This week will wrap up the topic of language for a while. I need to move on because my friend SteveG has extended my window for relevancy by just a few weeks. He has been disappointed that I chose to discuss language as a starting point from my little cyber cubicle at WORLDmag.com:
. . . is this what "following Christ in the real world" is about, Dave? Not using naughty words? That's it?
This is why too many people see Christians as joyless Mrs.Grundys rather than a force for real change in the world. Welcome to irrelevancy.
I appreciate Steve's honesty. I appreciate his passion. I did not appreciate being declared irrelevant after three columns (that whole pride thing that still, oddly enough, rears up on occasion). Steve graciously acknowledged that he might have jumped to that conclusion a bit too quickly. I believe he has plenty of time to declare me irrelevant.
For those who don't know the Mrs. Grundy reference, it comes from a character in Thomas Morton's play Speed the Plough (1798). She was considered by English-language authors to be the personification of a priggish or conventional character. Ouch, man! I had to chuckle when I read his comment that hinted that I might be a joyless legalist. Noted commentator and film star Tweety Bird of Warner Brothers fame might have the appropriate quote here:
"He don't know me vewy well, do he?"
I might also suggest that readers kicking the tires of this cyber vehicle might want to check out a few of my articles at my personal blog, Confessions of a Bad Christian. You will get a real feel for my heart and style.
Steve made some great points in another part of his critique:
With all due respect, what about taking up one's cross? What about caring for widows and orphans? What about learning how to judge not, or truly love one's neighbor? What about self-giving love without respect for a person's station in life?
I believe we will get to all of those things. We just happened to start on the language issue. And let's put a wrap on that this week. One of my biggest struggles working in a secular environment is co-workers who use Jesus and God as expletives. I realize it is just a habit for many people and they have no intent to offend. Others rather enjoy making the Christians uncomfortable.
For some reason many have the habit of using the name of Jesus when they are angry or something goes wrong. When I hear that I almost always respond like this:
(Something bad happens)
Them: Jesus Christ!
Me: Not His fault.
I have had surprisingly good results with that simple little comment delivered with gentleness and a smile.
I worked with a Jewish producer who shouted Jesus Christ after everything that went awry. I took some time to build a relationship and friendship with him. One day I smiled at him and said this:
Me: Hey, why don't you lighten up on my guy a little bit?
Him: What do you mean?
Me: Jesus. You blame Him for everything. Why don't you drop some Old Testament names when something goes wrong?
He laughed and the show went on. The wheels flew off at some point and I heard this:
"Jeez . . . (pause) . . . Moses!"
Everybody in the production truck laughed. But the point had been gently made that the name of Jesus mattered to me.
That is my challenge---to be clear that I am a follower of Jesus and that impacts my actions. But to also be clear that I was a sinner saved by grace and not by my "right behavior." And that my "right behaviors" don't make me righteous now. That righteousness is also a gift of grace imputed to me because of Christ alone. That is why I think little things like language matter in the big issue of grace. We can demonstrate grace while living out the truth of the gospel or we can reinforce the negative view that so many people have of Christians as "Mrs. Grundys."
I think Jesus (surprise) sets the example for how to balance our lives. Jesus was an oft-invited guest at weddings and banquets to the point where those appearances drew the ire of the Pharisees. Think about it. If Jesus was a holier than thou, uptight religious, oxygen mask drop out of the ceiling sourpuss would anyone want Him at their wedding party? A deadly serious, stuffy theologian type would likely not be an "A" list party invitee either. Jesus must have been able to laugh and enjoy the common fellowship of others, and He was obviously welcome and desired at the festivities. Let's assume that not everything and everyone there was "righteous." Luke was at Levi's dinner party that included some unsavory people and he reported what happened:
Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. "What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and 'sinners'?" Jesus heard about it and spoke up, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders---an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out." They asked him, "John's disciples are well-known for keeping fasts and saying prayers. Also the Pharisees. But you seem to spend most of your time at parties. Why?" Jesus said, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but this isn't the time. As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time. (Luke 5:29-34, The Message)
I am not trying to be flippant (this time), but clearly Jesus knew how to party in the good sense of the word. He knew how to interact warmly with others and connect with those around Him. And He knew where to find those who needed the touch of forgiveness the most.
For my fellow followers of Jesus I suggest the following. Set a higher standard but don't be self-righteous about it. Never be surprised when sinners (even those sinners who know Jesus) sin. Gently let others know that using God's name as an expletive hurts your heart. And pray for the heart of those who offend you with bad language. That is the source of the problem, not the words themselves. Concentrate instead on the "g" word:
And love them like Jesus.