Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I Cuss

WARNING: Explicit content lies below!

Spoiler Alert: In my forthcoming book you will find some words that you cannot hear on broadcast television per FCC guidelines. Call me crazy, but I am anticipating that this will not sit well with some people. In the American Christian subculture, of which I am a part, cussing is a hot button issue. John Piper, a very well known pastor from Minnesota, once remarked at a conference that, “God kicks our ass.” The powers that be cried out for blood, and he was made to apologize.

I agonized over whether or not to include the swear words that I did in my book. They flowed onto the page naturally enough during the writing process, but I had to discuss with Jessica whether or not they would make the final cut. I still don’t feel one hundred percent great about them, but I decided I would like myself even less if I took them out. I started out this life as a boy who stressed about becoming a movie star because I would one day be handed a script that contained swearing. I knew that at that time I would have to inform them that I didn’t do that sort of thing, that they would need to rewrite it if they wanted me in their movie. Though that sounds confident, I was actually very nervous for the confrontation. So how did I go from that level of purity to a person willing to immortalize four letter words in his own memoir? I’ll try to show you. If you have a strong opinion on the subject then I don’t expect to change your mind, but the words need saying, so you might as well listen.

I am someone who cusses. I grew up with a dad who did it entirely too much, and a mother who did it not at all. I hardly ever do it in public, at work or with anyone that I don’t know very well (which is also a good start for advice on sex). I think of this as me being respectful, and I think it is, to some extent, but it’s also very fear based. I have a major complex about swearing. Alarms go off in my brain anytime I hear someone I like or respect swear. Whether my mom meant to or not, ever since I can remember I was left with the impression that you could not be a good, respectable person and also swear, and you most certainly couldn’t be a Christian. I have consciously shucked this belief, but the residue of the axiom burns bright, and I don’t think it will ever go away.

Like I said, I am someone who swears. If I were to filter that out in my most personal description of my life, that I'm publishing for all eyes to see, I feel like I would be hiding something. I feel like I'd be allowing a veneer of acceptability to cover all the bits I'm worried someone would find distasteful. I don't like living my life that way. I still play the game, I always will, but I try to rebel against it as often as I can without being deported. That's it--that's why I'm leaving it in the book.

"But Jason, isn't swearing wrong?"

I have three answers to that question: Yes. No. Maybe.

Yes: Swearing is best used sparingly. The point of cussing is that it has power--the more you use it, the more you drain it of its effectiveness. For many people it becomes a stand in for articulation and actually expressing yourself. Overuse draws a straight line to meaninglessness. Very often swearing is the wrong thing to do.

No: Sometimes it is needed. Sometimes there is not a better word in the English language for a particular turn of phrase than a swear word. One of my favorite quotes is Hemingway's, "The first draft of anything is shit." I defy anyone to better express that sentiment without the cuss. Swear words are culturally appointed, not fixed things that will never change. They're man made, not handed down from Sinai.

Maybe: But the Christians will go straight to the Bible. Fine, we'll go there. There is no verse that says "no swearing." But there is a verse that says do not be coarse. I simply believe that you can swear without being coarse. Often times swearing is very coarse, of course. But here's the other thing I always point out: You can be extremely coarse without ever employing a swear. And that is why the Bible is actually weakened when we only file the very narrow category of "swearing" under the don't be coarse directive. I say this is a "maybe" because I know my argument is by no means watertight, but it's where I land on the issue.

Closing Thoughts:

The problem with a lot of Christian writing, if I can be so bold as to make a sweeping generalization, is that it’s tame and predictable. You know the answer will always be Jesus. An air of holiness wafts from the pages as you turn them. Now you have to be careful because sometimes this is genuine and I don’t begrudge anyone speaking in their actual voice. But often it isn't. People feel they need to say that Jesus has washed them white as snow, and the proof is a squeaky clean life.

That's bullshit.

Jesus has taken care of your sin problem in a spiritual sense with God, but we're all still very broken, needy and sinful down here on earth. I do believe God wants to save you from that as well, but it is a very slow, back and forth and never ending process.

Jesus didn’t come to make us nice. Jesus didn’t come so that we might be prim and proper and to make sure we have our shit in a row, our cheese on our cracker, and always observing a two drink limit. He came to redeem you, to make you new, not dust you off and do a makeover. It is because Jesus came that we can be honest about how messed up we are, how messed up this world is--indeed that's his only requirement, to admit the plain truth that you're jacked, and therefore you need him.

Whoa, got a little evangelical there, I apologize, but hopefully it helped to serve my point. I know this has been tough, but hopefully you and I are still friends. Feel free to comment, email or call if you're worried for me, if I'm completely off and need to be set straight. I'll buy you a coffee or a beer (which one depends on how much I like you), and we can talk about it.


Anonymous said...

'coarse' is spelled shitty.

JD said...

Dammit! I even thought about it too and figured I was ok b/c i wasn't saying "corse." Thanks for the save...

Anonymous said...

'fuckin A'

Anonymous said...

btw, that phrase slays me. so i googled its derivation: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2077/whats-the-origin-of-fuckin-a good times.

Jenée Elizabeth said...

If someone could convince a nun that swearing isn't wrong, it'd be you JD.

NickRFultz said...

Here here