~Late Night ’82~
In 6th grade study hall, of all places, I first committed the sin of blasphemy, without even fully knowing it. Here’s what happened.
At 12, as a new middle schooler, I was poised to enjoy more “grown-up” everything, including more teeny-bopper tunes on 96 KISS, swapping girls-wear for missy styles, and watching more adult television. I especially took in more late-night programs, with more shocking content, like “Friday Night Videos” and “Saturday Night Live”. I’d been watching war movies, westerns, and gangster fare, as well as soaps, Bandstand, Solid Gold, & Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts for eons, so it wasn’t as big a stretch as one might imagine. I wasn’t, therefore, making a leap from “Little House on the Prairie” to “Playboy After Dark”—just a nudge in the direction of the tawdry. ‘Twas more like the move from Johnny Weismuller Tarzan flicks, or “Gilligan’s Island”, to Mr. Roarke’s “Fantasy Island”, for the most part. I’d “graduated” from “G” to “PG”, but, truth be told, I also dabbled a bit in the more (soon-to-be-named) “PG-13” content of late night, too.
So, it was, then, that I was eager to soak up any late night humor I missed, due to overly observant parent intervention and the like. And, while it was difficult to act out Benny Hill sketches properly, out in the back yard, with friends, SNL, SCTV, and other late evening show skits were perfect for backyard repertory performance. Thus, a buddy passed on a little parody ditty, from one of the shows, and I quickly committed it to memory. Had I but shared it with my mother, who, herself, had sung me that dear old gem “Place In France” (with a warning not to sing it to schoolmates or pals, lest I offend), I feel sure that a reprimand for the blasphemous content, followed by a round of admonishment/explanation, would’ve surely ensued.
Instead, I kept it to myself, until a fateful day in a gym class study hall. Would that I had given deeper-than-mindless-preteen-level thought to the parody lyrics. Alas, I did not. As a student of good reputation, 4 years into a near-decade stint at a fundamentalist “skirt school”, it was, by far, the closest I came to being suspended. Here’s the lyric in question, as best I can recall. I think you’ll see how frankly sneering toward the Christianity I typified, at my best, it was.
(To the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”, which somehow makes it worse.)
“Jesus Loves Me, ‘Cause I’m Cool
I Pop Pills In Sunday School
Marijuana, LSD, Help Me Know
Jesus Loves Me”
Are you sitting in front of the computer, mouth agape, shaking your head in horror? I know I am. How could this get any worse? Don’t worry. It can. How? I shared this little ditty with my friend, Aimee—wait for it—in writing. I’m sure you can guess what came next. Yup. Mrs. Wall, my gym teacher, happened to look up, just as I passed this jolly little note. B-U-S-T-E-D. Cold busted.
What followed was my very kind, but firm, middle school principal, explaining to me as I heave-sobbed, that he really should be suspending me for my blasphemous missive. I didn’t (and still don’t) disagree. If I’d had any other infractions, I’m sure I’d have pulled the harsher sentence. What I settled for, instead, was a write-off, and a call to my mom at her office. This was no giggly “Place In France” level naughtiness. Far from it. Why? I hadn’t been mocking silly men, gaping through peepholes, while “inexplicably” (I was barely 12) dropping trou. I had, instead, poked fun at the deity I supposedly worshiped, while making light of druggy debauchery. I felt foolish. Ashamed. Confused.
So, what is blasphemy? Church teaching on the subject, obviously, hadn’t gotten through to me. In fact, I’m still unsure about what constitutes mocking or blaspheming God, in some respects. It’s sort of like the old saw about “indecency”— I know it when I see it. No sure-fire litmus test exists, for things teetering on the boundary line of blasphemous content & those simply in poor taste. This should be the kind of thing I’d be more clear about, 30 years later, but I’m not so sure I am.
“Monty Python’s Life of Brian“? Probably, although I’m having a hard time thinking up examples. John Lennon’s oft-quoted remark? Maybe. When I ponder how I define “blasphemy”, I think, generally, about speech or behavior that blatantly mocks the God-head, and in some cases, makes light of God’s standards.
That said, in some ways, I have become a bit less rigid. I think of the night at a Bible study, in the past decade, when someone remarked that one could sum up much of Biblical law with the following edict: “Don’t be a ____ (male appendage).” There was a time when the interjection of a profane body-part word, in a christian setting, would’ve stripped my gears. If there had been kids around, I might’ve felt differently. Instead, I didn’t mind so much, and it didn’t feel blasphemous in the least, given the context.
Does that mean I picture Jesus or His apostles with a “swear word jar”, filled to the brim with coin ? No. Does it mean I think profanity is okay, or that I encourage it, in any setting? Of course not. And I still, most definitely, don’t think the late-night tune I wrote out to giggle at with a friend was okay. I can’t explain, though, why some believers see blasphemy everywhere they turn, and see the world as a hatefully mocking, jeering throng, hell-bent on destroying Christendom and all that is holy.
I think God has a great sense of humor, and that He’s not damaged, to any great extent, by people who seek to try to unseat Him from His throne, by making Him the focus of derision & malicious wit. I worry that we followers of Christ sometimes come across as humorless hand-wringers, waiting to make mountains out of mole-hills, at every turn. I do wish to stand up & defend my faith, where that’s appropriate. I don’t want to be the christian equivalent of Debbie Downer. (Waaahh, waaah.) I want to dig deeper to learn more about what the Bible says about blasphemy, and to note where it has fallen silent, as well as where man has created controversies, absent from scriptural teaching.
Oh, and an EPILOGUE, if you’ll indulge me: Many of my life-long friendships were acquired at the aforementioned “skirt school”, which gave me many wonderful adult role models, several of whom I now count friends, Before the school closed, it had transformed into a less legalistic atmosphere (girls in pants & capris, a school “rock band”, even!), and my children were blessed to play several sports there, during the academy’s final year. I continued my classical/college prep education, during my senior year of high school, at a wonderful international boarding school, founded in 1880, and still going strong. I added many great life-long friendships, there, too, as well as new role models who enriched my life further. I graduated a few days before my Nashville “skirt school” friends, packed up my dorm room, and got back in time to attend my old friends’ baccalaureate & commencement. Who did I sit with? My former middle school principal—the same fellow who’d shown me mercy, all those years before. He, too, had moved on from my former school, and had come back to watch graduation of the Class of ’89. Catching up, we discovered an in-common favorite that would’ve been verboten years before, due to its inclusion of numbers with a pseudo- “rock beat”— the Broadway hit I’d just viewed on Jr./Sr. Trip, with my new school— Phantom of the Opera! If you know anything about how I first attracted Mr. Sparks’ attention, you’d know why Phantom became such a big deal to me. That’s a story for another day.
~Phantom Original NYC Cast~