Eric Youngblood: We Are Not Trying To Win, We Are Trying To Love…

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

Barber shops are formational places.

As buzzing clippers assault errant hairs, and straight razors mow down overgrown neck stubble with the pleasant rhythm of soothing scraping, if you’re paying attention, you’ll hear tales told that’ll adhere to your memory like cigar smoke clings to your shirt. There in your adjustable vinyl chair, the antiseptic-tinged fragrance of Barbicide combined with the wafting scent of talc makes, for whatever reason, a hospitable environment for clever uses of language, affectionate ribbing, and the free exchange of baseless, unconsidered, and on occasion, well thought-out opinions.

I’ve even been instructed by the dialogue in fictional barber shops.

A septuagenarian barber named Jayber Crow in Wendell Berry’s stirring novel of the same name, depicts one such episode in a rural barber shop heated with a wood-burning stove in Port William, KY. A man named Troy for whom Mr. Crow holds no esteem begins to spout off in ideologically harsh tones as the gathered congregation of men at leisure discuss the Vietnam war:

“One Saturday evening, while Troy was waiting his turn in the chair, the subject was started and Troy said – it was about the third thing said – “They ought to round up every one of them sons of b$%^&@! * and put them right in front of the danged* communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.” (*a couple of words were altered or concealed to make it PG-13!)

There was a little pause after that. Nobody wanted to try to top it. ...It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked at Troy. I said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. “Where did you get that crap?”

I said, “Jesus Christ.”

And Troy said, “Oh.”

It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

Wielding the Sledge-Hammer of Theological Conviction?

The old man rightly perceives his customer’s error. The words of the Savior seem to slide perfectly in the missing drawer of young Troy’s aggressive comprehension. So Jayber wallops the “ignorant” with a sledge-hammer of theological conviction. His own failure was immediately apparent, for his humility was great.

The truest arguments in the world weaponized for conquering our “enemies”, opponents, or even friends, rather than doing them good, are destined to create unintended effects of bitter defensiveness in the recipient and festering guilt in the argument-aiming warrior...if she’s fortunate enough to be introduced to herself as Jayber was in the wake of his clever, place-putting retort to Troy.

Greg Thompson, of New City Commons, laments this growing tendency in our times to weaponize our words and even our actions, as if their sole intent was to flatten anything in our way:

“One of the saddest features of our current cultural setting, which is definitely on grim display during the political season, is our tendency to think of the goal of all of our labors is actually the goal of conquest. To think that we’re trying to win...to defeat our neighbors in a high-stakes culture war…”

But our words and ways aren’t ordinarily used best as steamrollers. They can flatten, to be sure.

Gin-Soaked Raisins and Love-Soaked Ways

But for Christians who aim to mimic our Master, our words and ways, even when we’re brokering his in the world, must be soaked, like raisins in gin, in considered love and tender regard for their beneficiaries. As gin-soaked raisins are meant to alleviate joint pain, so can considerate love-soaked words go a long way to reduce the inflammation and aggravation between folks...and yes, we must think of those with whom we interact and to whom we speak as potential beneficiaries---they’re to receive something of value from us.

It would be interesting to know how many opponents of Christianity, or folks who have a set of moral/social commitments that are in disharmony from people of faith, realize that a fundamental tenet of our worldview is that everyone is a beneficiary of the lavish generosity of God despite their moral resume, political convictions, or sexual inventiveness.

The Creator lets insufferable people that you or I may not be able to stand (or they us!---and we might be those insufferable people ourselves!) feel the brisk autumn air on refreshing September mornings. He puts breath in the lungs of those who will use his gift of life, breath, and speech to bitterly malign him. He donates Gulf Coast vacations, tasty Champy’s fried chicken, comforting sweet tea, and exciting technological jobs in the Gig City even to folks who may only mention his name only as a curse when they stub their toe or lose the code they’ve been writing.

This basic divine dynamic of God making his “sun to shine on the evil and the good alike,” is one that folks of faith are enjoined to reenact as operative in our lives.

Does anyone who differs from us know we believe this? Would they surmise  this from our manner of argumentation or our cultural aims? I hope so. But fear not.

When there are a plurality of voices and convictions vying for influence over policies, decisions, and accepted morals and mores, it’s easy to imagine we are in battle where there will be victors and the conquered. After all, enemies are to be defeated, right?

Just Plain Rotten

It’s helpful for me to recall though that another basic Christian conviction is that ALL CHRISTIANS, and by all, I mean, EVERY SINGLE ONE, begin our relationship to Christ as reformed enemies. He doesn’t conquer us when enemies, he gives us terms of peace. He doesn’t mop the floor with us as rebels, he adopts us into his family.

We were against him in principle. We didn’t consider a single claim of his on our lives. Or we thought, even if we’d never have cheated on our taxes, or spoken harshly to a child, and were frequently inclined to wave folks over from the next lane in bad traffic, that by being good we could keep him off our backs, or perhaps make him owe us something.

And some of us were just plain rotten. And may still be---and Lord only knows how much more atrocious we’d be without his sweetening influence. Without his action in our lives we’d be stinking up the places we work, sit, and dwell even worse.

But, we routinely munch on the sweetest comfort food of all...that Christ, “who never throws words at wounds,” as Joe Novenson might say, has, by a sacrifice for the rotten, accepted us, warts and all, though we were enemies, whether of the frozen tundra of heart sort, or of the visceral, bombastic ilk.

All to say the “good news” we have for the world is no different than what was personally delivered to the front porch of our lives. It’s not that Christ will demolish you like a wrecking ball and that’s that. It’s that even though all of us were once enemies, Christ was wrecked for us so that ANYONE who lays down his arms can become friends of God without fear of reprisal.

We’ve got nothing to say if it isn’t stewed first in a crock pot of tasty victuals for the soul, seasoned with what Graham Greene once coined as the “appalling strangeness of the mercy God.”

And when we distribute that mercy it will look like good being done to possible opponents whether they ever see things as we do or not.

Thompson provides a fitting close to guide us in those barber shop moments where we too might conclude we’re on the verge of creating “a great moment in the history of Christianity” through our clever, courageous, but love-bereft speech:

We are not trying to win; we are trying to love.... We have to remember that our goal is not cultural conquest; it is to seek the common good.”

---

Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org


 


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