Growing up in the Midwest, I have a few rough edges. Jess (and other women friends) are always telling me I shouldn’t be so crude and crass. A good Mormon patriarch (and a good friend) once said about me, “He’s a good boy, but he has a potty mouth.” I can’t help it. The Midwest spirit run deep in my veins. When I would cross the farm fields, my uncles would tell me not to step in the shit and the farmers that my dad worked with used crude humor as a bonding experience.
For a long time, I felt really guilty about my potty mouth. I felt unrefined and undignified, especially at my Presbyterian college in the south. But then I started reading the Bible very closely. The amount of potty humor, vulgarity and crudity overwhelmed me. And, it’s not just people using it, God the Father and Jesus use it all the time. Need Examples? Try Ezekiel 23, Paul telling the Galatians to cut their penises off if they love circumcision so much, and of course, his infamous use of the word skubulos.
And, then, there is the Gospel reading for this Sunday. Oh, I know, at first glance, it doesn’t seem that crude. But, we must look closely. Jesus tells the apostles to gird their loins and go. That doesn’t seem all that crude until you realize what it actually means. See the helpful chart at the top of this post, courtesy of the Art of Manliness.
Back then, people wore long tunics with no underwear. On one hand, that allows for a nice cooling breeze around the ole wedding tackle. But, for things like going into battle, well, guys, you can imagine. Ladies, ask your nearest guy (probably if you’re not on the subway or airplane) how they would feel about going into battle with…well….the twig and berries flopping around. It doesn’t exactly give a man a dose of courage. So, soldiers would tie up their tunic to guard the fruit basket so they could feel protected and secure enough to take huge risks.
Our Lord, then, is embracing his full humanity with this illustration. Indeed, it’s very close to our saying, “grab your balls and jump.” It’s a recognition of our vulnerability and a word of encouragement.
Usually I find faith-filled platitudes about having courage and faith to be obnoxious and not all that helpful. But when I think Jesus’ words as humor, not platitude, I get the point. Girding your loins goes from lofty sermon illustration to a good old fashioned dose of straight talk: “Nut up, ’cause this is gonna suck.”
Is it offensive to think that Jesus had balls and joked about it? Too bad. God doesn’t really care. Jump into your body and realize faith is impossible. Leap. When we do, God promises to catch us.
I’m always amazed at how people think the Bible is outdated and impractical to human concerns. In many ways, I get it, because all many of us have ever known is the version of the Bible often presented from the pulpit–clean, sanitized, unoffensive. The Bible you can read in front of your parents. Many times, I think people want to put a Pure Box on the Bible to edit out all the naughty bits. On the other side we’re constantly reminded of passages that reflect laws and customs of the times that we now find barbaric, for good reasons.
Reading in context is essential, but to censor the Bible is to mess with the word of God and its ability to unsettle. We must realize that any efforts to sanitize, tame, or blunt the force of God’s expression is a grave sin. Yes, I’m being that blunt. God doesn’t need an editor or a censor. He knows exactly what he’s trying to say and why.
C.S. Lewis once wrote about the humor and deep spiritual wisdom that comes when we reflect on the fact that we are spirit and body, interwoven together. The fact that people are capable of deep, abiding spiritual reflection but still have to take a shit is beautifully funny and deeply sacramental. And God is not afraid of that sort of reflection. If we are, we fail to reflect the image of God. So, grab your balls (ladies insert your own crude metaphor here) and stop worrying. Find the courage of faith.