Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I Swear . . . !

You can interpret that how you want to. You'll probably be right.

On Sunday night our young adults' Bible study was looking at Ephesians 5.3-7. Given that it was verses three through seven, the passage logically included verse four, which says:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

We talked about this for most of the night, and I kept thinking about it beyond that, and it reminded me that I had wanted to write this post sometime last year. It is a little dismaying that I can still say pretty much exactly the same thing now that I was going to then.

There are a lot things one could ponder in connexion with this verse, but the thing I'm pondering has to do with my confession at the top of this post which is that I swear. I would here like to blame my friends at Starbucks and even more the ones from the law office where I worked part-time for nine months a few years back . . . but that wouldn't be fair or even accurate. It is accurate to say that I did not utter the vocabulary usually classified as "swear-words" until after my law-office adventures. Nevertheless, no one has ever shoved sharp objects under my fingernails, or even so much as laughed at me, for not saying them before. And suddenly I say them.

This afternoon, for example. I made a really stupid mistake with my cash register at the end of the day, and the timing for it couldn't have been worse, because I had just been given a "verbal" corrective action this very afternoon for a less stupid and smaller mistake a few weeks ago. My reaction to this was repetitive utterance of a mild obscenity relating to bodily functions. It didn't fix the mistake. It didn't even make me feel better. And I'm pretty sure it didn't make me look cooler, either.

Because here's my theory about cursing: it doesn't fix anything and it doesn't make you look cooler. (By "you" I mean me. Or anybody.) It might possibly make you feel better until you get in the habit of doing it. Which is what usually happens. Because here is my real theory about cursing: it's word-cancer.

You're sitting in your office, dutifully typing up title reports (which are only occasionally made less onerous by an unusual name or an alteration in the title because one of the owners of the property has had a sex- (and therefore a name-) change), but you can't help hearing your colleague turning the air blue on the phone in the cubicle next to yours. Then you accidentally give yourself a paper-cut and you think one of the unmentionable words she just said. Really. You just think it. You would never say anything like that. The problem is, if you start to think like this, eventually you're going to slip and say it. (Jesus wasn't kidding when He said that out of the heart the mouth speaks.) And then you're going to say it more.

Or maybe you have decided that even though you're a Christian, you don't want to be all repressed and traditionalistic, and plus, they're just words. Who made them worse than any others? So one of your coffee-shop cronies starts talking to you about the pain in his life and wants to bring home to you how little use God has been to him, and he swears and looks at you to see if you're offended or shocked. And you're not, but you want to show him just how unoffended and unshocked you are, so you look him straight in the eye and, because you're an active listener, you restate what he's said but leave the obscenity intact.

Well. Those are my reasons, anyway. But I think they're kind of dumb. And the problem is, that now that I've started swearing, I do it quite often. The more I use those words, the more they seem to eat up the words I used to use, which were maybe less easy and automatic, but more expressive and interesting and creative ways of exclaiming over pain and frustration and bad luck. They're cancerous in this way. I don't remember, a lot of the time, what I used to say before.

And here's my final observation. I haven't honed my opinions about how obscenities and profanities make people look who don't profess a relationship with Christ, although I think the look is at least "smudged," because it is word-cancer after all, and they're just using easy words when they could use other ones. But I'm good and certain that for someone like me, who does profess a relationship with Christ (though I never did claim it was all it should be), it just makes me look silly. Okay, I mean stupid. If I'm trying to shock the people I go to church with, it only sometimes works. And if I'm trying to be edgy and have a voice with people who wouldn't camp with the Evangelicals, it really doesn't work at all. I can tell you right now that if my Starbucks friends are ever impressed with me for anything, it absolutely isn't because I can utter a few words on the mild end of the swearometer. And I'm about 99% sure that if I turned it up a notch, the impressometer would drop, if anything.

I want to tell you that I promise henceforth never to swear--but that would be a kind of swearing, too, and I would probably break my promise, which would only make matters worse. But I am going to work on it. You can even remind me if you want to, although don't expect an immediately positive response. But really. I just want to get my words back.


Stacey said...

So funny. I have been discussing this very topic with my car pool friend - have you been listening into our conversations? I feel exactly the same as you on the topic.

And it is possible to curb the habit - I used to use even some of those higher end swearometer (nice word by the way) until I realized one day that I just sounded ugly. I stopped fairly quickly and only slip occasionally.

Fight the good fight for creative use of language :)

Jenn said...

Umm . . . not that I know of. But maybe linking blogs gives people a kind of stealth-ESP that even those who possess it don't know about.

(Ooh. That would be a cool story. Maybe.)

L.L. Barkat said...

reminds me of Sermon on the Mount (that I'm currently studying)... "do not swear... let your yes be yes and your no be no... anything more is from the Evil One."

I do think swearing is kind of a learned behavior. And it can be unlearned (I unlearned it after living many years in a destructive, degenerate family... with much prayer to be different... though, oddly, the swearing was all in my head, not out loud)

Change comes with substitution too... so, how 'bout some positive words... "sugar," "oy," "yikes"... stuff like that (wouldn't it be fun to come up with a silly list?)

Thanks for such honesty... good to hear.

Jenn said...

Thanks for the encouragement to press on in this resolve, LL. Just before I started actually swearing I would, on occasion, blurt out, "Oh--EXpletive!" This was pretty good at defusing whatever tension I (not to mention the people around me) was feeling, because it was funny. But, like most jokes, it stops being funny after a while.

By the way, I wanted to say I LOVED your Sermon on the Mount artwork in your recent post. I haven't sat down to think how I would illustrate it, but that was definitely great.

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