The most excellent way (part 6): Don’t be a pirate

Dustin Hoffman in Hook (1991)
Dustin Hoffman in Hook (1991)

In the 1991 film Hook, Peter Pan (Robin Williams) has grown up to be a ruthless attorney, a modern-day pirate who has completely forgotten his days in Neverland.  His relationship with his family is strained, especially with his son Jack (Charlie Korsmo), who resents Peter’s string of broken promises, including his absence at Jack’s baseball games.  A vengeful Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Peter’s children to lure him to Neverland for a duel, and tries to win Jack’s heart by arranging a pirate baseball game.

In one classic scene, Jack is at bat, with a man on first.  When the runner tries to steal second, the umpire stands up…and shoots him.

“No, no, no!” shouts Hook from the bleachers.  “Stop it!  We’re playing by Master Jack’s rules now.  Bad form!”

Life lesson: Never play baseball with a pirate.  (Unless, of course, you’re from Pittsburgh.)

Call me strange, if you like, but that’s one of the images that comes to mind when I read 1 Corinthians 13.

In verse 5, Paul says that love isn’t “rude” (CEB, NRSV), or as other translations have it, doesn’t “dishonor others” (NIV) or “act unbecomingly” (NASB).  That last rendering isn’t exactly everyday modern English usage, but is probably the closest to the word Paul actually uses.  If I may offer an unofficial pirate translation, the word means something very close to “bad form.”

Paul, in fact, has already used the word earlier in the letter (7:36), where the very same translations give us, respectively, “acting inappropriately,” “not behaving properly,” “not acting honorably,” and “acting unbecomingly.”  And he’s also used the positive counterpart of the word (literally, “good form”) in 12:24, where it’s translated as either “presentable” or “respectable.”

To be “rude” or to “dishonor others” certainly isn’t loving; those words imply offenses committed against others.  But it’s possible Paul had something more general in mind: love doesn’t act in socially inappropriate ways.  What’s the connection?

One popular interpretation of “freedom” here in the U.S. is the attitude that says, “I can do whatever I want, as long as I’m not hurting anybody.”  One extension of this can be, “If you’re offended by my behavior, that’s your problem.”

Too often, we either ignore or refuse to recognize the ways in which flaunting norms hurts others.  Social standards, of course, aren’t always morally just and fair.  But neither are they dispensable, as if individuals could simply cast them aside at will.  They are part of the fabric that holds a society together, and violating them will have potentially invisible and unforeseen consequences.

Earlier in the letter, Paul confronted the Corinthians in ways that suggest that some Christians were so confident in their own wisdom that they cared little for what others thought; they simply did what was right in their own supposedly more spiritual eyes.  And people were getting hurt: either directly, through the violation of their consciences, or indirectly, because of the controversy and uncertainty that such behavior provoked.

Bad form.  Is it any wonder that Paul deemed it necessary to teach them the way of love?

So don’t be a pirate.  Maybe you think other people are thin-skinned, moralistic, and too easily offended.  And sometimes, you may be right.  But if you love them, you’ll care about whether you’re causing offense.