A Note to My Readers

As the end of the year approaches, I’d like to take a break from regularly scheduled pontification and briefly (I promise!) share some personal thoughts about my life, this blog space, and you, dear reader.

This past year has been a wonderfully productive and blessed season for me. In addition to my regular responsibilities at my day job, I’ve been able to contribute writing and editing to several different places. Some of this work has earned income, some has earned opportunity and exposure. In either case, I’ve been blessed to be able to use my voice at a variety of websites and organizations that I greatly respect. This is a blessing beyond what I could ask or think.

In addition to my published writing around the web, I’ve maintained this blog space. This year the blog has generated over 80,000 views. That’s a spectacular number to me, especially considering how few resources have been poured into publicizing what I write here. I am dependent almost entirely on the clicks, shares, and retweets of those who know me through social media.

Whether at this website, or at any number of different sites that I’ve written for in the past year, I am exceedingly grateful to be doing what I love. This isn’t something I take for granted. But it’s also something I realize is precarious. I’m sure it doesn’t shock you to hear that writing is not a profitable line of work. The vast majority of what I write–hundreds of thousands of words–is not compensated in any way. I do not receive any money for what I write here. That means that I spend many hours a month trying to articulate halfway coherent, truthful thoughts for free. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. But having a baby and a young family to support is also a good thing.

I’ve tried this year  to give a voice to a thoughtful, convictional, kind, and helpful Christian worldview. My aim when I sit down to blog is NOT to grab your attention with an overreacting headline and clickbait. It could be that my traffic would greatly improve if I were just a little more willing to accuse, exaggerate, or just be a hack. But I’m not willing, and I’m fine with whatever cost that creates. I’ve probably written something this year that you’ve disagreed with (or maybe many things!). My sincere hope is that even in those cases, you’ve found something hopeful, encouraging, and worthwhile.

If you’ve appreciated my writing this year, particularly at SamuelDJames.net, would you consider supporting it? Below I’ve installed an option to donate any amount via PayPal. This donation is not a subscription. I have no intention of charging for this website, or any of my writing. This is merely a way to support what you find helpful here.

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Thank you very much for reading, sharing, commenting, and supporting. These are challenging times for many, and as George Orwell once said, sometimes seeing what is right in front of one’s face is a constant struggle. I hope that in some way this year, I’ve helped you see.


The Problem of Public Profanity

Rod Dreher writes about a disappointing, blue-tongued concert from Adele:

I am not a prude about language, as my male friends will attest. But there is a time and a place for that kind of talk, and onstage at The Royal Albert Hall is not it, at least not if you are a gorgeous singer of pop ballads like Adele. Her fans didn’t seem to mind it at all, to be clear, but every time she dropped an f-bomb, I kept thinking, You are so beautiful, so enormously talented, such a gifted artist, and here you are, in The Royal Albert Hall, a high temple of musical performance, in a moment of  complete triumph, and … this is how you talk? 

It didn’t make me mad, really, only sad for her, and for a popular culture that doesn’t know how to behave in a place like The Royal Albert Hall, or anywhere else that’s not a rodeo arena, pretty much. Can you imagine being elderly Adele, looking back on a career of fame and accomplishment, screening your performance at The Royal Albert Hall for your grandchildren, and having to listen to your younger self, speaking like that?

Not long ago I was flipping through a major news magazine, the kind that middle schoolers would be expected to consult in a research or current event project. An article in this magazine printed, without obfuscation, an explicit profanity. My feeling of surprise wasn’t at the word itself; I wasn’t scandalized that people would use such a term. What did take me off guard was the editorial decision to print it. Did the magazine simply assume its readers eyes would bounce off the profanity like they bounced off the prepositions? Did the editors not have a sense that this word was not fit for this space? Was it that they felt this epithet was just like any other word–or were the pages of the magazine just like any other space?

Like Rod, I am not easily offended by language. But I have to agree with him that we’ve lost a sense of the impropriety of public profanity.

As a Christian, I know that I’ll be held accountable for every word that I speak, and I believe that words have intrinsic power either toward love or toward sin. I’m not interested though in foisting a Christian doctrine of speech on my neighbors, and to that end, I would submit that there is most certainly a difference between how a group of friends sitting at a restaurant talk to one another, and how those people would talk amongst strangers in public. I’m not for policing speech, just neighborliness.

That, I think, is the main issue with public profanity. People who don’t care about what others hear from them are really not caring about others. I know that profanity is common in a lot of places, and that most people you’ll hear while pumping gas or buying groceries probably don’t have a hang up about bad words. But someone’s being accustomed to four letter bombs doesn’t excuse them from neighborliness anymore than someone’s being accustomed to cruel joking absolves them from being a jerk.

How we speak in public is an issue of neighborliness because words have meaning and power. We all believe this instinctively, which is why, when we meet someone for the first time, there’s an innate desire to get our language correct. If a new acquaintance tells you she is a substitute teacher, and you subsequently refer to her as a “temp,” you are being un-neighborly with your language. The words we choose, especially in public, convey our sense of moral and social responsibility. A “potty mouth” isn’t just a quirky temperament; it’s a deficiency in kindness.

I also don’t think we can comfort ourselves that “nobody is offended.” I think there’s more offense taken than is often revealed. At a previous job, two of my coworkers with desks close to me relished telling each other stories and jokes loaded with four-letter saltines. As far as I can remember, I never once complained or asked them to stop, even though I find their weekly dialogue incredibly rude. I didn’t want drama, and in any way I didn’t want to be “that guy.” I have to believe this happens quite a bit.

This isn’t being a “prude.” If pointing out the obnoxiousness of public swearing irritates some, could it be because we have made our speech just one more extension of our utterly autonomous selves? If repairing our fractured, dis-empathetic public square is a problem worth solving, maybe it would be good to start with our own mouths. It’s not about “legalism” or even sheltering children. It’s about caring enough about those around us to not dare them to listen to us.