To Convey A Visceral Gospel, We Must Sometimes Use Visceral Language
When my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and began the long, hopeless process of forgetting who her own children were, I cried out using words that came from deep within my bones.
Later that year, I first met with the governing body that would determine whether I would be accepted into the process of becoming an ordained pastor in the Lutheran church. They asked me how (and where) I saw God, and I thought (though did not say) words that came from deep within my heart.
As I continue to lament the utter brokenness of this world and our place within it, I am often overwhelmed with words that come from deep within my understanding of how our God became flesh in this same ripped-apart reality we call home.
Sometimes, though, I do respond, I do scream, out loud, with those words: fuck this shit.
I don’t use these words to be hip or cool; I don’t say them for a shallow sort of “shock factor”; that’s just, well, the way I talk. I pepper my speech with what we have identified as curse words in the English language — and I do this a fair amount.
I don’t do it all of the time, of course. I don’t invite congregations into a time of prayer as a guest preacher on Sunday mornings with a rousing what the fuck, God? I don’t go on a profanity-laden rant during the children’s sermon.
Here’s the deal: God’s people have (and continue to) express themselves in language that often has no place in polite society.
From Job to Isaiah to Paul’s letters to basically the entire book of Amos, God’s people have used (what some deem as) offensive language to convey raw feelings — it’s what we do as human beings. It’s who we are as people of God, struggling in this intense thing we call life.
I had been wrestling and struggling with the police shootings of unarmed black men in Tulsa and Charlotte recently — and after substantial prayer and discernment with a fellow ELCA rabble-rouser and colleague, Tuhina Rasche, we decided to create a different kind of devotional for the ancient Christian season of Advent.
We’re attempting to tap into the real pain and anguish named by the biblical prophets in their cry for justice — a central theme in Advent, a traditional liturgical time focused on a visceral yearning for the Christ child to come again into our messy and messed-up lives.
My partner in crime, Tuhina, recently presented a compelling theological argument for why we are doing this. And beyond theology, I believe there to be an important contextual reason for using these particular words, as well.
Ever since the advent of the printing press opened up an avenue for God’s Word to travel to places (and be read by peoples) widely considered “unfit,” the Gospel of Jesus the Christ has consistently pushed the boundaries of what was considered “profane” in order to name a radical truth: that God unapologetically takes residence alongside us in the shit of this world.
I take seriously the call to translate the Good News of Jesus to every time and place — just as the printing press did, and today’s social media does.
Because much of what we do in the church isn’t for everyone, #FuckThisShit is not meant to force its way into places where it might offend — we know that nearly all aspects of ministry reach some parts of our Christian communities, while not connecting at all with others. It’s the messy nature of our life together.
Just as Advent calendars do not reach everyone with the important message of the season, this devotional will connect with some but not with others. This does not make it any less legitimate to the modern-day Jesus Movement.
I am convinced that to reach people with the radical love of God, we need to employ somewhat radical methods. This devotional aims to stay true to the life-giving Holy Spirit by recognizing the presence of God in the death-dealing realities in which we live, breathe, and have our being.
Just as the central character in the 2004 film Saved! reacted to the news that she was pregnant as an unwed teenager (sound familiar?) — even though she had played by all the rules in her evangelical Christian upbringing, and said all the right words, and prayed all the right prayers — we also cry out to God in a way that breaks the rules, confident that the Divine weeps beside us in both the profane and the holy.
What this young woman needed to know was that there is space for sorrow, for real and raw emotions, in the Jesus Movement. She needed to be able to trust that her cry would be heard and not shunned.
May we also trust the Author of Life to be big enough and wide enough to hold all of us, not just the nice, pretty, polite aspects.