Monday, March 24, 2014

Cool Your Jets, Man Pt. 1

Words change.  The way we talk changes.  The meanings of words change.  Even within my short 33 years of life words have come into common usage, and gone out of common usage.  Words that were offensive at one time no longer are, and new offensive words have been created.

When I was in third grade, The Simpsons were just beginning to be all the rage amongst my peers, and Bart Simpson Tshirts were the thing to have.  I begged my mom to get me a Bart Simpson Tshirt, even though I had never seen an episode of the show at that time (The Simpsons was not allowed in my home).  For some reason, my mom seemed more open to the idea of wearing a Simpsons Tshirt than allowing me to watch the show, but the only shirt I could find had a slogan that she deemed inappropriate and disrespectful.  What was it?  The shirt had a picture of Bart on it, with a speech bubble that said "Cool your jets, man."  That was it.  Inappropriate and disrespectful.  Nowadays we would scoff at the idea of someone saying "cool your jets" as being disrespectful.

Also back in those days, another word was coming into common usage: sucks.  As in "That sucks," or "It really sucks that winter is lasting so long."  Even in my formative childhood years, the word "sucks" was marginal at best when it came to being allowable in common language.  It was seen as coarse and crude, and to harken back to Bart Simpson, is what made his character somewhat edgy: he said "sucks" without a second thought.  Those days are long gone, however, and it's very common to hear the word "sucks" in everyday speech - even from children.  If I'm being honest, I must confess that this word has become a regular part of my vernacular as well.  I don't consider it to be crass or vulgar, but a regular way of expressing disappointment.  That's the way our culture has used the word, and so - right or wrong - that's what it means.

In more recent times, there's another word that was commonly considered crass and vulgar that has made its way into common parlance: "p*ss."  Why didn't I write the word out in its entirety?  Because I still consider it to be crass and vulgar.  That's a word I don't use, mostly because I just think it's a disgusting word.  The culture disagrees however, and "p*ss" is a commonly used word.  It's quite common to hear someone say that he or she was "p*ssed off" and not even give it a second thought.  But even though the culture has considered this word to be OK for common use, I can't bring myself to say it.  I just don't like it.

Our culture dictates what words are usable and what words aren't.  We determine together what words are off limits, and what words are usable, simply by our willingness to use them in common speech.  There's nothing inherently evil or offensive about words.  After all, they're just a combination of letters that form a word.  Their implied meaning is what we find offensive, and that meaning is attached to the word.  Hence, some words are off limits because they are just too offensive.

You can observe this pattern in movies you see too.  It used to be that the Effenheimer was not allowed in a PG-13 movies, but nowadays you can expect at least one.  The F Bomb is becoming more and more culturally acceptable, and so we allow it more frequently.  Or just turn on the TV.  Things that used to be unheard of in TV dialogue are now common place.  It's not necessarily good or bad - it's just the way it is.  My kids will grow up using words that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap when I was their age, but they are common to them.  It's just the way it is.

Christians, however, are instructed by the Bible to allow no unwholesome talk to come out of their mouths.  In other words, we take the temperature of the culture, determine what the culture finds to be crude or unacceptable, and make a conscious effort to avoid those words.  I would further argue that we do the same with those words that are on the edge of vulgar - we don't want to use words that might be considered vulgar either.  When in doubt, err on the side of wholesome.

What I think this implies is that Christians are not to be forwarding the cultural acceptance of crass words.  We realize that the acceptance of some words into the common vernacular is a natural process, but we don't want to add to it or speed it along.  The culture is going to do what it is going to do with the meaning and acceptance of certain words.  Christians should be focused on using words to preach and to build up, not words that push the envelope and actually speed up the process of their acceptance and use.

This understanding of how words work and change in culture, and how they become offensive or inoffensive is beginning to play a significant role in the continuing discussion about homosexuality in our society.  Except our culture isn't the one determining what words in this conversation are allowable and which aren't.  Instead, those determinations are being made for us, and we're being force-fed a cultural change when it comes to how we talk by people who are tailoring words to fit their agenda.  It's a sneaky game, and one that appears to be working.

But this post has gotten long enough.  More later.

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