Words You Can’t Say In Church

15 12 2007

Joey was a sweet, skinny and towheaded little boy from an earlier church I pastored.  He tried hard to fit in with the bigger kids and to an extent they accepted the instantly lovable little fellow with a speech impediment.  One Sunday the kids were all at each other with teasing remarks as I stood at my familiar post to greet people as they entered the sanctuary.  The moment came when Joey had enough of the brusque comments the others were doling out.  Forgetting where he was, he offered up the rejoinder, “Kit my at!”.  Now that may sound like a bizarre pairing of words to you, but keep in mind that Joey had speech difficulties.

Instantly every child froze in place realizing that Joey had broken the sacred code and had uttered a potty word in front of the pastor!  Horror quickly turned to mockery as they couldn’t resist laying a thick, burdensome guilt trip on him with typical childhood taunts such as, “Aaaahhhhmmm!”  Joey’s head bowed in shame, and with shoulders stooped and eyes diverted from any chance of meeting mine, he slowly lumbered away like a man on his way to the electric chair.  My heart broke for my little pal as I patted him on the back as he passed.  “That’s OK, buddy,” I said softly, realizing that no pastoral training ever adequately equips you for the needs of a moment such as that.

Later that day I pulled into my driveway after a visit with an ailing woman.  To my surprise, Joey’s mom’s car whipped in behind me.  Joey had seen me out, and asked his mom to pull in.  Out of the car came that little man with the boyish charm and salty tongue.  Head still bowed in humility, as he slowly stepped closer I could see the teardrops pouring onto the asphalt below.  “Patter Dweg,” he said, using his version of my name.  “I’m torry I taid a bad wood in chuhch.”  He was sorry he said a bad word…  in church!

After doing all I could to comfort and absolve little Joey, he was back in the car.  Still, his words rang in my ears for hours after.  Even today I have to chuckle at his innocent yet profound confession.  He was sorry he said a bad word.  In church.  I knew what he meant.  But I also can’t help but be amused by the possible interpretation that he wasn’t sorry for the word he said, just that he did so in church.

I get this all the time from adults.  Perhaps it’s someone who says, “Pardon me, pastor” after issuing a curse.  Or, it may be as commonplace as a church goer who alters their behavior in church so that the sacred might not be stained by their ordinary ways.  Most swear words are not bad in and of themselves.  It’s the intent behind the word that makes them foul.  Even kind words can become volatile when used maliciously. 

Not long ago, a teen in my church messed up the words to a song she was singing at a Sunday evening service.  Frustrated by her error, she blurted out, “Oh crap!”.  Her mother was completely chagrined.  Honesty had made its way through pretense and presented itself for all to observe.

You see, this really isn’t about words or semantics.  It’s about heart.  There is no reason to clean up your act for church if the weekday person you are lives a different ethos.  This is not to say that propriety isn’t a good thing; rather, transparency and honesty are the only ways for Christ-followers to truly find their way down better roads.  It’s a good thing we don’t all have TV screens in the back of our heads for all to see what is going on in there!  No doubt there would be a few porno movies played at church on Sundays.  We do, however, have the ability to be honest and humble in our humanness and to seek the wise counsel and direction of those who’ve walked with Christ much longer than we have.  With that in mind, can I truly say that I am, as the pastor, completely transparent?  No, probably not.  But my people will also tell you that I strive to be honest with them about my struggles so that they can know they’re not alone. 

Yes, I have difficulty at times diverting my eyes when a nice looking woman shows off more of herself that I really need to see.  Yes, I still battle the anger issue even though God has helped me to move past the explosive rages of my distant past.  Yes, I admit there are days when my prayer life is as dry and dull as a Hillary Clinton stump speech. 

Coming to the house of God isn’t about cleaning up and then showing up.  While I highly recommend proper hygiene, one doesn’t have to scrub the inner recesses and outer behaviors before entering in.  Come as you are, behave with proper respect, yet be honest enough that others can come along beside you and show you that they’re still growing as well.  There is nothing uglier than a holier-than-thou Christian.  There is nothing more beautiful than the tears that fall after we allow God to help us find our way a little closer to him, a little farther from hopelessness.  Come as you are.  Leave a bit more like He is.




2 responses

12 01 2008
C.L. Mareydt

the real church … dwells in our heart of hearts w/our Lord … it is only with The Holy Spirit’s constant help that we make it as far as we do. it is a journey, a faith journey … that can only be walked out step by step … WITH GOD.

thank you for your honesty, integrity, and faithful hope that you present in your writings.

13 01 2008

Thanks for another affirming and gracious comment.

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