A crazy thing happened a few nights ago.
I cursed in church. Out loud. And not just “Shoot” or “Dang” or “Hell.” Nope. The queen mother of naughty words. I dropped the F-bomb right there in the sanctuary. Want to know what’s worse?
I was standing in the pulpit.
In front of hundreds of people.
With the microphone on.
I was there to give a presentation on the devastating effects of hunger. I shared a freezer full of facts, complete with colorful charts and graphs. Like how one in four kids in America is food insecure and how nearly half of all deaths of kids five and under worldwide is caused by poor nutrition. I spoke of food waste in our country and the estimated 30% of our food supply that gets thrown away every year, amounting to 1200 calories per person per day.
My speech became more impassioned with every new statistic I shared. By the time I was halfway through, I was truly on a roll. It was a powerful, moving talk that should have motivated even the most cold-hearted among us, yet when I looked out on the sea of faces, I saw pure apathy. Sure, there were a few receptive souls, but I might as well have been one of those late night TV commercials. Just background noise.
That’s when a hand rose in the congregation. Grateful for some interaction to distract my irritation, I acknowledged the familiar-looking gentleman sitting five rows back.
“Yes? You have a question?”
The man didn’t rise from his pew. He simply asked,
“Why do you think hunger is still a problem?”
Isn’t it obvious?!
My low simmer heated to a rolling boil. Scanning the faces once again, I offered a wake up call.
“You want to know why? Because you don’t give a F%#&.”
The words echoed through the chapel, ricocheting like a pinball off every God-loving, God-fearing man, woman and child in the congregation. I didn’t ask anyone to pardon my French. Or my English. I didn’t apologize at all.
I just let it hang in the air.
It didn’t take long for pandemonium to erupt. Women shrieked and covered the ears of their children. Elderly men, once gentle and kind, stood bolt upright and screamed “Blasphemer!” firing the words at me through stiffly pointed fingers. They didn’t really care much about hunger, but they sure looked like they wanted to cram lots of stuff down my throat. I lost control of the room. I stood there shouting more statistics as everyone bolted for the exits as if I had screamed that other F-word.
It was horrible.
But it was just a dream.
I woke up pouring with sweat. Like I had gone to bed too soon after overindulging at Pancho’s All-You-Can-Eat Mexican Buffet. I looked to my left, and my wife was sleeping soundly beside me. There was no presentation. No F-Bomb. Just a scene played out in my mind.
But my body thought it was real.
Apparently, I’m very conflict-averse, even if the conflict is totally made up. My heart was racing. I peeled myself from the sheets and went to the bathroom for a drink of water and a reality check. I looked in the mirror, trying my best to discern whether it really was a dream, or was an actual event in my life. I checked my phone for angry posts to my Facebook page, and seeing none, I knew that it was all in my head.
The next morning I was scheduled to meet with a pastor to talk about an upcoming retreat. While we were chatting over a cup of coffee, I shared the story with her. Her immediate response was to fake-write in her day planner and mumble,
“Note to self: Do not let Scott do any substitute preaching.”
But this begs an interesting question:
Was it a dream? Or reality?
The pastor and I discussed it for a while, wondering what might happen if someone did drop the F-Bomb in church. Not by accident like Pope Francis did earlier this year during a Papal Blessing at the Vatican, but an honest-to-goodness, Tony Soprano style, attention-getting F-Bomb.
It’s no stretch to think that the church would empty just as it did in my dream. People would be in a huge huff, demanding the preacher resign. And I can totally see why. He’s taking the name of the Lord in vain in church for crying out loud! Right there in the pulpit! How dare he!
Truth be told, there are certain words that are inappropriate in our culture. They generate a lot of negativity. And we definitely don’t want to teach them to our kids and have them spouting them off at play dates and birthday parties. Using those words influences how others perceive us.
Bad Language = Bad Person.
There are certain things we just don’t talk about in public.
Let’s forget for a moment that The Bible is chock-full of horrendous stories. Tales of rape. Incest. Infanticide. Genocide. Sexism. Slavery. And one of my personal favorites, the story of our beloved David sleeping with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, knocking her up, and then sending her husband to die in battle to wash his hands of the whole thing. These stories can all be read aloud on holy ground, but Heaven forbid we string together a few shorthand, four-letter words to describe any of it.
That would be truly abhorrent.
But that’s often what we do. We decry things we deem offensive while simultaneously ignoring genuine human tragedy. We take our personal relationship with God very personally, ignoring the fact that He’s also the God of billions of others. So we defend God at the expense of His children. As if the Lord of the Universe is just a friend on Facebook who happens to have the same exact beliefs, opinions, and political persuasions that we do.
Hypocrites covered by the cross.
And I’m saying “we” intentionally, because the familiar man in my dream who raised his hand to ask the question?
He had my face.
It was me.
I’m the apathetic one.
In real life, I’m the guy sitting through a passionate presentation on hunger, then quickly exiting church to have lunch with my family, leaving half a plate of food to be thrown out, and rushing home to tell everyone how someone in the pulpit said something that rubbed me the wrong way.
Turning faith into a four-letter word.
And here is when I realize that my dream has come true. And the truth is ugly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a Christian, I pray that I can live into these words from John. The ones that call us to step outside ourselves and be Christ for one another.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3: 16-18)
Sounds like an impossible dream, doesn’t it? But dreams do come true. And if we can turn this dream into reality, we’ll realize faith as a four-letter word isn’t always a bad thing.
So long as that word is: