Writings by Cole Huffman

Interests Inventory

Just this side of vernal equinox is my birthday (March 14), the last hurrah for each of forty-six winters now. Chlorophyll comes out of hiding. Pollen spreads itself thick as vanilla buttercream frosting. Aslan is perennially on the move.

Birthdays are opportunities to reflect, to take inventory of interests. Interests wax and wane over time. Sports are less interesting to me now, for instance. Going to a game is a good way to spend time with friends but I don’t care so much anymore about final scores. Spring is more interesting than winter. I wouldn’t miss winter if I never experienced it again, nor the winter games of every Olympiad hence because, you know, figure skating. 

I used to think I was interested in migrating from the overchurched regions of the Christian subtropics that is the Southland. But here I remain, an apostle to the Gentrytiles, more interested than ever that evangelicals evidence genuine relational integrity in all our ways. We can start where Brendan Gleeson’s priest concludes in Calvary: “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.”

Titles interest me less than they once did. A man in my church is concerned that no one calls me “Dr. Huffman.” They should, he believes, because I earned my doctorate and one of our past pastors was always addressed as “Dr.” though his was honorary. I appreciate the man’s affirmation but I’m just not interested in keeping everyone aware, in Eugene Peterson’s words from Working the Angles, that somehow my “habitual train of thought is a cut above pew level.” 

I’m less interested in playing the scold, or other adventures in listening to myself pontificate. Freedom from political correctness increasingly interests me as expressing courage of conviction—sometimes recovery of just plain good sense. Joseph Epstein, in his 1988 essay, “A Virtucrat Remembers,” gives a tour of his practice: “The impulse to criticism always came readily enough to me, but I see that formerly it did so only within the constraints of left-wing catechism. Now I feel fully free to criticize anything or anyone, from any side or angle. Better yet, I feel free not to criticize—not everywhere to find the connection between something I don’t like and capitalism [insert your own –ism], to discover over and over again that my country is not finally good enough for me, or to blame something called ‘the system’ for my own deficiencies of talent and character. Without such false, if not to say wholly imaginary, connections, discoveries, and accusations, the world seems a livelier, a brighter, an altogether more interesting place. At the age of fifty-seven, Henry James, unable to bear any longer the beard he had worn for several years, shaved it off, after which he wrote to his brother William that he felt ‘forty and clean and light.’ There are, I have come to realize, other ways to acquire that same feeling without having to shave off a beard.” 

Good, because I’m interested in keeping mine. By the way, Epstein is a beard-stroking writer (he makes you think), a quality I wish I found more in Christian publishing. The “practical” is often so pedestrian and a regurgitation of the obvious. Writers who sustain my interest don’t have to be glitzy, but Cicero was prescient: “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”

I’m interested in leadership that, in the words of St. Benedict’s Rule, gives the strong something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from. I’ve never wanted to push people around and am less tolerant of pastors who do. “Jerk” is a seasoning for chickens. 

I’ve been on the job long enough to know I’m no longer interested in being a “chaplain to the culture” (Peterson), trying to keep up with every current or kibitzer. I’m interested, evermore keenly, in pressing into God, throwing myself at Jesus again and again when I see my own sin and others’. Hopefully along the way I turn around to find the people in my care doing the same.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 9:12 AM
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