It is with heavy heart that I have to tell you ahead of time: this post will not be funny. It will be long (that’s what she said) and it will likely be quite boring (…that’s what she said?) for most of you.
I struggled for the better part of 90 seconds trying to force myself to abandon the topic on my mind and write something purely funny so you guys could have a laugh to cap off your Monday evening. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve written something on here that was for purely humorous purposes, and I really wanted this post to break the trend. But alas, after the aforementioned thinking, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So all ye who fear the real, jump ship now and I shan’t hold it against you. That said, I’ll try to still make this a read that’s worth your while…assuming I haven’t bored you to tears already.
For reasons that I’ve glossed over in the past (but will restate briefly here in a second), I don’t like to use this forum to discuss religion/spirituality in any context deeper than making a joke at a religion’s expense. The reasons for this decision:
+I don’t like the idea that certain parts of what I say might be taken out of context or used to promote ideas I don’t agree with to others.
+Religion/spirituality can be a divisive subject pretty much across the board, and I don’t think something as silly/meaningless as a blog should be a forum for religious/spiritual debate, or the origin of negative/disrespectful/hurtful conversation amongst friends or strangers.
+I don’t consider myself particularly qualified to speak definitively on subjects as broad as religion, politics, etc. I always like to offer my opinion, but generally prefer to leave spokesmanship for my religious/political/ethical beliefs to those whose job it is to represent such things.
There are others as well, but that essentially covers the strongest of my concerns. But — as with my reckless (albeit temporary) abandonment of humor — I am suspending those rules for the moment so I can relay an experience that I think perfectly encapsulates something that I have struggled with for as long as I have claimed Christianity as my religious affiliation.
Like most misunderstandings in our modern society, this problem started on facebook. Names have been changed or removed to protect the guilty, because I’m a classy fellow like that.
Recently, a buddy of mine posted a facebook status update that read, “Think I’ll go work on a boat in Alaska.”
A little context for this buddy and I: though we haven’t known each other a tremendously long time, we bonded quickly and hung out a lot while working together (there is literally no way to phrase that sentence to make it sound less like we are homosexuals — which we’re not — but oh well). As is fairly customary with this particular job, everyone worked hard while it was expected, and then we all blew off steam pretty hard during our free time once we were done. People smoked cigs (not me, I think it’s gross), people drank (definitely me), people danced (also me, assuming I’d done enough of the previous…just kidding, I’ll dance anytime!), people swore, people laughed, people had a responsible, fun time (no drinking and driving, no sexual indiscretions, etc.). In my experience, it’s much easier to have dance parties when music is involved, and a popular song at the moment is one called “I’m On a Boat” by The Lonely Island. This song is primarily parody, meant as satire toward a sector of the music industry that is kept afloat solely by the grace of auto-tune, hyperbole, and swearing. It’s also incredibly hilarious and fun as hell (sidenote: when I freelanced as a DJ at various bars, I got requests for this song probably a dozen times a night, no lie). The premise of the song is that the singer is super excited because he’s going on a boat ride (a relatively commonplace experience for most people), and he treats it like he’s balling out of control and just won the lottery. It’s funny, just trust me on that. Now one of the recurring lines in this song is “I’m on a boat, motherf***er, don’t you e’er forget.” I’m sure Shakespeare is proud that his technique for abbreviating words is still being used so appropriately all these years later.
Ok, now back to the story at hand. My buddy posts: “Think I’ll go work on a boat in Alaska,” and without giving it much thought, I comment underneath his status: “I’m on a boat, motherf***er, don’t you e’er forget!” Now I frequently make the mistake of forgetting that despite all its acclaimed privacy settings, facebook is essentially open to anyone who has an internet connection, and just because people are listed as your “friends,” doesn’t mean you know them that well. I was the first and only person to comment/post anything to that status at the time, and as I mentioned before, didn’t give it much thought and assumed it would almost immediately get lost in the sea of status updates and their even-less-important status comments. As you have probably guessed, that was not the case. What actually happened was the following (note: all posts in the following transcription are kept with spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammatical errors in place if there are any; anyone listed as a stranger just means they are a stranger to me, but not necessarily a stranger to my friend; and I have edited the F word here, but it was unedited when I posted it originally on my buddy’s facebook):
Dustin’s Friend: Think I’ll go work on a boat in Alaska.
Dustin: I’m on a boat, motherf***er, don’t you e’er forget!
Complete Stranger 1: what kind of language on a site kids may see or any one for that matter
Complete Stranger 2: AGREED.
Complete Stranger 3: Ditto!!!
Dustin: Apologies to all, I wasn’t trying to offend or impress anyone with my language — merely quoting a popular spoof song from the past year, adult-to-adult. And while I understand the importance of safeguarding our children, they are hearing worse than that in our schools and movies on a regular basis. Rest assured my words/actions have no bearing on what [Dustin’s Friend] does or does not approve of, and he shouldn’t be judged or held accountable for them.
Complete Stranger 1: thanks for the apologie, not judging the Mexican, lol, or any one not my job for sure leave that to our maker.
Dustin’s Friend: I wouldn’t like people calling me a Mexican even though it was a nickname .. Given by [name removed] and now that he is gone and I’m trying to exceed in my career I think it’s unprofessional
Complete Stranger 4: First of all, let me clarify that this has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else’s comments, just Dustin’s. Dustin, [Dustin’s Friend] is like my son and although I don’t condone the language, in part you are absolutely right about language on regular television and in schools. Like [Dustin’s Friend], I too have non-Christian friends on facebook who warn me before adding me not to be offended by what they may post. I add them anyway…why?? Because I put up with their language and at the same time they put up with my Christian posts and status. I do this because one day at some point in time, they may just need Christ or the scripture or quote that I posted and they know just where to turn when they are in need. Just as [Dustin’s Friend] knows where to turn when he’s in need. That is my job as a Christian. So [Dustin’s Friend] is not judged and neither are you, sir. You are who you are…we were all there once. Take Care and God Bless You!!!
Dustin’s Friend: Umm he apologized … Now let’s all have a greatly awesome night FB
At some point during that exchange, two people also “liked” the status. Whether or not they were approving of my friend’s status or decrying my comment is unclear. What is clear is that what was intended as a simple note to remind a friend that I was thinking about him now that we weren’t working together anymore turned into something negative, potentially hurtful, religious, and slightly racist. Yikes. Not exactly what I was going for.
Let me start my commentary on the above exchange (you mean everything I’ve written so far is just preamble?! Sorry gang, told you it was going to be long and boring…I did mention the long part, right (that’s what she said)? Well it’s gonna be long. There. Now you know for sure), by saying that regardless of everything else that the comments made me think/feel, I meant my apology and stand behind it. I use facebook as a way to stay socially connected, vent, and not worry about how I come off to people — but not everyone treats it that way — especially my friends who have real lives/jobs and need to maintain a more controlled, professional appearance on their social networking profiles. Additionally, I’ll add that I have a pretty severe Marty McFly Complex (no, not Parkinson’s…too soon?) where if someone says something to me that I really find antagonistic or mean-spirited, I have an incredibly difficult time not responding (in the same way that Marty from Back to the Future couldn’t not respond/take action when someone called him “chicken”). Now God saw fit to put me in the body of 90lb mathlete, not a fighter/jock, so I have spent my entire life learning to curb this reflex of accelerating aggressive exchanges in favor of better solutions — such as ignoring the aggressor or responding with humor/kindness. If I was 6’6”, 240lbs of muscle with athletic skills and/or fight training, I probably wouldn’t be alive today because I’d go around starting fights with people who pissed me off instead of ignoring them for the insecure losers they tend to be. It has not been 100% easy, and there are still occasional times where it is too difficult for me to let something go without engaging in an argument (mostly when a stranger whom I’ve no rapport with says/does something mean/cruel/unnecessary to me or my friends/loved ones), but I’ve been blessed to have a happy temperament all the time (even while drinking, unlike SOME people who seem to get angry/upset while drinking…hint hint, Chris Brown), so I’m almost never in situations where I feel compelled to respond with anger. All that is just my incredibly long-winded way of saying that it took every fiber of my being not to be personally offended by some of the comments these perfect strangers had made toward me and respond with something that was much more unkind and vicious than the language I’d used in jest initially. But I didn’t. And because of that I was able to not engage these people (whom I also knew nothing about) in an argument whose only possible outcome was to end with me embarrassing my friend even further with my actions as a truly poor representative of the God I claim to serve. That said, here’s how the above interaction represents a much larger problem within the community we live in.
First, the entire thing is initiated because someone with whom I have no accountability and/or relationship felt compelled to police me for an offense they thought I’d committed and needed to be brought to justice for, proverbially speaking. This is a problem as ancient as any known society, as the famous saying “remove the plank in your own eye before you point out the speck of dust in another person’s eye” comes from a book that — regardless of what you hold to be true about its message — is as old as some of our oldest known societies. Now I’m not saying that I don’t have plenty of “planks” in my own eye to address in life, or that I’m somehow more righteous than this stranger who called me out (or the faceless cohorts who agreed with him so strongly), I’m simply saying that those issues are ones that need to be pointed out by friends with whom I have a relationship of accountability (which I hope to be more and more of you as I progress as a person), family members who want the best for and from me, and the very God to whom I belong. Not people who I’ve never seen/met/interacted with before. And the people whose job it is to hold me accountable for the wrong things I do on a monthly/weekly/daily/hourly basis I hope would do so either in person, or over the phone — or in some medium besides a facebook post that could have multiple interpretations depending on context/tone. That’s like telling someone they have a drinking problem by sending them a “poke” and just hoping they get the message. Not a lot of trust built up in that.
Second, the individual who is so concerned about how strangers are representing themselves on the internet then proceeds to say something that appears pretty racist and generally offensive to the only person in this entire interaction with whom he claims to be friends. I don’t know this other guy or his relationship with my friend, and he probably said what he said in jest (the same manner in which I deliver my unprofessional and/or racist comments, ha) but that seems a pretty ludicrous response after you’ve just called someone out for being a bad example to observing children.
And then finally comes the coup de grace that is my absolute biggest pet peeve through all of this (and indeed, in life). Another person (also a total stranger, mind you) decides that because I have quoted a secular song — and a swear word, to boot — that I am not a Christian, and am in a dark, unclean place in my life (as tacitly spoken with her penultimate line, “we were all there once”) needing to be “saved.” This, of course, had followed a fairly self-righteous rant about how she tolerates impure living and remarks like mine from the people in her life (and as with most self-righteous rants, is totally unsolicited). And the worst part is, her heart was probably in the right place. I am certain that she believed she was doing the right thing; accepting others for who they are, witnessing to the unsaved, evangelizing to the world at every opportunity — on paper, these are the very tenets that Christ asks us to live our lives based upon. But the flaw in her implementation of the creed is that she says she isn’t going to (and won’t) judge me, my friend, or our actions — but then delivers that selfsame judgment by implying that I am a part of the unholy, unwashed masses doomed to spend eternity in the lake of fire foretold in the book of old (see rappers, you’re not the only one can do this whole hyperbole thing).
To the best of my knowledge, I have never legitimately claimed to be without sin. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that I break all ten of the Ten Commandments (except maybe murder…unless you count coming up with puns that make people wish they were dead) and commit each of the seven deadly sins (among a host of additional violations both biblical and non-biblical in nature) on a daily basis. But luckily (and by luck I mean intelligent planning), perfection/sinlessness isn’t a requirement for divine salvation, to my knowledge. Rather, Christ calls the opposite of the perfect to come take part in the life and afterlife he offers; citing the weary, the broken, the diseased as his target audience (“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Mark 2:17, NIV). Obviously my goal is to lead an existence where I choose right over wrong, peace over anger, love over judgment (and I personally feel that should be everyone’s aim, regardless of religious affiliation), but that lifestyle is a daily challenge — a constant journey — not a lightswitch of purity that clicks on and then sees perfection bestowed upon the illuminated. The opposite danger of that logic, of course, is that people use it as an excuse to engage in all manner of truly unhealthy, unnecessary, and unseemly behavior that can ultimately have very real and very dangerous consequences for themselves or their loved ones. I won’t sit here before you and claim that I’ve never crossed that line, but the mediation of existing in a broken world without becoming a product of that brokenness is the very struggle of which I speak.
Now it’s my turn to gloat a bit, spiritually speaking (come on, it couldn’t be a true self-examination of my life without me committing the sin of pride at least a few times). I have been fortunate to be raised in a loving household (that happens to be God-centric, I’ll let you decide for yourself if those two qualities are related) for my entire life. I was baptized before I can remember and have been an active church member since, but I didn’t really count my faith as my own until early middle school, when I decided that if I was old enough to make choices about my life such as who to be friends with and what I wanted to be when I grew up (I think fireman was still top of the list back then), that I was old enough to decide what entity to serve and whether or not such a thing even existed. Without getting too preachy (if we haven’t already crossed that threshold several paragraphs ago), I’ll tell you that I let Christ into my life and haven’t regretted it even for a second. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, and it’s not always a clear-cut lifestyle; but it’s inarguably the best thing that has ever happened to me. That doesn’t mean I’m not plagued with doubt at times, or that my religion doesn’t have flaws (quite the opposite), it just means that I try to see the good and the God in any situation thrust upon me.
This, after much ado about facebook, finally brings me to the crux of this composition. I have been employed by churches in either a volunteer or paid capacity since the tenth grade (I spent three years as essentially the sole entity in charge of my home church’s middle school youth ministry program planning everything from weekend getaways to summer camps to ridiculously boring skits, etc. for anywhere from dozens to hundreds of participants), I have played in several worship-leading bands since I was skilled enough to keep time (or at least try…still working on that one), and I have given more formal and informal speeches regarding Christianity and faith (to listeners of all ages and levels of understanding) than I can count. However, I have also been drinking steadily (and often heavily) since my freshman year of college (essentially since I was 19 years old), I have had various levels of physically-intimate interaction with women who weren’t my wife (most of whom I had little-to-no intention of marrying), and I have used “swear words” in a cavalier manner (and often after Cleveland Cavalier losses) when they were likely unnecessary. Some of these actions I am working to curb, others I am comfortable with, and still others I am currently figuring out where I stand on whether or not they should be included in my life — and to what degree. I’ll share where I stand on a couple of these items, though, and why Christianity would be a more inviting place if churches had more Dustins in them. I need, of course, to doubly clarify that what I am about to state has no stronger basis in religion/scripture than my own ever-changing relationship with and understanding of God/Jesus/The Bible, and is not necessarily endorsed by any person or religious group that I am affiliated with or have worked for (I’m getting pretty good at these disclaimers, right? Is there any such thing as Christian law school? Ha).
Though unacceptable in most professional settings, and disrespectful amongst people with whom you’ve yet to establish a precedent of love or understanding, I literally see no harm in the use of taboo swear words as long as the sentiment behind them is understood by the person or persons with whom you are communicating. That is to say, I believe if you are joking with friends, and you say something along the lines of “f*** yeah the Saints are gonna win!” or “dude, your s*** smells BAD, bro” — that there is no harm done, spiritually speaking, as long as there is no veiled ill will behind your sentiments. I think that swear words (and indeed, most actions) don’t become a caveat for something unholy or bad until negative/hurtful/angry intentions are put behind them (i.e. yelling “F*** you!” to someone who’s trying to pick a fight with you or vice versa). While I think that there are clearly reasons swearing should be discouraged in certain situations, and that overly-casual swearing is terrible for building up an intelligent and diverse vocabulary, overall I think more harm is done by pretending that swearing doesn’t run rampant in our culture — and I think you remove a lot of the power we give these words by acknowledging them for what they are.
Alcohol production and consumption has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and as the only truly legalized “drug,” is far more accessible than any other controlled stimulant. It is literally everywhere from our sporting events to our graduation parties. My thoughts? No heavy drinking in high school. Your body isn’t ready for it, your mind isn’t ready for it, and no one wants to be the person who ends up drunk at their folks’ place. If you’ve physically matured enough (alcohol can do some real development damage when you start drinking too young) and your guardians feel it’s appropriate to share a glass of wine over an elegant meal or a champagne toast to ring in the new year while you’re under their care, that’s fine. It’s your call to make as a family. Once you’re 18 and in college, it’s important to practice all the major responsibilities associated with drinking (no one should be driving while drunk under any circumstances; if you’re blacking out or passing out, you need to be drinking less; drinking too much, too often will kill you), but as long as you aren’t noticing drastic personality changes (i.e. happy to angry/aggressive in six shots) or making decisions that are harmful to yourself or others in the long/short term, you should pretty much have carte blanche to figure out what alcohol you do/don’t like and what your safe tolerance is.
This one is a lot less cut and dry for me to state, because I truly believe that every person is ready for different levels of physical intimacy at different ages/stages in their lives/relationships. One thing I can safely say based on my observations of friends’ lives is that relationships are a lot less complicated (and the potential for emotional damage or unsalvageable friendships is a lot lower) when sexual intercourse isn’t involved. I don’t think there’s an exact age or life stage where all of a sudden, sexual relationships just become ok for everyone across the board. And this is the most truly sexist thing I’ll say on here, but I think especially women — whom studies show don’t hit their sexual peak until their mid-30s — aren’t emotionally/mentally ready for everything that sex brings with it at nearly as young an age as men tend to be. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my observation. I have seen relationships ruined by premarital sex, but I also know of couples that are happily married despite having sexual partners prior to marriage. I think the only real way to go wrong in this category is to hit one extreme or the other. If you are frequently having casual sex (especially with multiple partners), there is a serious health risk and massive amounts of emotional damage involved. On the other hand, if your first kiss is at the wedding altar after you’ve said “I do” to the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with, I think you run the risk of total sexual incompatibility or overly-restrained sexual practices that will keep you from fully enjoying the gift that your spouse (and sex with them) should be. There’s also the less common situation that you’ll subconsciously be getting married sooner than you’re ready for simply as an excuse to have guiltless sex with your spouse, and though that’s probably a very small percentage of couples, marriage is an important enough commitment (in my mind) that it’s not worth taking that risk even if it is a small one (that’s what she said). I think the best rule of thumb for this category is that if you are uncomfortable with or have doubts about how far/fast you’re progressing, sexually, then you’ve gone far enough for the time being.
I have had people jump to wild conclusions about my faith (or assumed lack thereof) from facebook pictures of me with girls or taking shots, to jokes I have tweeted, to videos I have made chronicling my life — and any other medium that would masquerade itself as a means for “getting to know me” without actually interacting with me. It has cost me potential friends, it has likely cost me potential jobs, and has sent waves of judgment, gossip, and backstabbing through my life that I can really only speculate about. None of those seem like the qualities Christ was dying to imbue us with as his children — and even atheists/agnostics can’t honestly say that the world wouldn’t be a better place if everyone was more honest, kind, straightforward, and loving toward one another (regardless of the motivation). How much farther would the reach of love extend if the people who claim to be the righteous elite (even if they only claim it subconsciously in their minds) focused less on the unrighteousness of others, and more on embracing people where they are, for who they are, without all the assumptions and judgments. Even Complete Stranger 1 realized that it’s not our job to judge, it’s God’s (even if he didn’t fully exercise that belief in this situation). Our job is only to love all others indiscriminately, unwaveringly, and unconditionally.
I am still going to drink more than a “Christian” should. I am still going to swear around my friends when the Cavs lose or Mark Cuban speaks. I am still going to make out with women that I’m not married to. My only hope is that if you observe me doing any of these things (or assume I’m doing them) that you will ask me about them and get to know my heart before you pass judgment that isn’t yours to pass, or gossip about what a horrid person I am behind my back. You will either get the benefit of seeing that I’m not doing all of the awful and wild things you’ve assumed of me, or the benefit of being a good enough friend/person to hold me accountable for my actions that were over the line of acceptability. And if that’s too much to ask, then feel free to judge me, fell free to hate me — but please don’t have the gall to do it in the name of Christ. Jesus didn’t die so we could judge in his name, he died so that judgment itself would die and we could live on forever as creatures of love and grace. To my Christian friends, I hope you realize what a disservice we do to the God we serve when we judge others — knowingly or not. And to my non-Christian/non-religious/non-spiritual brothers and sisters, I hope you don’t hold it against us (or God) when we’re assholes — we’re just as f***ed up as everyone else, but we’re doing our best.
For those of you who stuck around to read this e-novel, I appreciate you letting me rant so lengthily about issues that are very near and dear to my heart, and I promise that my next post won’t be so biblical in length and subject.
Now who wants to do some shots?