Censoring Jesus

Waiting to tee off.

It was beautiful, the ever-changing vistas, the cool breeze, the very unexpected sunshine. It was a place that was instantly recognized as sacred. A holy place, made all the more transcendent because of whom I experienced it with. It was Ireland, and we were on a four-course, five-day golf marathon. It was exhilaratingly brutal.

I won’t forget when my brother stepped up to the tee-box and crushed the ball with a near-perfect slice that was caught by the wind, exacerbating the ball’s problematic trajectory. It was lost. A curse rang out. The phrase wasn’t lost in the breeze that took the ball. It was clear. My father looked at me and jokingly said, “Clint, you’re a pastor, talk to him.” I paused. Talk about what? The problem was the slice, and I’m no expert. I’m barely a novice.

As a society, we have taken great offense at certain words, and in some cases, with good cause. Some, but not all. The more conscientious society that was intended by the tempered dialog simply has not occurred. We’ve gone from removing racial slurs from our dialog to no longer being able to say words like “target”. (In the interest of full disclosure, I shop at TARGET, and often target their clearance section.) In fact, it’s gotten so bad that simply accusing someone of speaking “incorrectly” has become a way to slander under the guise of piety. We no longer look through the lens of the speaker to better understand their framework; we only consider the sensitivities of the audience, allowing that to determine motives and intent.

Common sense seems to say this is absurd, though I’ve never tried to discern why until recently. Why is it actually counter-productive? Why are these words so offensive? Are we doing more harm than good? How would Jesus respond, if at all?

The inference is that dialog is shut down when we use controversial language. I don’t think so. I think conversation is hindered far more when we stop listening. We’re so caught up in accusing, that we’ve stopped trying to understand why someone would say what he or she says. We’re not willing to go deeper and explore what the offense really means and where it comes from. We scream back. Listening doesn’t release the reactive aggression caused by a perceived pain, hurt or offense.

This is particularly true when it comes to new, possibly controversial ideas.

Over the last few years I’ve been working very hard at finding the value ascribed us all as Children of God. This means listening, and not shutting down the conversation simply because it posits new ideas that could offend. I find certain ideas far more offensive than any word or phrase. But those ideas originate with very real people, with very real families, with a very real identity.

Seeking Truth - Photo by H. Koppdelaney

Changing the tenor of our dialog doesn’t begin with restricting certain phrases or not engaging with new ideas. That simply oppresses the individual. It doesn’t change anything. Real, lasting change begins by improving the consciousness of our society. It’s hard work. It has to happen internally.  We can lead by example. And listen. And entertain. And not be offended.

We read in scripture, in those bright red letters, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” some of the most unorthodox, blasphemous phrases ever breathed. Jesus spoke, and the spirit of humanity trembled. Are we paying attention? Are we still listening to the continual guiding of The Spirit? Or have we stopped listening to the obscenities that could be transformative if we’d only pay attention?

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