“The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.’” (2 Chronicles 18:7)
I don’t want to make you happy.
I’ve been getting under some people’s skin lately. I wrote a recent short blog post about race – specifically about issues faced by the black community in America including poverty and also its relationship with law enforcement. I’ve also been making comments on social media and I’ve shared several links to news stories and opinion pieces about race-related issues, stories of abuse by police, and pieces on how we respond to the deaths of victims of such violence, such as Eric Garner.
As I would have hoped, there have been people who appreciate this. But as one might naturally expect, those who have had the most to say about it are those who are not happy with me doing this.
People are attempting to push back on the fact claims, pushing back about why I’m speaking to white people, pushing back about whether or not a foreigner like me has the right to an opinion about what happens in America, pushing back about whether or not I am empathising enough with the authorities and their representatives, and so on. I’m baiting, I’m making trouble, I’m “playing the race card,” I’m being “left wing” (which I find a little comical) and so on. Not everyone who has reservations about the message expresses themselves in these terms, but there is certainly an undercurrent that doesn’t just say “you’re not quite right.” The message is “I’m unhappy with what you’ve said. It has affected the way I feel.”
In light of the recent hostage drama and tragic death of two innocents, I have also made a couple of comments about our attitude to Muslims living in non-Muslim countries, telling people that we should express love for them. Some people appreciate this, but not everybody does.
Today my heart sank as I read the truly horrific news about the actions of the Taliban in a school in Pakistan, killing teachers and pupils in a barbaric slaughter. It is awful beyond words. My mind strains to imagine how people can act that way with anything resembling a clear conscience. And yet, my first public comment, other than to express grief at such an awful atrocity, was to remind people in our parts of the world that these people are not their Muslim neighbours in your country. This is the Taliban. I have not yet checked to see how people have responded to that comment, but I know it will rub some people the wrong way.
I do want to cause offence. I want to unsettle, to irritate, to make people feel judged, to make you unhappy.
Sometimes when people make comments that they know some people might not like, they preface it with “now, I don’t want to offend anyone, but…” I haven’t done that. In fact as I was writing these things it struck me that this is exactly what I do not want people to hear me as saying. When I write things like this, I do want to offend you – maybe not you, but I do want to cause offence. I want to unsettle, to irritate, to make people feel judged, to make you unhappy. It’s important in all of these examples to see that I am not trying to point over the fence into some other community of faith or thought and to encourage us all to see how bad they are. There’s a time for that sort of critique, namely when I engage with those who critique my worldview. These are all messages that I have been directing at my own community in one way or another, whether it’s my Christian family, my “white evangelical” family, my family of non-Muslims living in the developed world or whatever the case may be in any given instance.
I think that the sort of message I’m talking about here is the right one to deliver even if you could filter through it with a fine-tooth comb and find errors, things not said quite right and so on. That would miss the point (although of course I tend to think I get my facts at least broadly right). The point is that you need to be disturbed, constantly shaken, often prodded, and always provoked to re-examine yourself. You may have heard of a German fellow named Luther. This is part of what he nailed to the door in Wittenberg:
Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
(Theses 92 and 93)
Why would Luther commend people who speak prophetically and get things wrong? Well he also dismisses those who get things wrong. Whether their work is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how they are wrong. It is better for you to be irritated, unsettled and told to work at improvement even when there are errors in the case against you than it is to be congratulated, patted on the back, and told that really all the mistakes are being made by those other people, when in reality you need to take action and take it now.
As I said, I tend to think – at least when I am saying something – that I get the facts mostly right. But imagine for a second that I got something wrong every time I made one of these comments. “Oh, what a calamity,” you might think. “If I listened to this stupid advice I would end up going out of my way to love ethnic minorities, trying to cultivate and improve my love for them, working for unity with them and welcoming them, expressing empathy for them because of their pain, caring about making the world a place where they fared better, standing with them when others treat them badly due to suspicion or ignorance, reforming myself when I harbour resentment toward them, desiring only their good, once more wishing I were more Christlike, urging my church to include and reach out to others – AND ALL ON THE BASIS OF GLENN’s IGNORANCE! What a waste of time!” Even if you end up making no changes at all on the basis of what I say, the call to self-examination should always be heeded.
I make no apology for being a stone in your shoe. I do it on purpose because if you need it as much as I do, that stone is nowhere near uncomfortable enough.