Writings by Cole Huffman

Thirst for Accusation and Hunger for Self-Righteousness

Occasionally I’m asked if I won’t weigh in on some issue or another, hmm? Some current event or whatever thing evangelicals are kibitzing about right now? I’m asked this at church, over lunch, by email, “tweeted at” for it.

Opinions proliferate on social media and I have a Twitter handle and a web site. So then, Pastor: What do you think about that famous Christian author who experiences God everywhere but church? Or those celebrity Christian pastors who plagiarize parts of their books, pimp their marriage books onto bestseller lists, or carefully orchestrate spontaneous baptisms (whatever that means)? What do you think of the phenomenon of celebrity pastors and their catalyzed movements and endless Christian conferencing? Or organizations like World Vision throttling through the gospel harbor one spring day, pitching boats against the docks before remembering only jet skis like no-wake-zone violators. Jet skiers in this analogy are the progressives, the buzzy little stirrers of the pot. But the yachtsmen weren’t pleased.

I guess I’m kind of a yachtsman though not in mold of Caddyshack’s Judge Smails. More like Andy Rooney in an Andy Warhol world though not near as curmudgeonly. As one pastor put it I was born about 100 years late in terms of community respect for everyday pastors. “Community” in that sentence refers to the wider American society I inhabit. They could really care less right now what a Memphis pastor thinks about much of anything. But the wider evangelical community is increasingly tribal and Balkanized too, such that community respect among us isn’t a given anymore. To adjust the way Memphis’ own Three 6 Mafia rappers once put it, it’s hard out there for a pastor.

Why don’t I weigh in more on currents, in pulpit or in print? Steve Brown used to call himself a peon, and I feel the same about myself. I know my opinion about things counts for something in my church and a couple of concentric circles beyond it within my city. But I don’t “thirst for accusation,” as Yeats put it in one of his poems (“Come, fix upon me that accusing eye. I thirst for accusation.” Parnell’s Funeral). Well, I do, but much of the time in matters everyone’s-talking-about very few of us have the whole story. I’ve reacted before to things in the past and realized later I was reacting to a caricature or even a straw man of my own creation (I say to my shame). Like the itchy trigger finger of the Old West, instant critical reaction creates a lot of high noon drama on the internet and even in sermons but are we really the better for it?

I took Twitter off my phone a few weeks ago and have been much happier limiting my exposure to the world’s Areopagus to office hours. Twitter is Athens as Luke described it in Acts 17:21: “Now the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” I deleted the little bird off my phone and looked up again and noticed skies and birds and trees and people—they look like trees, walking! (HT: former blind guy in Mark 8:24)

I’m still a Tweep, and a twerp in some ways, but mobile access created in me a thirst for accusation—that and I wanted my idle time back for idleness. My anytime exposure to currents on Twitter kept me awake some nights, mind turning over like a crankshaft, pulling from me more desire to pontificate than @Pontifex himself. What I’m trying to say is I needed a boundary.

When I’m asked to weigh in on some matter that everyone else is, I know the person requesting it of me is looking for more than mere gasbag opinion. They want to know how to sift through their own thoughts and reactions to form weight-bearing convictions. Convictions go deeper than opinions and I’m happy to help someone form theirs; in fact that’s part of my role as a spiritual overseer in the church.

But convictions take more than 140 characters to form, more than a week of blog posts or even a five-minute topic address in a sermon. Convictions are contiguous to time as well as truth, meaning convictions take time to really set. Time, and times, will test convictions. Opinions have the luxury of shape-shifting and adjusting. As tweets they can be deleted later when you get your blood sugar level again and think better of your snark. Convictions are firmer and strengthen as they settle. They are one of the evidences of Christ formed in us (Gal. 4:19).

It is Christ formed in me who causes me to shut my mouth more often than open it; to wait, to weigh, to submit my thoughts to others, risking their “no” and their “don’t” before broadcasting to others; to crucify the thirst for accusation that will energize my taking off after someone—some leader, some pastor, some celebrity—in the never-quite-cancelled project of justifying myself as more righteous than you. (HT: lawyer guy in Luke 10:29)

Now, what is it you wanted my opinion about?

Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:18 AM
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