Tag Archives: Profane

From Simple Ritual to Complex Regulation

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 11:27 (NIV)

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus and His followers celebrated a ritual meal called the Passover. It is an annual remembrance of the events in the book of Exodus, in which God leads the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. The ritual meal, also called a Seder, is full of metaphors and word pictures that remind participants of key events and spiritual lessons from the Exodus story. At the time of Jesus, the Passover was already an ancient ritual dating back over a thousand years.

On this night, Jesus creates a new ritual and metaphor for His followers. He simply took a loaf of unleavened bread, broke it, and passed it around for His followers to partake. “This is my body, broken for you,” he said. Then he took a cup of wine and passed it, saying, “This is my blood, shed for you.” Jesus then told His followers to share in this very simple ritual when they get together as a ritual remembrance of the sacrifice He was about to make. The fact that it was done after the Passover meal layers the metaphor with even more meaning. Just as God led the people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus is establishing a “new covenant” in which He is going to lead humanity out of slavery to sin.

Over time, this relatively simple, ritual metaphor came to be known as Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist. As the organism of the early Jesus Movement became the Institution of the Roman church, the ritual became a much more complex religious act layered with all sorts of rules and regulations. It became the centerpiece of worship surrounded by other rituals for how it was done. Only a priest sanctioned by the church could administer it. Those who don’t belong to your particular group of believers were not welcome to participate. And so on, and so on.

As a young follower of Jesus, I was part of a relatively conservative group of believers. I can remember the verse, pasted above, from today’s chapter being used regularly among my particular tribe of believers as a word of warning to young people. It was a religious variation on the Santa Claus principle: “He’s checking his list to see if you’re naughty. You better be good or Santa won’t bring you any gifts.” When it came to communion, we were warned that we better have our hearts right and our lives free from sin or we were putting ourselves at risk of judgement.

As I’ve progressed in my spiritual journey, I’ve largely abandoned the institutional pomp, circumstance, warnings, and regulatory commands that the institutional church has laid on top of Jesus’ simple act. The warning that Paul gave in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth had a very specific context. Believers met and shared a meal together, and then they ended their evening by repeating Jesus’ ritual word picture. In Corinth, some followers were creating cliques, having private meals, and excluding other believers. Some followers were getting drunk on wine and were intoxicated by the time the ritual of the bread and wine was carried out. In both cases, the metaphor of the bread and wine was profaned; It was emptied of meaning by the actions of those believers who shamelessly behaved in a way that diminished the entire meaning of the ritual.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that Jesus’ institution of the ritual of communion happened with no commands, rules, or regulations other than to repeat the word picture regularly when believers got together. Jesus didn’t make caveats about it only being administered by approved followers, being an exclusive ritual for only certain institutionally approved persons, or that those partaking had to approach with a certain level of holiness. In fact, the word picture itself is about Jesus sacrificing Himself because we can’t attain acceptable holiness on our own, so why would we suggest that purity and holiness are required to partake in the bread and cup? That profanes the meaning of the ritual as well.

The Challenge of Words

“You shall not profane my holy name….”
Leviticus 22:32 (NRSV)

Wall Street Journal columnist, Ben Zimmer, writes a weekly piece in the newspaper’s weekend edition that explores a different word or phrase that has been in the news that week. It’s one of my favorite columns to read over coffee on Saturday mornings.

I have become increasingly fascinated with words as I’ve continued in my life journey. I’m fascinated with their origin, how they become part of our vocabulary, their meanings, and how we use them. I’m intrigued with how our society perceives words as positive or negative, good or bad, acceptable or not acceptable.

Wendy’s and my adventures in community theatre often take us into debates about words. Should we use a word that will likely offend our audience here in rural Iowa? Can we legally change the copyrighted work by using a different word? If we do have the actor use a different word, will it change the play’s character and how the audience perceives him or her? Why would that word offend the audience? Should we risk the offense and challenge our audience to consider their notions about vocabulary? They are challenging questions that prompt fascinating and equally challenging discussions.

Toward the end of today’s chapter God tells the Hebrews not “profane” His name. I was given a definition of the word profane by a professor in college that I’ve never forgotten: “to empty something of its meaning.” I can still remember the word picture as the professor stood in front of the class and mimed turning a cup over in his hand, emptying the contents of the imaginary vessel on the ground.

I’ve always found that an apt understanding of God’s zealous protection of His name. It’s really no different than we as human beings. We don’t like people making fun of our name. We don’t want our name mocked or “drug through the mud.” In Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible, John Proctor tells the witch hunters in Salem to go ahead and kill him unjustly but then begs: “give me my name!

Of course this opens a fascinating and challenging conversation about the name of God. As a child I was taught never to use the word “God” as in “Oh my god.” But, “god” is a impersonal noun that could refer to your generic pagan idol as it could refer to Yahweh (the name God gave Himself to Moses in Exodus 3). The name “Jesus” is much more specific and it packs all sorts of meaning and power. Jesus told His followers to do all sorts of things from prayers to exorcisms “in my name.” History records many signs and wonders that happened “in the name of Jesus.” If I then turn and use “Jesus” as an exclamation of disgust when the restaurant brought me the wrong order it certainly appears that I’ve taken something of spiritual power and authority, emptied it of its meaning, and used it for common swear word. I’ve profaned it.

This morning I’m once again thinking about words. It’s fun and challenging to debate the particulars of words and their usage. Despite the hairsplitting, it’s obvious that throughout God’s Message I’m reminded that words have power to heal, encourage, and build others up. They also have the power to sully, divide, tear down, and profane. I am reminded that the words we choose should be gracious, wise, and kind. May the words of my mouth always exemplify those basic guidelines.

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featured image by dorkmaster via flickr

The Sour Feeling in My Gut

source: stickyii via Flickr
source: stickyii via Flickr

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Revelation 10:9-10 (NIV)

As artists, Wendy and I love stories that are honest and well told, even when the honesty includes characters acting and speaking in ways we would find unacceptable for ourselves. Some people are offended when they hear a single profane word uttered in any context, but it typically doesn’t bother us when a truly profane character in a movie swears on the screen. Profane people say a lot of profane things. We usually roll with it without thinking much of it.

Having said this, there have been many times over the years that Wendy and I have felt spiritually soured when watching television, a movie, or when reading a book. For a couple of years we avidly watched a television program that was, and I’m sure still is, brilliantly written and well acted. It was network television, so there wasn’t anything in the weekly program which we found particularly objectionable. However, one night Wendy mentioned to me that she felt a “sourness” in her spirit watching the show. Coincidentally, I had been feeling the same gross feeling over the course of the previous few weeks, but without being sure why, I hadn’t said anything. To this day, I can’t tell you any one thing that was wrong or objectionable about the show, but in our gut we both felt spiritually gross watching it. So, we stopped.

I love the word picture of God asking John to eat the scroll in today’s chapter. The connection between God’s word and food is a recurring theme throughout God’s Message. For example, Jesus said when tempted to satiate his physical hunger that “man was not made for bread alone, but for every word that comes out of God’s mouth.”

A couple of related takeaways this morning:

There is a difference between reading and digesting. It’s one thing to have a small taste of greens, but popping a pea or two is not going to do you much good. You have to consume the green vegetable in larger portions if you want any health benefit. I have found the same to be true with reading God’s Message. For maximum spiritual health benefit, you can’t just have an occasional taste. It should be fully consumed and digested over time.

Transformation doesn’t take place without significant change, and change is often motivated by discomfort. When you get used to eating a healthier, more balanced diet you soon find that unhealthy things have a discomforting affect on your body and its functions. I don’t like the way I feel after eating all of those sweets or fats, and it motivates me to avoid doing it again. Once I changed my spiritual diet to include regular consumption of God’s Message, I found that I started feeling soured towards spiritually unhealthy things. I still can’t tell you what it was about the television program Wendy and I stopped watching, but the sourness in our spirits told us we needed to cut that program out of our entertainment diet. Call it what you want. I just know that when I something is spiritually off, the sour feeling in my soul motivates me to get things back in line.

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