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This Advent devotional uses language you won’t find in Scriptures

Rend the Heavens
Rend the Heavens is the PG-rated version of F*** This S***: An Advent Devotional. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche and the Rev. Jason Chesnut
Rend the Heavens

Rend the Heavens is the PG-rated version of F*** This S***: An Advent Devotional. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche and the Rev. Jason Chesnut

(RNS) For many Christians who observe the liturgical season of Advent leading up to Christmas, an Advent devotional is a beloved companion.

Such devotionals typically include a short Scripture reading and reflection on the birth of Jesus.

But most are “crap,” according to the Rev. Jason Chesnut of Baltimore.

“They’re all about hope and love and joy and candles. … It’s always this nice, warm, feel-good thing, and I don’t think that gets to the crux of what the season is about,” said Chesnut.

At least, he said, it didn’t get to the crux of this year’s dark news: demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota; the Flint water crisis; the shootings by police of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and others; the spike in hate crimes since the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

So Chesnut and the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche, both pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, created their own digital Advent devotional for 2016, unorthodoxly titled “F*** This S***.”

The Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche, a pastor within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, co-created a digital Advent devotional for 2016 with the unorthodox title of “F--- This S---.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche

The Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche, a pastor within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, co-created a digital Advent devotional for 2016 with the unorthodox title of “F— This S—.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Tuhina Verma Rasche

“We are not using this to be ‘cool,’” Verma Rasche, who’s based in the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote in a post announcing the devotional on the internet platform Medium.

“We are using these words because they are troubling. They are unsettling. They are being used to move us from places of complacency. If anything, we are using these words to reflect the brokenness of the humanity in which we live.”

The idea for the devotional came as Chesnut and Verma Rasche were preparing for the grass-roots “Decolonize Lutheranism 2016″ gathering this fall in Chicago.

After back-to-back police shootings of black men, Verma Rasche messaged her fellow pastor the poem “Rend the Heavens,” a Psalm for Advent that blogger Micah J. Murray had written in 2014. It repeats the line, “F*** this s***.”

Chesnut messaged her back with the idea for the Advent devotional.

Verma Rasche then created a Facebook post asking people for their favorite swear words. It got nearly 100 responses — far more than her posts usually get, she said.

That may be why a new study finds people’s preference for positive words declines during times of war and economic hardship. The study, which analyzed Google Books and The New York Times’ archives from the last 200 years, also found an overall decrease in positive language use over that time period.

The two pastors then matched the list of expletives she had collected with the Scripture readings from the Daily Revised Common Lectionary for the season of Advent — verses, she said, “that really kind of ask, ‘Where are you, God?’ and also verses that were a cry for justice and a cry for righting the wrongs of the world.”

“I think a lot of that is missed in the season of Advent.”

Advent traditionally has been considered “a little Lent,” the season of repentance leading up to Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

It begins with the prophet Isaiah’s call for God to “tear open the heavens and come down,” Chesnut noted, and that theme continues in prayers throughout the season, not just awaiting the birth of Jesus, but also Christ coming again at the end of time.

The two pastors created a PDF (also available in a PG-rated version titled “Rend the Heavens”) listing the themes and verses for each day of Advent and released it to the internet, inviting others to post their reactions to the prompts using the hashtag #F***ThisS*** (using the actual letters).

They also are posting written reflections by themselves and others and artistic responses by artist and activist A’Driane Nieves on Medium.

In the days since the first Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27), Chesnut said they have received “phenomenal” reactions: haikus, photographs, other writing and images. They’ve heard from both Christians and non-Christians who have said they’ve never observed Advent or they don’t go to church or they haven’t been interested in devotionals in years – until now.

And while Chesnut said the response “overwhelmingly” has been positive, they also have received pushback from other Christians about the R-rated language.

“The cry for justice and mercy doesn’t need to be crude. We don’t have to scream and rail – God’s in control,” one Twitter user responded to his tweets about the devotional.

Another Facebook commenter wrote, “I guess we can state reasons to justify foul language but does it really belong in the church?”

The Rev. Jason Chesnut, a pastor within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, co-created a digital Advent devotional for 2016 with the unorthodox title of “F--- This S---.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jason Chesnut

The Rev. Jason Chesnut, a pastor within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, co-created a digital Advent devotional for 2016 with the unorthodox title of “F— This S—.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jason Chesnut

But, Chesnut said, “Jesus coming into the world isn’t about Advent calendars or counting down the days until Christmas. It’s really a sense of saying, ‘OK, the world is messed up,’ and we are tapping into the prophetic heritage of saying that we are crying out for God to do something about it.”

Their language isn’t all that different from the harsh words of the prophets or the book of Revelation ­– or of the salty reformer who led to the founding of their denomination, he said.

“I think Luther would be very proud of us,” Chesnut said.

Verma Rasche added, “Are you kidding? I think (the prophet) Amos would be really proud of us. Isaiah would be very proud of us – and Ezekiel.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

24 Comments

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  • “The cry for justice and mercy doesn’t need to be crude. We don’t have to scream and rail – God’s in control.”

    And with that one common-sense biblical Tweet, an ordinary simple Christian tweeter named Anna Sherod defeats this entire potty-mouth (and potty-brain) mess. Much thanks, Ms. Sherod!

  • I have no problems with swearing but this just seems… like they’re trying too hard to be edgy.

    And more people who think they no best about how the world should be and are bitter that it is the way it is. No acceptance is ever afforded for this world, everyone always wants it to be different.

  • Re “the spike in hate crimes since the election of President-elect Donald Trump”:

    “The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 867 ‘hate incidents’ in the 10 days after Donald Trump was elected president, more than 300 of which included direct references to the president-elect or his campaign rhetoric…. The center also counted 23 incidents it classified as ‘anti-Trump,’…”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/civil-rights-group-documents-nearly-900-hate-incidents-after-presidential-election/2016/11/29/de97e88a-b654-11e6-b8df-600bd9d38a02_story.html?utm_campaign=5b04203837-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_12_01&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Pew%20Research%20Center&utm_term=.0422ac9a357f

    http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/national/the-southern-poverty-law-center-report-on-incidents-of-hate-after-the-election/2225/

  • While the ancient prophets of Israel, and Jesus Himself never scrupled to avoid harsh language when called for, they typically did not revert to scatological language. I know of only one exception. In 1st Kings, chapter 18, verse 27, Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal for his unresponsiveness to their appeals. He lists several possibilities for what is keeping Baal from responding; (1) He is meditating, (2) He is busy, (3) He is on a journey or (4) He is asleep. I have heard it said that the phrase “He is busy” translates from the Hebrew as “He is using the latrine.” Personally, I am disturbed by the methodology if not the motives of the ministers in question.

  • ” F*** THIS S*** ”
    The atheists have been expressing this sentiment for millennia….
    Admirable….
    The shock-jock clerics who plagiarized this phrase are jockeying for their 15 min of fame….
    Deplorable….
    (plagiarized from HRC)

  • The Psalms are full of people who are screaming and railing for justice. Lament in all its forms is a righteous pursuit. God is big enough to handle both potty-mouthed laments and priggish sanctimony.

  • The verse you cite could be read that way. The term “that urinate against the wall” is actually used quite often in the prophetic works. Older English translations like the KJV use “piss,” a term that was not I guess thought of as too vulgar at that time. The general context is that a place is going to be destroyed and not even “he that urinates against the wall,” i.e., a dog, will survive. Some translations just eliminate this problem (pun intended) and substitute “male.” Also, the Torah itself in Deuteronomy 28:27 warns the people of Israel that if they do not obey the commandments they will be afflicted with hemorrhoids, but the word used literally means “that which is in the dark holes.”

  • g key, Many people missed the public refutation or doubting or allegations of bias against this statistic, asking if was vetted and how and by whom. Vetting rarely results in answers worthy of notoriety like the “867” being tossed around these days.

  • I like it. I have shared that feeling many, many times. Here’s the ironic thing: The pastors are talking about real issues, about suffering people, but the commenters here are focused on profane language. That’s the point!

    All I can say is F*** This Sh**. (and god certainly can handle a little swearing)

  • Re “refutation”: Citations?
    Re “doubting or allegations of bias”: Always.

    Based upon Donald Trump’s and his campaign & transition teams’ notorious exhortations, the foreseeably notorious responses of his supporters to those inciteful exhortations, and the notorious actual physical responses of his supporters against dissenters at his rallies and elsewhere, I’d say SPLC’s “documented 867 ‘hate incidents’ ” seems… conservative.

  • You haven’t cited it, so we can take your response with a grain of salt. Please provide links to “public refutation”.

  • “No acceptance is ever afforded for this world, everyone always wants it to be different.”

    Fast Eddie, the season of Advent is a time to emphasize how and why the world needs to be different. It is a time in anticipation of the arrival of Christ (i.e., Christmas), who has not yet come into the world. That is the tension Verma Raschke and Chesnut wish to highlight.

  • Spuddie, Thank you for the opportunity to clarify. (Cursed English! The idea was clear in my head!) I should have added words to the effect that I think that the list may be unvetted, and that vetting ought to be public. Would the 867 hold up?

  • Well, let’s be honest Scott. The Psalms are full of people who **still remember Who they are talking to, and talk accordingly**, even when they are praying some hard statements like the classic Ps 137:9 (the one that talks about dashing babies against rocks.) They call for justice, but they always remember Who they’re talking to.

    If you’ll check the dialog between Arbrustin and Edward, you get the picture. The psalmists, under the inspiration & supervision of the Holy Spirit, don’t get scatological or obscene, even if they sometimes get blunt.

    Indeed, go check Ps 137. There isn’t even a HINT of worthless cussing mess like “F*** that S*** “. Instead, you see the astonishing LACK of screaming and railing. The Psalmist is NOT composing and writing this Psalm by “polling people for their favorite curse words.” (Sheesh!)

    See how rationally and respectfully this imprecatory psalmist is talking to God, despite the pain of seeing what the enemy did to little babies, and his prayer is only for the enemy to get theirs in turn. No potty-mouth, no potty-brain, no screaming, no railing. No excuses. You agree?

  • I love it when people try to tell the Lord God Almighty, the thrice-holy God of the Bible, what kind of sins HE is supposed to tolerate or not-tolerate from them.
    Me, I’d be scared to death to try that game with Him (and I say that as a person who’s got “issues” and sins like everybody else).

    With the sins on my resume, nobody has to tell ME what I deserve. I know I’d be suffering, shamed, jailed, dead, (most likely a combo platter!), if God decided to simply give me what I deserve.
    Wouldn’t be God’s fault AT ALL if I went to Hell tomorrow (but since Jesus mercifully saved me, I’m going the other direction instead and try to invite others).

    So don’t be telling God what sins HE is supposed to put up with from you. That’s arrogance, for he doesn’t owe you or me anything. It’s HIM who is putting up with YOU right now, and giving YOU all kinds of undeserved favors every week behind your back, simply because He knows you and loves you already.

  • Yes, a lot of people are stressed, suffering, struggling with situations. They could use some Advent help and hope. But if Christians have any help and hope to offer, it’s NOT going to come about by harvesting and using people’s favorite cuss words, words by which :

    ***kids and teenagers get bullied in school and on the streets

    ***adult disagreements escalate into violence and shootings and wrecked families.

    Clergy have to get this one right. These two ELCA clergy did not. Words matter.
    “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Eph. 4:29)

  • Umm, take a look at the post I just wrote way above. (I didn’t post this most-recent one specifically to you, because nobody wants a bunch of posts aimed specifically at them anyway. So I try to break things up a little and spread it around hopefully.)

    Anyway, it’s that most-recent post that has the Bible verse you’re asking about. Been trying to find a way to sneak it in.

  • No, actually, I don’t. Frankly, I find the thought of dashing the heads of babies against rocks far more obscene than anything I’ve read in this devotional. I’d be willing to bet that when the psalmists were putting together Psalm 130, for example, “Out of the depths I cry to you” was their sanitized way of translating, “We’re fucking dying down here!”

    Jason, Tuhina, and the other writers aren’t claiming their words are to be taken as scripture. So maybe my point about the Psalms is a bit of a misdirection in the first place. But I’m not bothered by a lament that includes profanity. Many of my prayers when I was going through a painful divorce included all sorts of profane, obscene language. God’s big enough to hear it and to know the heart behind it. By stating it publicly, these writers are acknowledging that God will go all the way down into the depths of our pain and sorrow with us, regardless of whether we use polite language or not.

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