Writings by Cole Huffman

Fifteen Cents to Fix You

A video is making the rounds of an Oklahoma pastor publically upbraiding certain people in his congregation. You can watch the train wreck here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJt-LHMNRY.

You know that I love you, right? RIGHT!? It’s easy to dismiss the pastor outright. But in his Warhol fifteen minutes is a teachable moment. Francis Schaeffer’s idea of no little people no little places is never truer than in the internet age. As of this writing, the video has been viewed well over 50,000 times and I venture no viewer of it is unaffected.

The pastor has had a month to hopefully repent of what he did to young Cox, et al. It’s not that a pastor can’t confront; what he can’t do is humiliate. Each thing upsetting him about each person he blasted he should have taken to them privately. That’s what a pastor does.

But judging from the footage I’ll surmise his church has a penchant for being scolded, thinking they haven’t heard real preaching if they aren’t put in their place every Sunday. It’s part of the psyche of fundamentalism. Yet I also judge from the congregational silence (mostly) that they realized in those few minutes they were experiencing more than a meltdown or hissy fit. They were experiencing a pastoral breach of trust. His anger only seems directed at the acedia of his congregation. In reality their foibles wounded his sense of self-importance and he’s mad about it: Why can’t I fix these people?

It is a common enough vocational confusion. The pastorate is not a calling to fix anyone. It takes some of us too long to learn this if we ever do. Thinking it’s my job to fix anyone sets me up for debilitating anger. Consider: If nothing on Earth proves resistant to being fully formed by Christ as a local congregation then my efforts at fixing one isn’t going to prove more efficacious. Just read the New Testament—and the Old Testament too, remembering Frederick Buechner’s words from somewhere about how the ancient people of Israel were just like us, only more so.

There are always even in the best churches the sleepyheads, the members you wouldn’t give fifteen cents for, and the young Coxes needing attitude adjustments. It is because of them, because they stay with you like back pain that I was told by older preachers: Don’t preach angry. One is tempted to “preach angry” when frustration grows for people not seeming to want for themselves what I want for them and I can’t wait any more on God’s Spirit to affect my changes in them.

This is why the preacher in the video didn’t snap into his tirade. He smoldered into it. And the more lasting damage of anger like that building up at others is that it often curdles, imperceptibly, into anger at God. Flannery O’Connor captured this vividly in her short story “Revelation,” when full-of-herself Ruby Turpin, at the end of the story, wants to know why God allowed her, a good, decent, and important person, to be so publically disrespected by a girl in serious need of an attitude adjustment. God obliges Ruby’s demand and gives her a vision in which sleepyheads and people preachers wouldn’t give fifteen cents for and young Coxes are ascending into Heaven ahead of her, though she’s the only one in the procession singing praises on key.

That story of O’Connor’s taught me how to preach to churched Southerners for whom the grace of God has become self-congratulatory. But it simultaneously reminds me I can’t fix my Ruby Turpins or my young Coxes. In that knowledge I don’t get incensed anymore at the gaps between confession and profession in my congregation. It’s not a reflection on me. Rather, it makes me want to preach the gospel all the more to them, lifting up Christ among them not as our fixer but savior, the one who is patient such that He never beats His sheep for proving disappointing to Him.

I’d like to go out to Oklahoma and buy young Cox a milkshake. I’d like to buy his pastor one too.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:30 PM
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