21 August 2017

Obnoxious for Jesus?

This week I had a bit of a run-in with someone in a Facebook discussion group. Now, right off the bat, I have to assume much of the blame for that. I mean, a bad experience on Facebook does mean I was on Facebook in the first place, and whose fault is that, right? I've since left that group, the best choice I've made all week (right after the choice to start buying coffee in bulk again).

Things got a little tense when I expressed a politically incorrect viewpoint on a certain controversial topic that's been getting a lot of media attention right now. Another member (who shall remain nameless, because I don't want to embarrass this person), made a reply that, in all fairness, did try to engage with the point I was making, but wasn't able to do so without slamming my motives and character in the process. When I suggested that this was perhaps a bit unfair, she excused herself by saying "Well, I'm a blunt person" and "I'm just telling you this for your own good" and even "You'll thank me later." (Not her exact words, but that was the gist of it.)

Oh dear. What do you say to that?

Umm... Thanks. That's... very nice.

Yeah, right. There's a whole heck of a lot I could say about the arrogance of presuming you know what's good for an internet stranger about whom you know literally nothing! What I'm more interested in right now though, is the "I'm a blunt person" remark. In this person's mind (and in the minds of many others I've heard make similar statements), saying "I'm just a blunt person" is basically a "get out of jerk free" card. It's essentially saying, "This is who I am, so accepting me as a person means you also accept what I say and how I say it. And you're not allowed to think less of me for it, either."

Oddly enough, I can identify with this just a tiny bit. I'm an INTJ -- for you Myers Briggs enthusiasts out there -- and although we're not the biggest chatterboxes in the world, we tend to be very matter-of-fact and sometimes we offend people when we do speak up. More than once after I've delivered the painful truth on a particular topic (or, my version of it, anyway!) I've been greeted with raised eyebrows and the rejoinder, "Well, you certainly say it like it is, don't you." And I've thought, Well, would you prefer that I say it like it isn't? Do you want me to lie to you?

I know, however, that that's a false dichotomy. We are not stuck between the choice of either callousness or dishonesty, and it would be disingenuous to frame the conversation that way. Otherwise how could Jesus have been both truthful and loving? And how could He expect the same from us? (As an aside: in my humble opinion, people get waaaaay too much mileage out of the notorious occasions on which Jesus was not mild-mannered and tactful, like tipping over the moneylenders' tables and His harsh exchanges with the Pharisees. This gives them carte blanche to run roughshod over their brothers and sisters because "Jesus did it." If you think that, then spend some time reading the life of Christ -- the whole story, because you're missing the point.)

Twila Paris in her book Perennial said: "I believe there is never any reason to be obnoxious for Jesus. We do Him no service when our personalities repel others. It is gracious speech without compromise that attracts unbelievers to the message of truth and love." I wholeheartedly agree, and I'd argue that this kind of speech is what attracts believers to that same message as well. I would also contend that oftentimes what we leave unsaid has as much (or more) impact than what we say.

I'll give you an example. Many of the most active and caring and giving members of my former church started out their time in the fold as young, new Christians who, at first, held some pretty unorthodox opinions and behaved in some rather off-putting ways. Things they said in the process of working out their beliefs sounded downright foolish to those who knew better.

There was an older couple in the church who devoted a great deal of time to investing in this group of people, both collectively and one-on-one. They considered it their personal ministry, and it couldn't have been an easy one. I'm sure they heard plenty of off-the-wall statements that made them shake their heads. But not once did I ever hear them bash someone in the name of "truth" and then shrug it off with, "Well, I'm just calling you out because you're wrong. Sorry if that makes you feel bad, but you'll just have to deal with it. It's good for you." Believe me, there were plenty of times when I think they would not have been unjustified in doing that! But they were always gracious, humble, and kind. They usually held off on dishing out criticism unless it was in private and they had first earned that person's trust.

Nowadays, many of those young believers who were discipled by that couple have grown and are flourishing in their faith. Most have reached a point of maturity where they themselves can guide and teach others. But during the early days, if those older, wiser mentors had chosen to frantically clutch their pearls regardless of whomever they alienated in the process, they would have driven away most if not all of the ones they were trying to help. I know, because I was one of them.

Am I saying we should back down from the truth because we don't want to offend people? Absolutely not. But quite frankly, the times when it's really, truly necessary to "call someone out" are a lot fewer and further between than most of us "blunt" people would like to think. (Especially online, where the potential for misunderstandings and prejudgment of someone based on seeing only a piece of that person rather than the whole is ever so much greater.)

Actions will always speak louder (and clearer and better and more memorably) than words.

"But, but... how will they know the truth if I don't say something!?" Not to worry! Truth is powerful. It weathered the centuries just fine before you were ever around to defend it, and it's perfectly capable of vindicating itself without your help. If you're in the right, that fact will come to light eventually. And if you're wrong... well, you don't want to have opened your mouth and made a big fool of yourself in the meantime.

Sorry if this offends anyone. I'm just a blunt person, ya know.


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