugs, I always carried a Bible in my pocket and I never cussed (there was, surprisingly, only one night of exception).

But when I was in college I did something very dangerous, I asked a question: “Why is cussing wrong?” As I leafed through the Bible, I found that the Bible never speaks about why “damn” is wrong but “dang” is okay, why “shit” is wrong and why “crap” is okay. And as I began to learn about the philosophy of language, it turns out those words are just arbitrary and their acceptability depends on your culture. By the way, as a side note, if you are a Christian and say “see, our culture says it’s wrong, so we shouldn’t do it” then you are being inconsistent since most Christians will say out of the other side of their mouth “Our culture is corrupt.” So, which is it? Also, our culture doesn’t say “it’s wrong” they say “It’s appropriate in some contexts (in rap songs, at bars, and among friends) but not in others (Presidential address, elementary school teachers).”  So, while I would love to hear other arguments for why it’s inappropriate and I’m wrong, just make sure it’s consistent.

And what became even more apparent is that focusing on “explicit” words takes our eyes off the ball. In the church, you can gossip all day and no one bats an eye. You can emotionally manipulate and abuse someone until the cows come home without any repercussions. But say “damn it” and your salvation is questioned.

So then a second dangerous question popped into my head: what if the opposite of what I thought as a kid were true? That is, what if my not cussing was keeping people from the faith? What if being a “good witness” meant learning to use the language of my culture and using it appropriately? What if I was creating unnecessary barriers for people to come to Jesus by creating the “ideal Christian” based on cultural baggage?

That is, what if people weren’t introducing themselves to Jesus because they thought he only hung out with the “no rated R movies – no beer drinking – no Jay-Z listening” crowd? What if “Christian” had been too narrowly defined by a certain Christian sub-culture?

This thought scared me. And still does. It actually motivates a lot of my thinking, writing, speaking, and living.* And so, for me, learning to say shit became a way to introduce people to Jesus. And believe me, with the baggage I had, it took a lot of practice (like literally, I cussed to myself in my car for weeks before I was courageous enough to say it with another person present).

But I knew that this would often lead to a dilemma. Do I risk offending “mature” Christians in my attempt to strip Jesus of his cultural baggage? Do I risk being considered a “heathen” and risk being labeled one who has “gotten into bed with the world” to reach people with the good news of Jesus?*

Hell Yes.

It wasn’t really a dilemma. I follow the One about whom the religious of his day said “Look! a glutton and a drunk a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

-Matthew 23:23-25

*As an important side note, this is not a “trick.” I am not interested in salesman evangelism. I am passionate about people being introduced to Jesus (not American Evangelical version of Jesus) but I think the best way to do this is simply to be an authentic friend. As one acquaintance recently said, rather profoundly, “A lot of Christianity is really just learning to be a better friend.”

61 responses to “Saying Shit for Jesus

  1. Yes. Additionally…

    There’s the division (and the relationship) of the outer and the inner (keeps coming up in critical theory, from Derrida to Butler back to Foucault, etc). Christian theology says it’s the heart that must be judged, and that only by God. And then Christians walk around acting like we can apprise someone’s moral worth through superficial observation and exteriority. Many of us will admit that the “fruit” of someone’s life–that tricky, less-than-easy outward sign of inward motives–will manifest faith. But then why do we link “fruit” to something as culturally shifting and mutable as language?

    We are so caught up in the wrapping. I wish I could be accurately judged by my language. How easy it would be to damn the chaff and save the wheat then!

  2. I will certainly grant without reservation that me speaking a profanity is no more an indication of the state of my “spirituality” than if I uttered profound theological truths. Ultimately, these are just sounds are largely fall within humanity’s utterly arbitrary rules of morality.

    However, I also would not ignore Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Jesus respected both religious and cultural “norms,” so just because it’s arbitrary doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful. What I “say” is a reflection of what is in my heart. Therefore, if I say something with the full knowledge that it is “defined” as wrong, I am reflecting a desire to be “wrong” in my heart. That, I think, is a slippery slope. Said another way, just because I can do it does not mean that I should.

    • I completely agree when you say “What I ‘say’ is a reflection of what is in my heart.” I completely agree. But when I say “dangit” how is it any different than “damn it” since in some circles “dangit” is just as “wrong” as “damn it”?

      And who gets to “define” what’s wrong? It seems that according to your logic (unless I misunderstand, and if so, please let me know) when our culture “defined” interracial marriage as being “wrong,” by marrying a person of another race I would be “wrong in my heart.” But I am not so sure that’s such a slippery slope.

      Maybe you can clarify, I feel like I am not understanding you well.

      • I’m thinking along to same lines as Eric, here, I think (and with some reservations about ‘utterly arbitrary’). That things are arbitrarily doesn’t mean–does it?–that they ought entirely to be ignored. If we’re going to call damnit and shit merely cultural conventions, then we need to go all the way and call all of language merely cultural conventions (thinking Wittgenstein, here). Which seems fine, though, yes? We’ve created a game of language so that we can all communicate and get along–so that we can ‘cope’ with each other and life (Rorty would suggest). So inasmuch as you’re speaking your following arbitrary rules; indeed inasmuch as you’re living by any norms of how to conduct yourself as a human–how to dress, how to eat, what to eat, how to walk, which side of the street to drive on, etc.–you’re living by cultural conventions (whether they’ve any ground outside of the culture’s arbitrary will [say, nature or reason] is irrelevant here–they are, either way, conventional).

        The question ‘who gets to ‘define’ what’s wrong?’ based on my suggestions would suggest the conversant community, no? We all. through conversation, construct the language and decide what means what. So we define ‘poop’ as that stuff that comes out of your… we define ‘crap’ as a synonym and a broader term to include other various things; we define ‘shit’ as a stronger term for both of these that is in some places appropriate and other places inappropriate. This is just how language works: we make sounds and apply to them meanings.

        Here’s another way of putting it: you ask, what’s the difference between dang it and damn it since it is just culturally defined. I would take that a step further and ask what’s the difference between saying ‘dang it’ and ‘jabberwockee’ since it’s just culturally defined? The difference seems to be precisely that it is culturally defined: ‘dang it,’ here, in this place, with these people, means something; ‘damn it,’ here, in this place, with these people, means something similar but slightly different for no other reason than that everyone says it does; ‘jabberwockee’ means something very different simply because everyone says so. So just play by the rules, would be my conclusion.

        Or don’t grade syntax on your student’s papers. Because they can just come up to you and say ‘well, sure, you say the word means something different, but when I said Kierkegaard is a nutter, what I meant was your word ‘genius.”

        And I may fly out there and teach Augustine to call you ‘chicken butt’ and Sarah ‘daddy’!

        Does any of that make sense? Sorry for its lengthiness!

      • I completely agree with you (I think, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to follow all the roads you go down). I agree that arbitrary does not mean “meaningless.” But I think you have confused categories here. You seem to be talking about the meaning of words while I am discussing the morality of words. I agree that it is the conversant community that defines the evolution of language. And the most important thing you said was your conclusion: “So just play by the rules.” This is the real rub. “The Rules” in our society say that it is appropriate in some instances to use “shit” (when, as Lynne says below, the emotion demands it) and appropriate to say “crap” in others. But the problem comes when, as a Christian, I am a part of two conversant communities at the same time. And what seems increasingly arbitrary is how the American Christian community relates to the American community. And this is the bigger issue that the word “shit” only skims. For instance, why was it not okay (according to a “biblical ethic” in Evangelicalism) for Christians to allow women to have equality in the home 30 years ago but now it is. What changed other than pressure from American culture for us to go back and read our Bibles differently? Why was it okay to have slaves in the 19th century as a Christian but not it is abhorred? Why was it completely unChristian and unacceptable to be an actor in the 2nd century but now we hold up Christian actors as models of “being light in a dark place”? The “rules” of the Christian language game seem to keep changing in step with the “rules” of our culture. And conservative evangelical churches simply are not okay with this reality. So they continue to believe that what they believe right now (about slavery, about cussing, about the rapture, about sexuality, about the inerrancy of the Bible, about etc…) is what the church has always believed. But that is almost always untrue. At bottom, we are not okay with the reality that culture influences how we see Jesus, the Bible, and God himself. They are not okay with the Incarnation.

      • Well, the “who gets to define?” is a whole different thread, so I’m not going there.

        But if we accept that certain “words” are considered (for lack of a better word) “bad,” and we aware of that perception, then by choosing to do that action, we are making a conscience decision to do something that society as a whole considers “bad.” I don’t know that that makes you any more relevant, in fact, I think it portrays you as more conformist. Part of Christ’s message was that “you will be different” and that difference may have a price. If I follow your logic, then I should have no reservations about using the “N” word, right? It’s just a sound. But it’s a sound with profound cultural consequences. My points is, that unsaved will correlate our actions with the sincerity of our faith, and if I choose to engage in something that I know is generally accepted as bad (even if acceptable within “certain” settings) it still makes a statement about my motives. That’s the slippery slope. Your thought process is definitely provocative (which I love), but sorry, I’m not biting.

      • I don’t think we are as far apart as it seems. I also wonder if maybe you have contradicted yourself or need some more nuancing.

        First, you say that society has deemed such words as “bad.”
        Then you say that Christ’s message says we should “be different.”
        But wouldn’t you agree that in many cultures introducing people to Jesus is “bad” (I mean, like, punishable by death)?
        So then, aren’t there many instances where the “ends justify the means”? That is, there are some instances where it’s okay to be “bad” in a society if doing so will help you introduce people to Jesus?

        And where I think we really agree is your comment about “profound cultural consequences.” I would never say the “N” word because our culture uniformly agrees that it represents an oppressive voice to the black minority. But our culture does NOT consider “shit” a “bad” word, it considers it appropriate in certain contexts and inappropriate in others. For me, it is absolutely about the cultural consequences. And in a culture that is increasingly put off by Christians “holier than thou” hypocrisy and arbitrary rules about when it is okay to be a “part of the world” and when it is not, the cultural consequences of saying shit are increasingly positive for my witness to Jesus. I am not trying to be “bad” for Jesus, I just have decided that I was wrong that this part of culture was ever “bad” in the first place.

        But again “culture” is not monolithic and I understand that it’s relative. My culture might not be your culture. The people I am around are not the people you are around (especially generational and geographical). This post really is about being a good missionary, being an authentic (authentic, without compromising, that’s where it gets fuzzy) part of a culture to introduce them to Jesus. And I literally have story after story where people who were hostile to the church were introduced to Jesus because I was willing to have a beer with them (also “bad” and “wrong” for Christians in some parts of the country) and speak in their language, which often involves saying shit.

        And that’s the reality for me. This is not theoretical. This is deeply personal and a part of my mission in the world to get people who hate Christians to at least give Jesus a chance. If people really only hang out with other Christians or live in parts of the country where largely everyone is a Christian by default (and therefore the culture is largely Christianized – even the non-Christians have to live by the “christian” rules lest they be “found out,” something I bet Travis knows a thing or two about) then this might not be their reality. And I am absolutely fine with that. I do not want to convince people to “be like me,” only to “be okay with people like me.” Paul’s tactics with the Gentiles weren’t looked on all that positively but eventually everyone realized we are on the same team.

      • (Note, I couldn’t reply to your later post, apparently you can only nest comments so deep, so I’m replying to an earlier post.)

        In your earlier notes you are confusing what is “bad” with with what is “unpopular.” Not the same thing. I may be called to do unpopular things in trying to be faithful, but that’s a long way from bad things.

        I do think that it is very important as a believer to consider how I represent my faith. I will grant you that acting “holier-than-thou” will always do more damage than a well placed profanity would ever do. I will also grant you that the use of a profanity makes me no less sanctified than anybody else. But should I Incorporate it into my standard repertoire? Nope. Because I couldn’t do it and say that it came from a purity of heart. And unless I can say that, I’m playing with fire.

  3. No offense but this has to be one of the most ignorant blogs I have ever read. Instead of admonishing Christians to seek the King of Kings so that signs, wonders and miracles can be done through His body on earth. We would rather discuss the juvenile idea of why it’s okay (in your opinion) for Christians to cuss? Your kidding me right? Did you get hacked? Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Your blog should come with a disclaimer. “Christian beware, false and corrupt communication lies within!” When I was in 5th grade kids cussed all around me but I had enough relationship with Jesus to know I would not hurt His heart by cursing! You are not the standard, God forbid. Neither am I. Part of Christianity is holiness. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Are you really admitting that filthy communication comes out of your heart? What else do you have stored in there? Is the King of Kings living in there with that garbage? I’m not trying to beat you up but any “Christian” that has the audacity to curse in their blog title without reservation should really take an inventory of their heart and honestly ask “Father are you pleased when I curse?” For your answer I would recommend turning to the Word, because I’m not really sure whose voice you are hearing.

    • “No offense but this has to be one of the most ignorant blogs I have ever read.”

      I don’t see how that phrase would not be at least a little offensive. I may not agree with what he said but he raises a valid argument and some food for thought on the issue. Just take it for what it is – a blog musing. A more careful and less defensive reading of what was actually said here might have resulted in a less scathing – and arguably both uncharitable and unchristian – response.

    • Erin, i believe that you have completely validated the point that Mr Byas was making with his blog post. In your sixteen line comment you have put more animosity than a thousand statements of “Fuck You” or ” You’re an Asshole.” It is not the words but the meaning that is imparted behind those words that show your true feelings. In your statements, your have accused Mr. Byas of being led astray of God, being a charlatan, and calling his heart full of garbage. I am astounded that you can be so hateful and shortsighted. He has re-evaluated his stance after decades of person growth and reflection on an issue that is near to his heart and is now sharing that revelation to everyone. That is the very heart of what it means to be a true follower of Christ.

    • You are correct about “out of abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. What I think you are wrong about is what this means. Saying curse words does not show what is in the heart. Saying judgmental things, speaking evil of others, and things of that sort is what the scripture is referring to. If I stub my toe and say “damn that hurts”, is that any different than you stubbing your toe and saying “dern that hurts”? They both come from the same place. If you are going to get mad and say ‘dang it to heck” you might as well go ahead and say “damn it to hell” because they both come from the same place; anger. There are so many rules that are man made that have been placed upon Christians today. How to wear your hair, how to dress, how to talk, etc., etc., etc. When I search the word the only thing required of me to please God is to believe in Him and show love to my fellow man. Anything outside of that is man made.

  4. I agree with Erin. It would be different if one of the prophets compared Israel to sluts who lusted after penises the size of donkeys or if an apostle called the good works of unbelieving people as valuable as menstrual rags, but obviously the biblical authors didn’t get caught up in that kind of language, and neither should we!!

  5. Fuck yeah, bitches!

    But seriously, good points.

    Another example of cultural norms elevated to the level of God’s law.

  6. Erin, you live in a little bubble world, grow up. This isn’t Puritan society anymore. As a former Christian (turned off to the whole religion by people like you) who used to know Jared well, I have 5x the respect for him and his faith than I do for people who close their eyes and ears and pretend like they are so much more pure and holy than the world they live in. You have sins, imperfections, desires just like I do and Jared does. If Jesus hung out with tax collectors and drunks do you think he went around talking like a snob? If they were anything like the scum of society today they wouldn’t have given him more than 10 seconds worth of time just like I ignore every street preacher after hearing 10 seconds of his “holier than thou” bullshit. I read Jared’s blog every once in a while because I’ve always been fascinated with how authentically he lives and still keeps his faith.

    Jared, its been a long time since we’ve seen each other but I am always happy to come to your blog an remember that theres people like you in the world.

  7. Jared, I appreciate the point you’re making here. I know many people use those words, or want to use them, as if they have no meaning and maybe they don’t so let’s not make a big deal out of it and focus on actual issues. At least for me, however, when the words “dang it!” come out of my mouth instead of “fuck!” I really do mean something totally different and I’m from this culture, too. There was a period in my life where I almost never cussed and comparing then to now, I do see a difference in my heart. Then I was slower to anger, less hateful, less anxious. more forgiving, more trusting, full of love. Their use didn’t bother me in general but I didn’t partake because I almost never felt that emphatically negative so I didn’t need them. That’s a personal reflection on faith and I’m certainly not trying to make a judgement about your heart – I haven’t even seen you in years and I don’t know your ministry now. My point is: I grant you there’s freedom to “swear like a sailor” and maybe it’s perfectly fitting and good. Then again, maybe it’s really not.

    • Lynne – I really appreciate such a personal response. But I think that you have made my point even more clearly (tell me if I’m wrong). It seems like, for you, those words are attached to something deeper. And it is the “something deeper” that is the problem. Is that right? It is the “now I’m not as slow to anger” “now I am more hateful and more anxious” that is bothersome? I suppose the question is: does saying “shit” necessarily point to a heart with less love than a heart that says “crap”? I do not at all doubt the truthfulness of what you say. And I think then for you it must be decided for what is best for your heart, your relationship to God, and your mission in the world.

      And so the most catching thing you said to me is this: “Maybe it’s perfectly fitting and good. Then again, maybe it’s really not.” I think it’s both.

  8. It would seem to follow from my comment above that I would also agree with ‘i am not at liberty to share that says’ that cultural norms ought not (without question!) be elevated to the level of God’s law. That doesn’t mean they’re meaningless. That means they’re human, not divine. Also that they’re norms not laws.

  9. so first, the good: i agree on a couple of the foundational ideas here.
    1) that the “naughty word” list is somewhat arbitrary (i.e. Carlin’s 7 dirty words,etc.);
    2) using obvious substitution words (dang it, crap) or acronyms (we all know what you meant when you typed WTF or OMG) doesn’t/shouldn’t make it ok;
    3) the heart and motivation behind the words, or the way in which they are said/typed can convey more sinful attitude than the lazily dropped f-bomb

    i think this should give us pause and make us consider whether we are glorifying Christ and/or building up the other person with our speech (Eph. 4:29).

    however, i’m not sure if the next step you took is warranted. when you ask the question, “what if my not cussing was keeping people from the faith?” i have a hard time answering any way but “no” here. is it possible that the use of one of the “bad words” could be the catalyst to someone you interact with turning their lives over to Jesus? perhaps, but not likely if you ask me.

    when you ask “What if being a “good witness” meant learning to use the language of my culture and using it appropriately?” it’s one thing to learn Cantonese to be able to preach the gospel, or more close to home, to know when someone is referencing an important philosopher/athlete/musician/internet meme. it’s another thing to adopt each nuance of that culture in the name of being emergent/relevant/missional/insert-current-buzz-word.

    you asked yourself, “What if I was creating unnecessary barriers for people to come to Jesus by creating the “ideal Christian” based on cultural baggage?” i don’t think that the lack of any particular word or category of words in your vocab will create baggage. Reacting harshly or judgmentally to THEIR use of those words could.

    in short (ha!), i agree that as believers we should focus more on using our words to build up, rather than tear down; and that this focus should be more on content not vocabulary. however, i have a hard time believing that my choice to not cuss is hindering anyone from the gospel. lastly, if you disagree with me on this, i’m pretty sure you’re wrong, but can we still be friends? 😉

    • Austin – Well, the only thing that seems wrong to me is about it not being likely for people to come to know Jesus because I use “bad words.” And I only say this because my writing this post actually comes out of several experiences where this was true. And people came to me and told me so.

      I think the difference (maybe?) is that I lived in the Philadelphia area for 7 years. The culture there is incredibly different than the South and different than in very rural areas. It seems that in the South people still have what I call a “Christian hangover,” that is, they still have a conservative Christian ethic even though they have rejected Christianity explicitly. That is, assuming that they have rejected Christianity at all, since the majority in the South are still self-professed Christians.

      I think that creates a very different environment than in Philly where I routinely ran into people who didn’t know a thing about the Bible but knew that Christians were a religious group who hated gays, tried to make everyone “pure,” and thought they were better than everyone. And where saying “shit” was everyday lingo. Almost everyone I knew cussed, on a regular basis.

      I don’t know, that’s just my first thought.

      And as long as we both agree that you are right and I am wrong, then sure, we can still be friends.

      • well now, there ya go pointing out my biases (no relation) and blindness to my own setting! actually, i considered this idea (that some of this conversation is geographical as well as theological), but forgot about it as i was writing. ok fine! i admit i was also engaged in a conversation by text, another on facebook, and at least one google search while i was writing!

        i do wonder sometimes about this dynamic and how it influences everything from language taboos to church planting philosophies. i’ve heard of some strange practices (by my standards) engaged in by guys i previously thought were solid. then i have to step back and say, “ok, but what if i was a youth pastor in Seattle, WA instead of Johnsonville, NC?”

        so, perhaps i’ll amend my previous post by saying instead “that don’t fly around here boy!”

        in conclusion, i reserve the right to use “Christian hangover” in all future conversations that warrant it, with a footnote giving you credit if i ever put it in print.

      • Can I just say that your openness is so incredibly refreshing. I love that you are willing to be challenged by different thoughts and I hope I have the same openness to your corrections when I go too far (it’s definitely a “when,” and not an “if”). And yes, you can use “Christian hangover.” I’ll collect my royalty check sometime next decade.

  10. (I don’t know how to add a comment beneath your reply to mine, but this is intended to reply to your reply to me reply–get it?)

    Yeah. I agree. We shouldn’t be so afraid of letting our culture form us. It’s a fact of our existence and we should act accordingly. I misunderstood your main point, but it turns out we agree.

    Maybe I should add, too, for full disclosure, I have always been one to cuss. So when I say play by the rules, I don’t mean don’t cuss. I mean, rather, all the words are a game, use the words for what they mean–which probably does mean saying shit when the emotion demands (or maybe just for the hell of it).

    As for letting our culture influence us, I think there’s an impossibly delicate balance to be had, here. We exist in and are formed by our culture, to be sure; but we need to be careful not to take this too seriously. Or maybe better said, we need to be careful not to let this be too serious. That is to say, we need to be careful to preserve the tradition as it has been, because the tradition has a value and an importance in itself–not to mention that it is through the tradition that we know the truth of the Incarnation (I think so, at least; I place little stock in religious experience, but that’s another issue). So we need to somehow be culturally relevant and faithful to the tradition. Oh my! I actually remember, writing this, a sermon you gave once on this exact point, finding that balance of cultural relevance. Interesting. Well, on that note I’m going to scrap where I was headed and say simply that I tend to think we need more tradition than you seem to think. But that is irrelevant to this blog posting and would make for an interesting argument. We should do that sometime.

  11. I think this is a silly topic to spend so much energy on. The truth is, in this culture, and others, a “sailors mouth” will probably close more doors than it will open. I find it really hard to see the good that comes from it. At the very least, a majority of the time, it is only senseless talk. At the very most it offends and allows people to cast a judgement (false or not) on the speaker of it.

    Everything is permissible” –but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” –but not everything is constructive.

    I don’t think I should be saying things that are not apparently good, allowing others to cast judgement, and then blaming them for judging me when I know that the behavior of cussing is one that provokes judgement. I am then the one to blame, if I understand that but continue to be callous to it.

    Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

    But what if you do know what you are doing?

    I firmly believe that if I spoke to my clientele with a “sailor’s mouth” I would lose many. That is their American right to hire or fire who they want for reasons they find valid.

    • Hey Mike! I agree that it is a silly topic. And why do people keep bringing up “sailor’s mouth”? That was part of my joke about 5th graders cussing when I was a kid. I never advocated it nor is it relevant to my point. I think my cultural references, while funny and interesting to me, keep getting people off track. Oh well, I guess people are free to make their own point. I don’t own my words once I write them.

      The point that I think most people have missed about this post is the irony of Christian culture that says “crap” is okay but “shit” isn’t. So when you say “at the very least, it is only senseless talk,” that applies to a vast majority of our speech, not just four-letter words.

      I also think that most people who say, as you have Mike (and Austin so eloquently put it below), “that don’t fly around here boy!”, just helps make my point even better. It is relative. It takes wisdom to know when certain ways of speaking are appropriate for certain audiences, certain geographies, certain points, certain emotions, etc. I am not at all advocating “sailor mouth” linguistics. I am advocating using speech that will dosomething. And sometimes “shit” does things in my relationship with others that could not as easily be accomplished otherwise.

      And unless someone can give me a good biblical or ethical reason why saying “shit” IN ITSELF is wrong or sinful, then it becomes a matter of utility. What speech will be the most effective in accomplishing my purpose for it? And sometimes that speech is “shit,” and sometimes it is “crap,” and oftentimes it is simply silence.

      And my overall umbrella point is that my mission as a follower of Jesus determines the “rules” I follow. I don’t follow rules arbitrarily, but only those that will shape me into the type of person who can be faithful to the calling I have in Jesus Christ. This means that people are most important to me, not rules. It is relationships I am after, not guarding myself against cultural taboos. I know that’s not how it is for everyone. I know that others have a different calling. And I know that the body of Christ needs us all.

      That’s why this is MY story, not a tract for why everyone has to say shit to be a “good” Christian.

      By the way, we should talk sometime soon. I would love to hear how things are going up your way. Give me a call sometime soon!

      • Hey, my post was for all who live in this culture. Not just Christians. Jared, you are right. There are many senseless words used when people speak. ie) always, never when the true meaning is not really meant …. and what I can’t stand is hearing kids talking loudly using f— this/that in every third sentence while walking down the boardwalk directly behind my family, in the Summer. Senseless, nothing but. Using it that much takes all the meaning from what was a very powerful word while I was growing up. It’s like crying wolf.

  12. Without doing a study on it, it seems that Christians(or maybe humans in general)need someone to tell them how to act. That gives them some sort of acceptance; “the pastor said not to cuss and I didn’t so I am doing good”. Most Christians seem to believe that they need someone to tell them what God wants them to hear. Christians need to grow up and take responsibility for themselves.

    • I agree completely. Derek Webb hints at this in his song “New Law” and I wrote about it a few years ago at – It really is one of the best things that existentialism did for our culture. It helped us to see just how terrified we are of being responsible for our own existence and all the decisions that make up “who we really are.” Fortunately, there is a movement in biblical theology to reposition the Christian story as one of “improvising” using the “script” of the Bible. I like this move.

      • I am glad that I found your blog. A friend posted a link to it on my facebook page. It is hard to find Christians who willing and capable to stand on their own in Christ. My father and I have been criticized and actually kicked out of churches for believing the way we do. I love God with all of my being but I think that churches have perverted the true message of Christ. If Christians only knew and could accept who they really are in Christ they would be amazed. Churches do not want to preach it from the pulpit because the message does not lend itself to large congregations. Keep up the good work.

  13. Interesting thoughts Jared. And good to meet you online (we were in Edgar’s Globalization class). I think part of the ‘problem’, if i can call it that is not merely about what is in our hearts and what is on shown culturally outside. I think an important aspect of this discussion is linguistical (is that a word?). That is, the difference between ‘what is intended’ and ‘what is understood’, and the difficulty sometimes to bridge that gap (culturally or not) is why a lot of Christians may side to not curse at all. I think this is a respectable line as long as they know they are not holier because of this rule. And I understand the evangelistic force of cursing contextually, but if like what you say, being a better friend is what Christianity is about, cursing only become ok because as a close friend, we understand what is understood by the other. I don’t think we can say that with all others we meet, that they would understand those 4-letter words in the same way.

    Another thing that changes things, I believe, is education. Part of how a word gains meaning is repetition. And 4 letter words have gained much repetition with the meaning of anger that I do think youngsters, learn anger quicker (whether they learn to manifest anger or to transform it to fear is another discussion) than use of other words. Of course, if you yell at the kid repetitively using various words, it may result in the same harm to them. But this I think sheds light on our responsibility to educate and nurture.

    My personal thing against cursing is (and this is a selfish reason), I just think there are more creative and colorful words in the English language to convey your sentiments than to just say “f-you” 14 times. It demeans the language, I don’t like it.

    It’s interesting in the Korean language, “sekki” is a curse word of sorts that means “b*tch” (if you say “gae-sekki” it literally means son of a dog). If a random guy came up to you and said “sekki” then you should get mad, but if a friend comes up to you and says it, it could mean that he’s mad at you or it could mean “ah my friend.” But if your grandma or ma says “sekki” (especially with a possessive preposition) then it becomes a term of extreme endearment, not just endearment, extreme endearment. So ultimately, I think the most valuable part of your post, is not the part of what you say to that other person but who you are or who you are willing to be to them. Do we have the willingness to befriend the way Jesus did? Do us Christians want to befriend the tax-collectors and prostitutes of our time? Isn’t that the real question?

    • This is an incredibly important nuance to my intentions Paul. I think you have said some very wise things here. This whole conversation is relative. Relative to the relationships that make language meaningful.

    • I really like this response. I believe that if the truth be told, we should befriend the tax collectors and the prostitutes of our time a lot quicker than those with the same beliefs as us. Jesus said himself that he was sent to save the wicked not the holy (paraphrased). A friend of mine would not go fishing with workmate because he knew that there would be beer involved. My friend’s reasoning was that he was scared that someone from his church would see him with someone drinking beer and think that he was backsliding. I told him that his church should be glad that he was reaching out to someone they felt was a non-believer (I personally don’t think a beer keeps you out of heaven) instead. He then got mad and didn’t speak to me for a while because I contradicted his church. This is the mentality that drives me crazy about “religion”.

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  16. I’ve personally been where your at, asked the same questions, and used similar arguments. I’m not interested in appearances or labels… but one thing I’ve found out is that while all things may be permissible, not all things are profitable. It may seem completely trivial and a non-issue, and that’s almost completely true. However, when you find yourself cussing constantly just because you “have the freedom to” you have misapplied your freedom. Not advocating for replacement words either. Just learn to control yourself, and it won’t be necessary. It just seems to snowball to the “norm” in your everyday language and just sounds ignorant, uneducated, and pathetic. Just a thought.

    • I don’t cuss constantly. And as a professor of philosophy, I have a decently large vocabulary. I can control myself. I am beginning to think maybe you’ve missed the point of this post. As a communications adviser, writer, & professor of philosophy, I always choose my words intentionally. And when I say “shit” in front of a classroom full of 19 year old’s, it’s not because I can’t control myself, it’s because when I do, the release in the room is almost audible. It’s about creating a space where people can be themselves and feel safe.

      So, I value your thoughts and am glad you shared them, but I am not sure you have understood my underlining point. And thank you for the warning about letting things “snowball” into the ignorant, uneducated, & pathetic. I will watch out for it, but I’m not sure my analytic brain will allow for such a snowball.

      • I think I understood your point quite well. I’m not even arguing with your point… more just the application.. I was simply saying that I’ve seen this before, and the result is rarely what you expect it to be further down the road. Do you honestly, believe though, that becoming more like the people you are trying to reach will help you reach them? I’m glad you analytic mind will prevent any sort of imbalance here, but at the end of the day, I know this: Jesus was able to be around people from every type of personality and background from prostitutes to the demon possessed, without having to adopt a similar lifestyle/habits to reach out to them.

      • I do honestly believe that. I think, though I could be wrong, Paul meant something similar when he said, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.”

        And your Jesus analogy is begging the question. Your analogy already assumes that saying shit is sinful, which is the point we are in question about.

        A more accurate analogy might be something like: Do I abuse my wife and commit adultery because the people I hang out with at the bar do? Nope. So, was Jesus a prostitute because he hung out with prostitutes? No.

        And in that way, I am not sure your point holds up. But maybe you can clarify.

  17. I used to be like you in elementary or high school. However, I changed my way of speaking not because I thought my salvation or my relationship with God was in the line, but because I understand the power of the “tongue”. I don’t feel offended, I hang out with gluttons, drunkards, prostitutes, beggars… you name it, but I don’t have to be like them in order for them to identify with me, and then receive Christ. I speak blessings, and not damnation.

    • I understand the power of the tongue as well. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t cuss for the sake of “feeling cool.” I am an adviser and professor of philosophy, so everything I do is intentional. And dropping a few “shits” and “damn’s” in my classroom almost always allows my students to feel like my classroom is a safe space where they can be themselves. It is not for damnation, but also blessings, to give them freedom to be themselves. Does that make sense?

  18. Does the mere fact that someone doesn’t use profanity, drink, etc make someone “holier than thou?” Wouldn’t that be defiend by how you treat people not by how you choose to live?
    I don’t drink or cuss but I never cared about “religious reasons” to avoid either of them. I don’t like the taste of any alcoholic beverage I’ve ever had. I don’t say profanity for most of the same reasons I don’t use other slang like “epic fail” or “for the win.” Those just aren’t the type of things I want to say, they are not who I am. I don’t mean that in a religious or “in Christ” way. I mean that in a “me” way. Likely similar to the reasons why you don’t go around saying “groovy” or “daddio.” People can have preferences about their vocabulary without having to be being holier than thou, evil, or stupid.

    You should be able to subtract almost any 7 words from your vocabulary & still communicate the love of Jesus to people. If not then you don’t know His love very well yourself.
    Could profanity help in witnessing? Sure.
    Should you be able to be relateable to anyone without having to use 7 particular words (in your case profanity)? I don’t see why not. There are many ways to be grace-filled, non-religious, open, & vulnerable.

    So in my mind both the ideas of “I need not to cuss to reach the lost” & “I need to cuss to reach the lost” sorta shortcircut the heart. The Spirit will lead you in the particulars & guide you if situations are unique. I think the bottom line is God wants you to be who you really are, to be true to yourself rather than who you think you should be. A holier than thou phoney is a lot like a “I’m doing this just to save you” phoney. So if the Spirit isn’t guiding you to change (like you seemed to say He did in your post) if you force yourself to curse or force yourself not to curse you aren’t doing anyone any favors.

    I wouldn’t throw away who I am for evangelism or pretend that I am different than I am. God may have not made me the ideal person to reach kids in Phily but I know His love & am able to follow the Spirit well enough to reach any one if I have to without putting on a front. We all live in unique spheres & our uniqueness in those spheres is what allows us to love others.

    • We are agreed. Well put! It is about the heart and being your authentic self, submitting to the Spirit to be the best representation of Christ you can be in your community.

  19. I remember having a conversation with a girl friend who had just found out that her pastor husband had been having a long term affair with a member of his congregation. She told me she had discovered she could use a lot of “dirty launguage”. They are now happily married about 8 years down the track.
    The more I learn about the completeness of Gods grace I find he wants authentic friendship with us not just the bits we think his ears can handle and in my experience the un-churched want the same.
    I swear, my husband doesn’t. Neither of us feels condemned or more holy.

  20. What do say about “Let no unwholesome communicatioh come out of your mouth, only which is beneficial for those that hear, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
    Ive thought about what u say too. Ive wondered often about it. And its mostly my cultural idea that certain words are bad. I havent gotten to the place where I make it a
    habit. To me most of the 4 letter words come from anger and bitterness, but I can be pretty
    Bitter and angry without words….

    • Exactly. My point is that we cannot assume we can create rules around certain words and capture the spirit of Paul’s admonition here in Eph 4:29. Sometimes creating a safe space for people using words they use does give grace to those who hear. As you say, I think 4 letter words are irrelevant to the point Paul is making.

  21. First off just passing by…..not meaning a drive by but…first this:

    Secondly using the Lord’s name in vain and using “English Language Profanity” is another. For example I find it amusing that the same brothers and sisters in Christ get offended by someones profanity all the while having a lengthy catalog of “R-Rated” movies! Me personally I think it is more about communication as opposed to the words. Most “cuss” words today were not years ago and vice versa. My approach is they are adjectives of communication to be used to convey a communications. But, if you talk about Justin Beiber, or Twinkies so much that that is the thing that defines you when people see you, well then maybe people should be more succinct in their communication as to not give false impression to people who may not know that person personally. Another angle on this the Lord showed me was war. If all these “righteous” people think that our troops are in the trenches and being shot at all the while talking and looking like Joel Osteen, they are sadly mistaken!!!

    Consequently, I can’t help but be reminded of co-workers who have corrected and simultaneously made fun of common spoken language grammatics. Which in my mind have no subsequent determination concerning salvation, EVER!

    In closing, I feel that overall, this type of adjective communication should only be expressed to associates with a personal connection to said speaker in PRIVATE. Not in general general public settings! 1 Corinthians 8:13 If Paul can write letters to churches that were having incestuous relations, than the modern “church” should be able to handle some “profanity”. Not that it should be allowed in teachings, but that language birthed from the heart is communicated in a HOLY manner to the UN-enlightened!!!

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