Sunday, January 27, 2008

The curse of context

Nathan Gibbs has a sad story on his blog about the death of his childhood friend, Benson Krause, and a remembrance of the music they made together. Their band, "The Third Half," included many of the guys I grew up a few years behind, and Nathan's post recalls an infamous moment at our church, though I was too young to remember it as much more than folklore.
One Sunday morning, his father Jim was preaching. He spoke about being corrupted by the world and used his youngest son Timothy’s innocence as an example. He said Tim was sitting in the pew making gestures with his hands and wound up being fascinated with his middle finger. Jim explained how it meant nothing outside the context of the world’s negative influence. What he did next is something no one in the audience that day will forget. He rested both wrists on the pulpit with two middle fingers extended upward. “Does this offend you?” he asked.
My childhood church was part of the Church of Christ denomination, which is, coincidentally, on the opposite end of the theological spectrum from the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ. No music with worship, no women in leadership, no heaven without baptism. And for many people the answer was obviously yes, and it led to the Krauses unceremonious return to Chicago.

The congregation's response does not surprise me years later -- many Americans, regardless of religion, would be bothered by such a display -- but it makes me wonder why we find certain words, or more aptly, certain gestures, offensive? Who decided that pointing at someone with your middle finger was a greater curse than wagging your index at them?

1 comment:

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Who decided that pointing at someone with your middle finger was a greater curse than wagging your index at them?

Symbols and language are aspects of culture, and are rarely the product of "deciding" something. I've heard that the middle finger has to do with threats by the french to amputate the middle fingers of english longbowmen in the hundred years war, so that they could never draw a bow again. The response was a host of middle fingers extended to the french: come and get them!

I think the pastor was irresponsible. A child may innocently say the word "fuck" when he means "truck" - but we try to correct this as soon as possible. Having words or symbols that have harsh meanings are necessary. It is up to us to learn to speak well, and communicate Christ well, and not to complain that bad words and symbols exist.