I’ll admit that I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention. At funerals I tend to zone out once the religious talk begins, with no disrespect intended towards the recently departed. I acknowledge what people believe and I acknowledge how it helps them get through especially difficult situations such as the death of a loved one. I wouldn’t denigrate that in the least; anything that can comfort without harming is valuable.
But Christianity just isn’t really for me. We just don’t fit together. I wish it – and the people who follow it – no harm. It’s just not how I roll.
Nor will I pretend that that’s how I roll. I don’t want to misrepresent myself or my beliefs. So when the pastor asked the mourners to bow our heads in prayer, I silently declined. From that point on I kind of hung out in my own area, paying attention to people in the room rather than what the pastor was saying. It’s my default position: if nothing’s going on of immediate interest, I watch people.
My silent zoning was brought abruptly to a halt. It happened something like this:
PASTOR: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah spanking Jesus.
ME: Zoning. Wait. What…?
I tuned myself back into the immediate reality and heard him say, ‘That’s what Jesus did when he died on the cross. He took the spanking for us.’
Okay, I thought, it’s a strange analogy to make but yeah I suppose it’s a valid one. I prepared myself for more zoning out1 but the pastor continued:
‘You see, when we’ve maybe not lived as well as we could, we have to face our heavenly Father. Like any other father, His instinct may be to spank us. Discipline, after all, is important. We all need discipline. But that’s what Jesus does. He steps in for us. He says, “No, Dad. Spank me instead.”’
Despite my best efforts at self-control2 I felt my eyes widen in surprise. I kinda glanced around the room and saw people listening intently, some even dabbing their eyes. I sort-of questioned if I’d just heard that right, but Ashley caught my eye and I saw that once again my partner in mutual weirdness was right there with me, her eyes every bit as wide as my own.
The pastor carried on with this extended and curiously chosen metaphor for quite some time. I think he lectured about Jesus and spanking for maybe five minutes, putting those two words together – spanking Jesus – maybe half a dozen times.
And not once was it not just strange as hell.
I’m not at all disagreeing with his analogy. In a manner of speaking, yes, Jesus purportedly takes the spankings that are rightfully ours…if you assume that spanking means died for our sins.
I’m questioning his word-choice, like I so often do. Spanking? Spanking?!
Can’t we just say that Jesus takes our punishment for us? That Jesus takes a whipping for us?3
That He takes the heat? The blame? The rap?
Gets the book thrown at him?
Does the time for our crime?
Gets sent up the river? Chewed out? Called out on the carpet? His hide tanned? His wrist slapped? His just desserts?
Gets his what-for?
Is given the business? The fix?
Is tarred and feathered?
Can we use any phrase as all that doesn’t make me think of the Son of God in any type of or sadomasochistic way?
Because while maybe I don’t accept the vast majority of Christianity’s teachings, I don’t wholly rule out that its teachings are possible.4 If they’re possible then Jesus may very well be the Son of God. If Jesus is the Son of God, then if I have to face God at some point I’d rather not have him hold it against me that I once pictured his boy draped across someone’s knee getting his ass smacked!5 I don’t mean to be irreverent, but that’s what I thought and I’m pretty sure that’d be a tough one to explain to the Big Dude.
All I’m angling for here is a brief consideration of word-choice. Any of you out there who read this silly blog and who also happen to preach, proselytize, and/or testify, please please please consider the words you’re using whilst doing so. Humanizing Jesus6 is totally fine and cool. But take it a bit far – like ‘spanking Jesus’ – and you’re going to find yourself and perhaps some of your listeners in the back of the bus with Scorsese.7,8
- Which was hard to do with Ashley’s three-year-old nephew sitting on her lap next to me. He behaved about as well as could be expected but he gave fidgety a whole new meaning.
- Which let’s face it never really does me a whole lot of good anyway.
- This one at least has Biblical precedent, what with all the flogging and everything He took at the hands of the Romans and Mel Gibson.
- Same with pretty much any religion, with the exception of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
- And maybe let’s also say maybe I pictures Him in leather ass-less chaps.
- Dear 8-pound, 6-ounce baby Jesus…
- Who’ll have to answer for The Last Temptation of Christ if he ever meets the Big Guy. I have a feeling that won’t go well for him.
- And I’ll throw in a little self-conscious editorial here and say that I mean absolutely no disrespect to the recently departed. The scene described above could have happened anywhere; it just happened to have happened at a funeral.