Series and Serials
“Wait, where?” That couldn’t be right. Zeb double-checked the address on the display.
POSSIBLE TRIPLE HOMICIDE: 512 Maple Avenue, White Pine, NC
“Well, shit. Here we go,” he thought. “On my way,” he said, as the radio sent his voice careening through space.
It wasn’t a long or hard drive. In fact, Kevin knew exactly where he was going. White Pine was his old hometown. It’s not the type of place to get much attention from homicide—not that they didn’t have their share of domestic quarrels that ended with some woman or man blowing their spouse’s head off. He had seen plenty of that, but that happens everywhere. Put a couple people in a house, depress them economically, give them booze and guns, and you’ve got a recipe for any measure of violence.
He thought over some of his cases as he drove. Second to last time he was called out here, it was for a knifing. Joel Osborne’s boy. Zeb remembers walking into a kitchen that looked like a scene from the Saw movies. He hated those movies. Joel was a drunk. His son was a bastard. Everyone in town lowered their voices when they talked about him. They didn’t ignore him; gossip was too much fun for that, but they had to signal that the usual Southern sensibilities would be offended by the actions of their subject.
Teenaged Mitt caused trouble for everyone at the local high school. Joel would be called in to pick up his son, and the teachers would purse their lips and look the other way while the father mentally and verbally beat his son on their way to the truck. Mitt was accepted into the Marines straight out of high school, but he was back in town just months later. Dishonorable discharge. Joel couldn’t take it. The gossip continued in its hushed tones, and Mitt worked various construction jobs as a laborer and lived in a trailer near his father’s house.
The report said that he died from massive blood loss and pulmonary laceration. Zeb didn’t have the read the report to know that. Mitt had brought home a girl from an out-of-town bar. They were both drunk, but apparently, she wasn’t as far gone as he thought. He attacked her in the bedroom, but she managed to break free. The phone was hanging from its cord when the police and EMS arrived. Zeb remembered thinking that it fit the area to have a corded phone on the wall. She had the time to dial 911 and grab a knife from the counter before he made it into the kitchen. He was very drunk, and she had some training in some form of martial arts, Zeb couldn’t remember which.
She had bruises all over her body, and the EMS people said that she was coated in his blood. She was in shock. She answered his questions in single syllables. The last he heard, she had gone back to her family out-of-state. Hopefully she got some help.
That all happened on a Friday. He expected the call on Sunday. In fact, he had warned his superiors about it. Joel didn’t show up at church that morning. Joel was a regular. He hadn’t missed a Sunday in 45 years. He arrived ten minutes early and always sat on the inside end of the pew in the back row of the balcony at the local Baptist church. He placed a twenty in the offering plate every morning, and he always asked the preacher to pray for his boy.
Zeb made the drive back out to White Pine. Joel was in his barn. There was a note in the dining room, apologizing for the mess. The buckshot had made a mess.
When Zeb asked why no one had gone to see Joel on Saturday, the local police chief said that some officers planned to check on Joel at the church service. Zeb knew they had waited on purpose. The chief didn’t like Joel’s type. He knew he wouldn’t be coming to church that day. Zeb had sighed and thanked the chief for his time. He knew there was no changing those politics. He’d have better luck trying to put Joel’s face back together.
That was the last time he had been out to White Pine for work. This time was different, though. Maple Avenue was in the “nice” part of town. “The big house street,” as he remembered calling it when he was a kid. This was usually burglary territory. Someone egged a car. Every now and then domestic violence. Joel couldn’t remember the last time they had a reported homicide here. Every now and then some old lady or man would die in their house, but that’s just life—he chuckled—the last part of it, anyway.
The house was massive, by small town standards. Most of the houses in town were mill houses or brick ranch homes. This would’ve been the mill owner’s home. He grimaced as he pulled up to the checkpoint. They had closed down the entire street for this one. A couple reporters spotted the government plates and tried to flag him down. He ignored them. A local officer moved the barricade so Zeb could drive through. Zeb recognized him: Matthew Haynes. Nice kid. He was several years younger than Zeb. He grew up in White Pine and signed on to their police force after going through the County’s community college law enforcement program. His face was grim. Zeb guessed that he hadn’t had to deal with anything worse than the local bar getting a little out of hand.
“Hey Zeb. The chief’s somewhere inside. He’ll be glad to see you.”
The chief may have been glad to see him, but that’s all relative. A starving person is glad to find a piece of bread, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s starving. Zeb saw the severity of the situation on the chief’s face.
“No. Nothing’s missing.”
“Maybe they got scared when they saw the family. Panicked. Killed them. It happens all the time.”
“Does the killer usually paint a mural on the wall afterwards?”
Zeb felt the disgust welling up in his throat when he turned the corner into the living room. A man and a woman were seated in chairs in the living room, both facing the wall where a TV had been. They were dead. The man’s eyes were propped open with toothpicks; a bloody smile was painted onto his face. The woman’s head had been meticulously wrapped in masking tape, and something resembling a surprised face had been painted over the top. The TV was leaned against the wall. The public tv station was playing. The wall, which had been white, had a mural on it. Zeb stared for a moment. The mural was a picture of the room. The paint came from the body on the TV stand. The monochromatic mural showed the room as it had been altered. The bodies sat in their chairs, staring back in a sort of meta-observation. The painted TV leaned against the painted wall, and the morbid palette was half-mirrored in the base of the image. It was the center of the image that caught Zeb’s attention, made his heart sink. In the middle of the portrait was an image of the police chief, looking down at his feet, and another man. Wearing the same clothes as Zeb. Staring directly back at him.
“You know,” he said, as he sat in the old wooden rocker, watching the fire. “People talk about the perseverance of the Saints as if it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure it is.” The old man stared at the flames as they danced around the logs. “I mean, sure. ‘Once saved always saved,’ and all that jazz, but wouldn’t it be better if we could lose our salvation?”
“How are we even certain of our salvation in the first place, Jim? We’re told that good fruit comes from good trees, but then at other times we’re told that all the trees are rotten, and only one thing can rid the rot. Where’s that magical tipping point?” Jim didn’t answer.
“‘Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart,’ Jim! That’s what they used to say. They also told me that I couldn’t do anything. ‘Not by works, old boy.’ ‘God is love, son;’ that’s why He burns the rotten trees that couldn’t grow anew. I mean, you can’t allow the infection to fester. What about when God plants the trees, Jim? What then? What if the infection is sown by the Doctor? The Doctor sure doesn’t like to see His patients suffer. That much is clear. What Doctor would? At what point do the sick become the condemned, though? I just don’t know, Jim.” Jim just sat there.
A fiery avalanche in miniature tumbled into the ashes. Sparks cartwheeled and floated, seemingly of their own volition. The air expanded and exploded, and Jim just sat there.
“I really want to believe in a loving God, you know? I can’t believe that there is no God. Sure, perhaps our idea of God is wrong. I could be a deist, but then there’s all those stories. God is love. Jesus loves the little children. He healed that woman who bled; He deigned to touch the lepers. Love your enemies and, bless those who curse you. The peace that would result from such an attitude, Jim! But I suppose that forgiveness requires wrongs, and wrongs require a Right. Malice needs an object, Jim. How do we get around that?” Jim looked over for a minute, but he didn’t say.
“An all-powerful God is a terrible idea, Jim. A loving, all-powerful God is a thing of beauty. A just, loving, all-powerful God is what they posit, Jim. The justice supersedes our idea of love! God’s justice requires Him to destroy evil, and we are evil! I didn’t want to be evil, though, Jim. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I want to be saved; who doesn’t? I want to do good; only the truly sick don’t want that. Only those in need of a Doctor, Jim, not a Binary Judge. Why would the Doctor-Judge make His patients his defendants, and then try them before treating them? Jim, I don’t mean to be blasphemous, but the idea of a loving Father does not mesh with the idea of a fickle King who casts his subjects into a fire. The judgement is always the same. ‘You are sick. You shall die.’ How do we know when we’ve won the cosmic lottery, Jim? Do we want to?” Jim stood up and began to pace.
“Come on Jim. Let’s go for a walk.”
Jim wagged his tail.
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Disclaimer: though censored, this blog post will be using words that are profane and not fit for all company. This is not a devotional, but it is from a Christian’s perspective. I have bias. You have been warned.
Me and the idea of vocabulary have an interesting relationship. Notice that I don’t say my vocabulary specifically, but rather, the general idea of the use of words. I don’t fret as much with what words I use as with how I use the words I use. The purpose of talking, for the most part, is to convey a message. Though I know people who seem to be able to talk without conveying any coherent message. Thus, my brain often automatically chooses the words that are associated in my head with some concept or another. I choose the words that I think will most readily convey the message that I intend to relate. I’m by nature an introvert, and most of what I say is calculated beforehand and, to me at least, is important at some level.
But we were talking about vocabulary. Let’s do that.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home, and the topic of swearing was not a major theme in my house, but I was taught throughout my life that language is an important part of how we present ourselves to others. I cannot ever recall either of my parents swearing in any sense of the word, though “non-profane” exclamations were frequently uttered (crap, dang, darn, crud, etc…). I remember hearing my neighbor use that particular four letter word that is used for excrement, and I was quite curious as to its meaning. (My parents were not happy with the new word I had learned, and they ensured that he was sober before I was entrusted to his company again.) I was not exposed to much foul language in everyday conversation when I was younger–partly owing to the company my family kept, and partly owing to the social environment that pervades much of the Southern U.S.
Now that I’m older and have had the chance to really consider the implications of the words that I use, I still do not swear, per se. I do still use various exclamations, but they’ve never been a profanity substitute for me; they’re just exclamations that take the form of words. That’s my take, anyway. Allow me to attempt to explain.
I view profanity in three distinct levels. First of all is the use of exclamations. I’ll call exclamations words that occur after a moment of surprise, disgust, horror, etc.
Wow! That house is huge!
Dang! Why did you have to sneak up on me like that?
D**n, man! What are you wearing?
Let’s start with the first, simple exclamation. We can obviously have words that are used when people are surprised or mad, but that have no negative connotations. Nobody would or does consider these words profanity. I’ve never heard “hey, watch your language,” after someone says “wow!.” These words exist to express our emotions in an audible and standardized form.
The second level is comprised of exclamations include the “non-profane” words that are sometimes cited as profanity substitutes. I use these words fairly often, and I do regret the frequency with which I do use them, but I don’t consider their use morally wrong. I merely regret at times that my vocabulary includes words that are at their best annoying and at their worst vulgar. Let’s use the word “crap” as an example. This word has been used so commonly as an exclamation that its origin has been largely overshadowed. If someone calls a thing crap, he is calling it worthless or nonsense, but he is not necessarily calling it excrement. The word is vulgar, disgusting, and unfortunate, but it is not profane.
I have heard arguments that this level of exclamation is merely a substitute for profanity, and while this may sometimes be the case, I do not think that it is a rule. Excrement is not by default called by a profane name. Excrement is disgusting, repulsive, and generally not something with which we want to be associated, but it is not profane. Vile things are easily made profane, but let’s not dissolve into that discussion. The most neutral term for excrement is excrement. Moving up the scale, I would say that poop and crap are generally on the same level, though the first is more juvenile. Neither of these are profane. Only moving up that scale do we get to the language that is considered profane, and I will trust that the reader will know to what word I am referring. Perhaps if one has become accustomed to swearing, then the use of a second-tier word may be substitutionary, but that does not bring that word up to the level of an inherently profane word.
From a Christian perspective, I would say that it would be best for us to refrain from the use of second-tier language for two reasons, the first being that some are easily offended or tempted to swear, and we should be accommodating of as many as possible, especially when all we must do is avoid certain verbiage. The second reason that I give is that some words are just generally not quality vocabulary. The root of crap is excrement, and comparisons to excrement should generally be reserved for something that is genuinely worthless, deserving of being called refuse. Flippant references to excrement are, in my opinion, not the best use of our vocabulary, and I think that the Bible is quite clear on doing everything we do to the best of our capability. Are we sinning when we use second-tier language? Probably not, but I don’t think it should be a habitual occurrence.
Let’s move on to the third level. This level is that plane on which resides those words that are not acceptable in the presence of minors (miners are ok, though) and polite company. These words have been largely marginalized and accepted by society, yet their use still determines the ratings of movies and games, the appropriateness of conversations, and whether or not one should put a warning before one’s blog post. Self-references for the win. This level is a place that I’ve always found interesting. Certain words are considered less-offensive than others, but they still find themselves in the realm of profanity.
I’d like to make an argument for the disuse of profanity, but let’s start by exploring why people use profanity. Profanity seems to be more and more often seen in mainstream society as an institution that is acceptable and normal. The shock factor of certain words has worn off, and vocabularies have been stunted in the area of exclamations. This is unfortunate in itself, but I have an equal problem with marginalization of definitions. It is not uncommon to hear someone exclaim “d**n that idiot driver,” when in reality, if the speaker were to consider the source meaning of the verb in his statement, he might reconsider his proclamation. This could bring us to a discussion of intention versus statement, but I’ll stay away from that for now. Suffice it to say that I think that this is unfortunate and indicative of a much larger problem.
I think that many people who regularly and casually use profanity do so without an intentional thought as to what the words mean or imply. If this is the case, I would encourage them to consider the meanings of the words they say. I’d love to have a conversation about the intentions of a phrase versus the meanings of its individual components, so please feel free to comment.
The last note that I wish make might be obvious, but I feel that I should still say it. Certain profanity, in my mind, has a place in our vocabulary; the damnation or damning of an object is a proper use of the word, but the implications are serious and should be taken as such. Hell is a place, and I have no problem with the word Hell. Used as an exclamation, though, the place is trivialized to a mere utterance of surprise or anger. On that note, the use of “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” is an obvious substitutionary phrase. It’s amusing, yes, but it does nothing in the way of lessening your language. The allusion to a word is the same in the mind of someone who knows the word as the utterance.
Certain other profanity, however, has no place in our vocabulary, if we are attempting to use language in the best way possible. The various profane sexual words that refer to genitalia or or actions are purely vile. They have no redeeming value, and I am of the view that they should not be used. Excrement in its profane form is simply base. These words have no worth outside of shock value, and they can do nothing to add to our experience when conversing. Oftentimes, they have the opposite effect.
That’s all for now, and these are my thoughts on profanity in language.