Saturday, July 21, 2018

On the necessity of swearing

(This post contains swearing)

I was sitting on the steps of the Senedd the other day, eating a crepe I had just bought from a stall at the Cardiff Food Festival.

"Oh, watch out," said the person I was with, someone I had met that day at a group event.

I looked up and realised they were indicating to a seagull hovering about. Cardiff seagulls are pretty cheeky creatures, and it wouldn't be impossible for one to swoop down and steal food from your hand.

"Fuck off," I grumbled vaguely at the seagull, while I guarded my crepe a little closer to my body.

"Did you just say what I think you just said?" asked the other person incredulously.

"Well, yeah," I said.

"A minister that swears?" they exclaimed, having found out I was a minister a few hours earlier when they met me.

"Well, yeah," I said, smiling.

I've been thinking about why that should be so shocking. I suppose people expect ministers, and by extension all religious people to be "well behaved" to be "nice" and "polite." Often religious people think the same thing too.

While there's nothing wrong with being polite, I tend to think this idea of always being "on your best behaviour" is really an exercise in reining in your humanity, being desperately cautious about being your true self, and constantly walking on eggshells. It is also, I suggest, one of the things that puts people off religion. People think, "they wouldn't want me in church, I swear, I go to the pub and drink, I have sex, I'm not well-behaved enough to go to church." They think it would be exhausting to be constantly reining in your humanity to be "nice" - and they're right - it is.

But the thing is - being religious is pretty much the exact opposite of this. It is about being fully alive, fully awake, fully free, fully human. It is about love and compassion and justice, but it's not about being nice. Often pursuing love and justice involves the opposite of being nice - it involves being an offensive nonconformist. And religious growth is really all about dropping the masks we wear, and becoming increasingly comfortable in your own skin, and well acquainted with all parts of yourself, including parts that are a bit grumpy, a bit stupid, a bit rough around the edges. Religious growth is about self-honesty and self-compassion. We know the truths about ourselves and we are compassionate towards those truths, because that's how God sees us too. And we're on the path towards becoming more and more human.

But this is often not the attitude both inside and outside the church. Instead we have this cultural divide - inside the church we are "nice" and don't swear - outside the church we are human and we do, sometimes, swear. The culture of "niceness" and being well-behaved is just that - culture - it has nothing to do with the good news, nothing to do with the kindom of God, nothing to do with Jesus.

Which is why I've started to think that the best missional thing I can do in my work is swear. Swear loudly and often. I think this is the easiest, most immediate way to demonstrate that you don't have to be perfect and nice to be religious, and you can join a church while still being yourself. That the church does actually want you in your full humanity. That the glory of God is human being fully alive.

So - here's to a ministry of swearing all the bloody time. After all "WTFWJD?"


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