Bad-Ass Jesus

This ‘Ain’t Yo’ Momma’s Jesus.

(If you are more offended than intrigued by the title, you should skip this post… and probably avoid this blog.  See my views on the ethics of profanity.) 

 For centuries now we’ve lived with an image of Jesus that is, well, a little bit on the weak side.  He is gentle, soft, and very white.  Were it not for the obvious beard, we might question whether or not he has any, er, well, you know…. 

 white wimpy Jesus

Now there is an alternative vision of Jesus.  We don’t see it depicted visually much, other than in left-wing cartoons.  Why?  Because this right-wing all-American Jesus would look so zany.

all-american Jesus

(see original context)

No one really believes in this machine-gun-wielding Savior… but some of us talk as if we did.  Too often I hear preachers and believers saying that the Kingdom of God = the United States of America + the State of Israel.

Then there’s easy-going “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma.

Buddy Jesus

And the even more chill Homeboy Jesus (who is even friends with Ashton Kutcher???)

Homeboy Jesus 

But what is the Bible’s image of Jesus?  His inner character, if not his physical appearance?  There are aspects of “weak Jesus” (picture 1, above) that are in the Bible: he is Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God.  He preaches love of God and love of each other.  There are aspects of the Buddy/Homeboy Jesus, too, which are true to the Bible: Friend of Sinners.  But Buddy looks more like Big Man on Campus than Lord and Savior.

Jesus is one complicated dude.  He is the Man of Sorrows, which we don’t often see, except in very old paintings.  He sweated blood and thought that he was going to die from the weight of sorrow that was on him.  Makes my depression look like Disneyland!

And he is the Lion of Judah.  He will come and conquer as a king.  That covers some of the aspects of him that we see in the Bible.  But I can only think of one word nuanced and strong enough to describes the missing piece in pop-culture’s picture of Jesus:

bad-ass (adj.): 1)touchy, difficult; 2) mean, belligerent; 3) tough, intimidating; 4) rugged, strong; 5) unequivocally awesome.

Jesus is not touchy or difficult.  He is never mean or belligerent (although G.I. Jesus, picture 2, above, might make us think otherwise).  But he can be tough and intimidating.  He had sharper come-backs than Madea and wasn’t afraid to over-turn tables in the name of God.  He was rugged and strong enough to work for thirty years in a carpenter’s shop, live with sailors (the truckers of the ancient Near East) for three years on the road as their leader, and then carry on a conversation or two while crucified.  He bore the sins of the world.  What could be more unequivocally awesome than that?  He brought love and mercy the fist time, but gave us a heads up: he will be back to enforce final justice.

Jesus was a rebel, a challenger of the status quo.  Either in his Whiteness, his Buddyness, or meekness, he has become the opposite in the eyes of many.  Churches have become part of the Establishment and, historically, have participated in much oppression.  But Jesus was the liberator of the oppressed, so much so that “Liberation theologians” have emphasized that aspect of Jesus to the point of painting him as a proto-Marxist.

Because our images of Jesus have been constructed by the cultural majority, we have seen a reaction against that, even independent of Rastafarianism.

Black Jesus

Whatever else you might say about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” I hope we can agree that his Jesus (Jim Caviezel) finally looks Jewish.

Jesus with disciples

In some Greek icons I see a look that captures his baaaadness.  Very man, very God, very ready to do whatever it takes to save His own.

bass-ass Jesus

Across the centuries he calls, his vigor undiminished by the incompetence of his followers, myself included.  The Son of Man demands as much now as he did back then: either to be followed and worshipped, or else to be utterly rejected.  That I cannot so much as prove his existence highlights the intensity of this choice, the leap that is faith.  Ignoring him is not an option.  He leaves us no middle ground.  What could be more bad-ass than that?

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Biblical Profanity!?!

The Debate Continues

This is a response to previous comments.  This deserves book-length treatment and if anyone (i.e., me) gets into trouble on this one, it will because of brevity.  

If you think that cussing is wrong and you struggle with cussing, in spite of strong convictions, please do not read further.  I do not want to cause you to stumble.  This post is rated R for language.

If you think that cussing is wrong and you struggle with judging others who cuss, you might not want to keep reading.  This is going to offend you.  Come back later for my post on freedom, because you will be my target audience then.

If you are not a Christian, I hope that what follows will be educational, or at least interesting, if a bit wierd. 

Regardless, even if you’re not in it for the grammar and the Biblical exegesis (interpretation), then stay around for the four-letter words and for an honest attempt at  sane living.

Before discussing the ethics of profanity, we must ask:  What is Biblical? And what is profanity? 

By “Biblical,” I mean both the specific guidelines which the Bible gives us and the principles we can arrive at based on the entirety of its teaching.

By “profanity” I accept the definition: “abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language.”  However, I have observed that we define profanity by its specifics and by its uses.  There is a finite list of words, most of which we all now know by heart, even if we don’t use them, which are on this “forbidden list.”  But the list in the U.S. is far graver than it is in most of the world.  Germans have relatively few words and topics, which poses a huge dilemma for teens trying to be cool, leading to the importation of the “f-bomb” into everyday speech.  But in our culture, due to “Puritanism,” which probably has more to do with Victorianism and the 1950s, we have quite a few. 

What use do these forbidden words serve in American English?

1. To express extreme positive or negative emotion.  “Damn!  What a shot!”

2.  To intensify a word or phrase, usually, but not always, for emotional effect.  “That was a damn good dinner!”  See also the suffix “-ass.”

3.  To insult someone.  “You bitch!”  *It is interesting to note that no male equivalent of this term exists.  Even “bastard” primarily serves to call into question a man’s parentage, esp. the marital status of his mother.  See also “son of a bitch.”

4.  To insult God, a.k.a. blasphemy.  “God, damn it!”

5.  To add filler.  “So I was fucking going to the fucking store, man.”  See also “like.”

6.  To be sexually explicit.

These uses often occur concurrently.  “You stupid-ass son of a bitch!” covers 1, 2, and 3, for example.

Now, rather than premeturely ruling out words simply because they appear on “the list” — which would be foolish since none of them actually appears in the Bible, nor is there any precedent in Hebrew or Hellenistic-Christian culture for the forbidden word list — we can make an informed decision in light of what the Bible teaches regarding these 5 uses of “profane” language. 

1.  Expressing extreme emotions before God is encouraged in the Bible, so long as it is an  honest expression.  Words by themselves are neither holy nor unholy; they are a means of expressing what is in our hearts, and it is for our hearts that we will be held accountable (Matthew 12:34-35).  Entire books of the Old Testament represent the out-pourings of the deepest longings, yearnings, and doubts of people’s souls: Psalms, Lamentations, and most of the prophets.  I see nothing wrong with using “profanity” to express extreme emotion in prayer, especially if you use such language to express extreme emotion anyway.  (“Damn, Lord!  What the hell happened?”)  Nor is there anything inherently wrong in expressing extreme emotions to each other, although we should be careful, especially if those emotions include anger (Proverbs 15:18, 16:32; Ephesians 4:26).  Jesus encourages the disciples to pray to God as to their Father and the only kinds of prayers that he criticizes are too long and showy (Matthew 6).  One of my favorite prayers: “God, I’m fucked-up.  Help me!”

2.  Intensifying words and phrases for effect can be equally problematic.  I know many people who are “extreme talkers,” who use superlatives (“the most ____,” “the biggest ____ “) for everything.  If you make everything extreme, then nothing is extreme, and when it comes time to praise God as “awesome,” your words lack weight.  Extreme talking is simply irresponsible use of language.  One of the primary thrusts of Proverbs is that we must be careful with our language.  In our cultural context, you need to know your audience.  Careful use of language needs to be simple and straightforward, but G-rated?  I don’t think so.  Jesus has invited us into a life of great freedom and great responsibility.  Because we’re forgiven and His Spririt lives in those of us who are His, wee have the freedom to discern for ourselves and within our own communities that which is appropriate in matters on which He himself is silent. 

 3.  Jesus is not silent about insulting someone.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

4.  Neither is the Bible silent about insulting God.  One of the earliest of the ten commandments: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  When I begin to doubt the importance of the Old Testament, I remember  that Jesus Himself believed that this was the Word of God.

5.  Filler is irresponsible, but not morally offensive, for the same reasons as “extreme talking” (see #2).  However, we should take great care not to judge those whose filler is less PC than our own, since this reflects more on their socio-economic-educational-geo-cultural background than it does on their moral worth.

6.  Sexually frank speech and speech about bodily functions should not be a problem in the right context.  The Evangelical sub-culture can be intensely prissy and there isn’t anything Biblical about that.  I’ve had Southern friends tell me that “Ladies don’t poop.”  Bullshit!  However, sexually explicit speech, jokes, etc. are a problem.  Why?  Because sex is so precious and important, such a blessing when held in its proper place (marriage) that to speak of sex jokingly or graphically deprives it of its purpose as something intimate (Ephesians 5:3-4).  Plus, such talk can easily lead us to lust in our hearts, which is as bad as adultery (Matthew 5:32).

In all of this, the root issue is not clean words vs. dirty words.  The root issue is careless words spoken by careless people.  James 3 offers a stern rebuke, but Jesus’ is sterner:  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

How are we to live and speak in light of all of this?  We are committed to a Person, not to a set of rules, and to the community of all who follow Him.  We should use language that best honors Him and uplifts our brothers and sisters.  Such language is always honest and loving; sometimes it is soft, gentle, and appropriate for my grandmother; sometimes it is not.  When offering a stern but loving rebuke, you might need to drop an f-bomb or two in order to get your brother’s attention.

If you are tempted to cuss in front of a legalist, it is probably unwise, becausee they will stop listening and start judging.  More importantly, if you are going to offend someone and cause them to want to violate their own conscience by doing so, be careful!  If he thinks its a sin, then it is a sin for him in this case, just as in the debate over unclean food and holidays in Romans 14, for this is fundamentally a matter of opinion.  Do not cause a brother or sister to sin… but neither trample on their freedom!

Psalm 3

(An African-American Vernacular English translation from the original Hebrew)

From when David ran off from his son, Absolom.  

Damn LORD! 

Check it: all peeps be rollin’ up on me!    Mugs be all up in my grill. They be sayin’, “God ain’t got yo’ back.”  Sheeeih…. 

Nah, man!  O LORD, You got my back: You too much, and all that, an’ Ya’ hold my head high. 

I holla’d to the LORD, an’ He holla’d back at me from His holy mount.  Sheeeih….

I laid down and slept;

then I got up, ‘cause God got my back.

Got no fear of all y’all fools around me,

tryin’ to keep me in check.

 

Get up, O LORD! 

Save my sassafrass, O my God!

For you smack my enemies up side da’ head.

You bust them in the tooth.

Salvation!  Whose’s dat?  The LORD!

Blessing!  Whose’s dat?  His people!

Sheeeih….

Cussing at God

A Case for Holy Profanity

Gone are the days when talking to God was like talking to Aunt Judy at a tea party.  God has always been ready for the uncut and unedited version of the outpourings of your heart.  It is your duty and your privilege to give Him all you’ve got.

Most of our English translations of the Bible water down the raw nature of the original language, but some fun examples:

“Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) is more precisely “Why this hell?” or, my preference, “What the hell?”  The disciples here are talking like the redneck fishermen they are, questioning a woman’s apparent waste of high-end pefume on Jesus, rather than selling it to the poor.  Jesus rebukes their hard-heartedness and short-sightedness, not their language.

Paul considers everything “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).  But the word translated “rubbish” has some more precise, if more offense, possibilities.  Skubalon is “that which is given forth from the bowels, or dung, as it were something thrown to dogs, or thrown out” (Etymologicum Gudianum, cf. Leithart).  It is the possible root of our s-word and is at least as strong as “crap,” although “bullshit” works especially well in this context.  But that won’t fly at any Bible publisher I know of.

Most importantly, there is an entire category of psalms known as “impreccatory psalms,” or, as I like to call them, “cussing psalms.”  These psalms express frustration at the psalmists’ human enemies.  I find it difficult to understand these psalms outside of a context of extreme language (see Psalm 3 post).

We use profanity in English do to a number of things.  Some are God-sanctioned, some are not.  On the plus side: expressions of extreme emotion and semantic intensity.  On the minus side: intense insults, sexually explicity references, and blasphemy.  American English’s broad, PG-13 umbrella covers far more ground than it does in most other languages, and restrains us in ways that it should not, especially in our interactions with the Almighty.

You already use profanity in your heart, even if you cover it up with euphemism (“shoot!” “dang!” “dag-nab-it!”).  Isn’t it time you started using profanity in your prayers?

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 8:39 am  Comments (6)