This is a post borne of a recent article in Leadership Journal, by a guy who’s been meeting with Ted Haggard. I don’t usually write on stuff like that — it is cheeseball to even appear to piggyback for one’s own benefit on somebody else’s popular post, or to try and capitalize on an au courant issue making the rounds. Though I understand that’s common in the … ulp … “blogosphere.”
Damn, I hate that ugly word.
But I couldn’t sleep, which, yes, is prolly the number one reason people start a blog post. But before it was that it was what drove people to prayer or at least thought, so it has a proud history prior to the Interweb. And these thoughts did that to me as well, so I should be grateful. Which I am.
So this is on Haggard, a little. And it’s on the guy who wrote the article, a little more. But it’s kind of on the title of the book that the second guy is writing on the first, most of all.
And it’s really about the way we Christians talk about such things, in this case forgiveness. We talk about them in old, false, useless euphemisms, in which we regularly engage all the time … instead of in ways that would produce real positive change.
See, you’re supposed to write “Ted Haggard” with “disgraced former megachurch Pastor” in front of his name. That way, we all know ‘zackly how we’re supposed to regard the guy. Because who in the hell wants to be a disgraced former megachurch pastor? Some of us don’t even like the idea of being a well-regarded one of those. So disgraced is not even on the ol’ table.
The book comes out next year and is apparently going to be called Why We Eat Our Own. A bad title, mirroring even worse Christian behavior.
First, it’s a euphemism. That is, it’s shorthand, and that’s a bad idea for book titles. It has the marketing advantage of telling people what to think about the book. so they can decide to buy it. But books should not be written for their marketing advantages, and the main people saying that are, altogether now, marketing people. And screw them. They’re next, after we shoot the lawyers.
Speaking of shooting, the second reason the title sucks is that it’s a tired euphemism. Some 20-30 years ago, the way Christians said it was that “we shoot the wounded.” For instance, I remember a Christian comedian who had concocted a pretty good backstory of being a Vietnam veteran, medic and all that, and a bunch of other stuff about demon possession or something. It was all lies, and despite the guy being truly funny, and that he was doing good work (I think) with teen runaways and stuff, his career was over.
When his lies blew up, he talked (still in that Vietnam medic mode) about Christians “shooting their wounded” and whatnot. Only he had actually … you know … lied to all of us. And although (in my faulty memory) he was “sorry,” he wasn’t … you know … thinking there should be any penalty.
His name was … Mike Something … I honestly can’t remember his name, which connects with the next point, as it happens. And he wasn’t the only “shoot the wounded” dude claiming cover from false cheap useless crappy “grace” … speaking of euphemism. Name-it-and-claim-it preachers were on TBN all the time proof-texting how they were being persecuted by other Christians for being “God’s anointed” … and don’t even get us started in recounting the televangelists who really f-ed up (literally) during those heady supposedly heyday Christian years.
[FYI for the younger among us: “proof-texting” has nothing to do with arguing about Scripture by cell phone.]
OK so that third point I threatened, is that the title is a false euphemism. We’re not the only people who don’t forgive. Practically nobody forgives. Look at some of the usual targets Christians love to flail at, for instance. Look at Hollywood and Washington D.C. Those people don’t just eat their own: they flay them alive, keep the ears as trophies, and sell the rest as hamburger for the rest of us.
The issue is not solely that Christians don’t forgive. The issue is that Christians don’t forgive — and we’re the ones who claim to know what that’s about. Our problem is not that we’re human, we sin, and everyone hates you forever after; that problem is pretty much universal. The problem is we claim to know a better way, claim to offer a better way, claim to live and die for a better way.
We claim to know Jesus Christ, and we don’t live as if we do.
Fourth, and related to the previous point, by being a false euphemism it gives aid and comfort to the enemy. I hasten to add these are the enemies we’re supposed to be loving, so please don’t read that the wrong way. What I mean is it totally gives up that particular question saying, in effect, It really is horrible how we (and-only-we) Christians don’t forgive. Yep. Yep. Yep. You’re absolutely right there. Want another espresso?
When what we should be saying is some version of my third point which is, Yes, you’re right. That’s a fair cop. Christians have this horrible habit of not forgiving, of not extending real grace to people — inside and outside of faith — and that must stop. And say, let’s talk about that: what do you think forgiveness means? What does real grace entail and include?
In that sense, it’s useless. Because Christians are going to think about it in its little marketer-crafted category, while non-Christians say I told you so … and nothing actually changes.
For instance, Christians will continue to ask for “grace” from each other, when what we really mean is,
Hey dude, be cool. It’s no big deal so let me off the hook.
What we most certainly almost never mean is,
I was deeply wrong, I’m sorry, please forgive me, and here’s how I’m going to work to never let it happen again.
No wonder we don’t extend grace and forgiveness. We don’t know what the hell it is.
Finally, at least for this list, the title is a major problem because there’s no cost involved. This brings us somewhat full circle to the first point. The marketing/euphemism title, so the argument goes, sells more books. I’d like to have that debate, because to the extent titles sell more books — by being sharp and accurate (as a two-edged sword?) and promising things the book actually fulfills, thereby creating word-of-mouth, thereby it sells more books, and not just the one to the guy who bought into (literally) the euphemism, I think it doesn’t work. The euphemism title does not work for that goal — selling more books — and barely works for the shortsighted goal of selling this one book.
This title — of a book about how our rancid behavior kills Christian witness — asks nothing of none of us, believer or un. It’s an old, false, useless euphemism … that we not coincidentally live out every day.
But a better title —
Why We Christians Are Such Unforgiving Bastards
— might shake us.
There’s still time.