My Foam FingerFeatured — By Bethany Rivera on August 8, 2012 at 7:19 am
Old people get a bad rap. Not all the time, but sometimes, and mostly they’re who come to mind when we hear statements like, “Society these days… it’s falling to pieces.” Or, “In my day, no one used to do that.” Images of wrinkles surface with these sentiments, but I’m twenty-four, nearly wrinkleless, and I think of crumbling morality nearly every day.
I think of it because I see moral decline within me.
When I was a child, for several years my father was given seasonal tickets to a professional football team a few hours away from home. His company did some credentials for the NFL and particularly this team, so to our benefit, my family frequently made the drive to enjoy a game in seats which some fans would sacrifice both arms for.
I have many memories of these Sunday outings. Almost immediately I remember my obsession with obtaining a foam finger, which at the time seemed non-existent in terms of fan paraphernalia. At one particular game, I spotted a woman several sections over enthusiastically waving her foam fixture in the air in all its purple glory. In attempts to appease my obsession, my mother approached the woman with me and kindly inquired where she’d purchased the object. When the woman informed us that it was decades old and no longer available, my mom did what any extraordinary, or perhaps desperate, parent might consider. She offered money for the finger, which to my dismay, the woman declined.
In addition to memories surrounding foam, there were a plethora of instances which involved rowdy crowds, fantastic wins, freezing toes, and a vast conglomeration of friends and family members who we often carried along for the adventures. Indeed, the collage of these experiences was delightful despite the often unexpected mishaps which occurred along the way. We were, in most respects, the typical American family out to enjoy our nation’s most prominent sport.
Of these football days, one memory remains more vivid than the rest. The game was over, our team had lost, and my family was midway into the well-worn trail back to our vehicle. Ahead of us was a group of men, all of whom were loud, boisterous, and a little too intoxicated to be driving themselves home. As the distance between us and them became less and less, almost as if on cue, profanity began to fill the air. One man in particular spewed one curse word after another before releasing the big one: the f-bomb.
My nine year old mind finally knew the mystery behind the middle finger and the forbidden word which had occupied my thoughts for hours in deliberation of what exactly “f” stood for. Rather quickly my dad addressed the man who had inadvertently satisfied my curiosity. “Hey buddy,” he said, “can you watch your mouth? I have kids here.” The man laughed snidely and released a few more four letter varieties in my family’s direction. Then, in one last attempt to redeem the situation, my father asked, “Would you talk like that if you were in front of your mother?”
Angrily, the man spewed, “Hell yeah,” before proceeding to flip my dad off as well as confirm once again what exactly the “f” meant.
Despite this memorable situation, the prevalent usage of this word remained at bay for the remaining majority of my child and adolescent years. Scarcely did I hear, say, think, or feel the propensity to whisper what I knew to be the worst expression of profanity known to humankind. A shift has occurred however. Somewhere within the last fifteen years, the tide changed in terms of both the commonness and the acceptability of the f-word within American culture.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the swinging pendulum of toleration can be seen in today’s box office. Noteworthy film critic, Roger Ebert, wrote an insightful piece about the role the f-word had in a conflict regarding the MPAA rating system for a recent documentary. According to Ebert, this film which portrays bullying amongst students has created quite a stir in the media realm because it received an R-rating instead of the PG-13 designation its producers desired. The conflict regarding the rating hinged on the usage of this one term of profanity. Clearly, we as a society are sure of the word within our language system, but remain unsure as to how to use it in correlation to the lives of our children and youth.
I find great concern in this issue concerning language on a variety of levels. A pastor once wisely told me the goal of the church must exceed outdoing societal morality. He said if the church simply wished to be two rungs higher than the world, then the lower the world plunged into sin, the closer the church would be to embracing it as well. With great hesitation, I return to the Scripture and question how a modern faith community can remain relevant and immersed in our culture and in our neighborhoods without compromising one of the greatest tools of our faith: the words escaping our lips.
Additionally, as I consider bringing offspring into the world, I halfheartedly echo again what we expect to hear from the elderly. Society feels like it’s going to hell in a hand basket and I wonder if one day there will a page in my child’s English book discussing the proper context for the f-word. Quite truthfully, I would find little concern with this if I didn’t believe in Christ. But I do, and thus, I recognize the moral decline of language is not a problem for others to address. It’s my problem, your problem, and our future children’s, and God-willing believers, problem as well.
And indeed, I have been far from impenetrable in the changing tide of acceptability of the mysterious term I discovered at the age of nine. Films and songs can make me wince with the excessiveness of profanity, yet I don’t always turn them off. When I recently stubbed my toe on a bedrail and found the big one escaping my mouth, I knew my mind had become infiltrated and I had succumbed with the vast of Americans and conceivably Christians to the dialect around me.
But simple awareness of such proves to provide little change, for there must be action. So what do we, as people of God, do? And more importantly, how do we go about doing it? I ask myself this daily.
Certainly there isn’t one set answer or solution. We can’t live under rocks and we can’t avoid every conversation around the coffee pot at work. But conceivably we can begin somewhere and perhaps the starting point is personally deprioritizing the f-word by flooding our lives and relationships with other words, better and more meaningful ones. As pastors, doctors, writers, mothers, fathers, mechanics, students, anything, conceivably one day the most profound evident of Christ may simply be lips which only offer beautiful things.
And secretly, I just hope foam paraphernalia doesn’t change from the index finger to the middle one.