I have not been a Christian my entire life. Well, I was a nominal Christian. Meaning I wasn’t born Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist. We had trees in our house every December and baskets with malted milk balls showed up in the spring. I occasionally went to the Methodist church down the street when my mother had what I can only imagine was a spiritual awakening. It wasn’t really a bring-down-the-rafters Praise God and Hallelujah kind of place. It was more a somber, a cappella-like-a-Zen-Buddhist-monk-chant of Praise God from whom all blessings flow kind of place. My mother had me baptized when I was five. I was up at the altar with the babies, and the thing I remember most was that I hated the dress with the yellow ribbon my mother made me get, because I wanted the one with the blue.
The point is, I didn’t grow up church-y. Plus, I grew up in northern New Jersey. Put those two together and it makes for an interesting experience when I sit around a table with people who grew up in the church-i-est of the churches.
Primarily, because I curse.
I curse a lot.
My parents did it and I do it, too. My father is a Bronx Irishman who pronounces theater the-ATE-a after all. I am always just a little bit frightened that at any moment a string of curse words will fly out of my mouth with abandon when I’m sitting around a conference room table with my church-y friends, who are altogether awesome but have never heard me in all my glory.
I’ve really tried to stop. I try to give it up to God all the time. I try surrendering to the Holy Spirit, I try plain old will power. And the minute I commit to never cursing again, out comes a string of obscenities that would rival any truck driver, football player or New York City taxi driver.
I don’t really curse at people (unless I’m driving and they can’t hear me. Or maybe when I’m talking behind their backs. Because yeah. I do that too. I think I suck at being a Christian.).
Primarily I curse at things that don’t work. Electrical outlets located in ridiculously hard to reach locations when I can’t figure out the way the plug should go in. When I open the freezer door and the whole of its contents come tumbling down upon my person like an avalanche. My stupid iPhone when Siri apparently has decided to reorganize my contacts for some inexplicable reason and suddenly my husband’s phone number is gone. Because I have become so dependent on the stupid thing that I have no idea what my own husband’s phone number is.
I’ve never felt the need to say “aaassss-phalt” as a sneaky way to say “ass”. After all, the word appears in the King James version 87 times. So yeah, I’m calling people a donkey. I never said, “Oh, shitake mushrooms,” when I was angry, either. I hate mushrooms. They’re gross.
I’ll never forget the time I realized that some Christians are offended by the word “crap”. Oh, crap, I thought. I say crap when I’m trying not to curse.
The funny thing is that sometimes people feel like they need to not curse around me. I think it’s because I’m on staff at my church. The other day I was meeting with a member of the church and he said, “Shit!” then looked at me and apologized. We were in his place of work and one of his staff members were there. I laughed and said, “Oh don’t worry. I’m a Christian who curses.”
“I know a lot of those,” he laughed.
“Well, now you know one more.” I don’t think his staff member quite knew what to make of us.
It’s not just the habit I struggle with. As a writer, I truly believe that there are times that a well-placed f-bomb just does the job better than a weaker word. This probably demonstrates my limitations as a writer, but I can’t help it. I still think it’s true. Part of the reason I think my writing is weak is because I am often only about 80% truthful. A lot of people would probably stop talking to me — or maybe continue not talking to me — if I were 100% truthful. I think I’m going to write an essay about what would happen if I wrote truthfully. Anonymously, of course. My point is, if I were writing truthfully, I would probably curse a lot more and not worry if I offended anybody.
This all makes me realize that there seems to be layers of Christians. There’s those of us at the top — the ones who can remember life B.C. (before Christ). We’re still a little muddy with the top soil of our old lives. Way down deep are those Pentecostals. Man, they are solid rock.
It’s not just cursing. I’m taking a Christian-filled workshop that meets once a month in New York City, and the first class was on Halloween. There was no way I’d make it home before 7pm — way too late to take my kids trick or treating.
Because yeah, I’m one of those.
I really don’t think that dressing my kids up like a ninja or the UPS man and taking them around to our neighbors so they can get treats is devil worship. Call me crazy.
And look, if you are not comfortable with it I totally get it. If you prefer not to take your kids out on Halloween that’s cool. But don’t go assuming I dance naked around a fire at night because once a year I walk around the block, meet the neighbors I never knew I had and over-indulge on Nestle Crunch bars under the onus of a “safety check”.
So at this class, I mentioned to one of the women sitting next to me that I was so sad to miss my kids in their costumes — this would be the first Halloween I wouldn’t be there. She got a stony look on her face and I could tell she was trying so hard to bite her tongue. She didn’t really say much more to me that day, and every time since, whenever we pass each other in class, she pointedly redirects her eyes. Even when I stand right in front of her and smile.
Well strap me up and call me a heathen.
I think next time I’m just gonna mess with her. I’m going to go right over and sit right next to her and force her to talk to me, Queen of Sinners. I. will be. SO. nice.
See that, there? That’s the Jersey in me.
So have you noticed the sarcasm? I’m not sure if that’s a sin or what. But I think I was born with it. I think it’s genetic because my kids are just as sarcastic as I am, a fact about which I’m not sure whether to be proud or annoyed.
Anyway. I guess the point of the story is that while there is much of me that has been renewed — a new creation and all that — there’s still so much of me that’s just straight-up human. Sometimes I think I struggle with that, because of all the roles I play. Mom, wife, Christian, Jersey Girl, staff member at a local church. How honest can I be? Which layer of the dirty mask should I reveal to whomever I’m speaking to at the moment?
The only person I can be truly honest with, I’ve learned, is God. I’m not proud to say that I’ve often found myself praying one moment and cursing the next, then quickly saying, Oh, crap, God, I’m so sorry.
I’ve never felt the sting of displeasure from him. I’ve never noticed his lips pursing or his face get stony like that woman at the workshop. In fact, when I take my kids trick or treating, I think he enjoys it. I think he loves hearing my children’s laughter in the air, their sugar-rushed excitement. I think he loves the way my husband’s hand slips into mine as our family spends time together in the cooling autumn air. I think he smiles over us as we build a memory together as a family.
After all, God is already victorious over any other spirit that might be floating around on that — or any other — day, anyway. He owns the day. So what does he have to worry about? Nothing! So neither do I.
Since God is victorious, I can rest easy. Always try my best to be better, yes. But I think I can chill now. Because I don’t think God’s universe is going to topple over because I let loose with an F-Bomb.