flipping the bird.

Recently, there’s been some drama with evangelist, Clayton Jennings, and blogger/pastor JD Hall. If you don’t know who either of these people are, don’t worry about it. It’s not worth looking into – it’s just dumb, but I’ll sum it up: an entitled and proud millennial evangelist is super mad about a conservative, judgmental blogger dragging out all of his dirty laundry. They’re both ridiculous. That’s about it.

But that’s not what this is about. In response, one of the more immature things Clayton did was post a picture of himself with two middle fingers sky high.

This has obviously ruffled a few feathers.

Now, I don’t have 800,000+ followers on social media, BUT, a similar picture did cost me a ministry gig.

I was going to be PAYING to rent a room at a church to teach holy yoga, and the church revoked my permission and turned down my money because of past sins, and a few bad words and this picture here on my blog:

So, I get it. At least the backlash about the birds. Well familiar.

And in reading through the comments though, I learned something EXTRA fascinating about the middle finger and it’s history that I’d love to share.

But first, some context:

One commenter, who I’m sure is VERY sweet and sincere and pure (in the traditional, American church culture sense) had her own idea about why flipping somebody the bird is “bad.” ‘It’s because you’re giving the finger to God, that’s why it’s pointed upward.’ (not a direct quote but as close as my memory allows).

This was followed by a number of comments from people who found this idea comical; which, yeah. I’m not going to lie. It’s a little funny. There is no way that’s accurate history, let alone biblical. But this one was my favorite, and why I’m writing today – to pass on the news.

“The Middle Finger is a reference to the battle of Agincourt. Therefore, He’s telling the world, that they’ve not cut his bowfinger off and he can still lob arrows of righteousness.”

First of all, thank you to this champ for this nugget of info. Unfortunately, they are ALSO wrong. There’s a ton of information to support why, but the fact that the middle finger predates said battle is a pretty definitive one. You can read all about it here. Much to my disappointment, Snopes does a wonderful job debunking this idea.

However, this did prompt me to do a little digging to understand the cultural context and implications of the gesture, as well as its history. And I found this well-written piece from the BBC.

To summarize, it’s a phallic insult gesture.

(If you don’t know what that means, it’s a penis. It’s just a symbolic penis. Because, men. Even enlightened, ancient Roman and Grecian men.)

Obviously, over time, it’s come to mean less about a man’s penis, and more about just insulting someone. We, in the US, likely inherited it from Italian immigrants, but the French and English have their own versions. Shoot, the English make a ‘V’ with their middle and index fingers, and it’s known as a ‘double phallus.’ This is hilarious, because in the US, that is a peace sign, deuces, or a part of an inappropriate gesture of a sexual act on a woman.

My point though, is this: when it comes to ‘obscene’ gestures and language, it’s all about context and use. I don’t think its necessary just to be vulgar and offensive just for the sake of pissing people off. But there ARE such things as cultural context and righteous indignation.

In the BBC article, a law professor named Ira Robbins, who has studied the middle finger’s place in criminal jurisprudence stated that it’s no longer even an obscene gesture. From the article:

“It does not appeal to the prurient interests,” he says.

“This gesture is so well ingrained in everyday life in this country and others. It means so many other things, like protest or rage or excitement, it’s not just a phallus.”

And he rejects an Associated Press journalist’s characterisation of the gesture as “risque”.”

Furthermore, our own God is a God that experiences anger and has expressed that anger to His people – Deuteronomy 9:8, Exodus 15:7, Exodus 32:10, Numbers 11:1-2, Job 4:9, Isaiah 13:5, Jeremiah 32:29…. the list goes on, and on, and on….

and before anyone says, “Well that’s all Old Testament God, Sam. Jesus.” Okay. Two things:

1) We, the created things, were created in the image of THAT God. God hasn’t CHANGED. He is slow to but can still experience anger, but His wrath from that anger was poured out on Jesus, not us. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t get angry about sin, it just means we won’t experience His wrath for it. Anger is a part of His emotional make up and is therefore a part of ours. Some things deserve to get angry about and feisty about and some situations might call for a well-timed f-word or middle finger to relay or communicate that anger and indignation. (I’m going to thrown my own birds in this camp.)

And 2) Jesus. Yes, Jesus. Sweet, sinless Jesus. Let’s be clear, sinless did not mean passive, disconnected, unemotional, and inoffensive. No, Jesus was ABSOLUTELY offensive, to the religious community of the time mostly, and He definitely got furious from time to time! Here’s one you might recall from Matthew 3:7:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

And another from Matthew 21:12-13

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”

Insert table flips here.

This was not a Savior, God-Man who never acted on His feelings, but instead, had enough self-awareness and perfect control of His feelings, in order to use them for good and glory, amen?

So, do I think this kind of thing is sinful? Obviously not. Do I think it’s of God? Maybe sometimes.

And if that offends you, maybe it’s a good time to seek out these stories from the Bible. What does God do with His anger, and does it ever come out as sarcasm or snark? Is God ever offensive? Was Jesus offensive in God’s name? Why? Who do I identify with more: radical Jesus or the Pharisees?

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