The faith of a jackass

Is being a jackass inconsistent with being a Christian?

I’ve heard people who were convinced they were Christians defend their obnoxious or infantile behavior toward others by saying that is who they were and they weren’t going to change. It is not really a defense. But there it is. I am who I am. God will just have to take me as I am.

John Wesley would have had none of this. His sermon “On Charity” has line in it that I love. It is not great poetry, but it gets right to the heart of the matter.

[L]et us have ever so much faith, and be our faith ever so strong, it will never save us from hell, unless it now save us from all unholy tempers, from pride, passion, impatience; from all arrogance of spirit, all haughtiness and overbearing; from wrath, anger, bitterness; from discontent, murmuring, fretfulness, peevishness.

How can you expect your faith to save you from hell, when it isn’t even strong enough to stop you from being a jerk to people in your life right now?

What a great question. It is one that I think would cause some ruckus among many upstanding Methodists.


8 thoughts on “The faith of a jackass

  1. I remember that years ago an insightful friend of mine pointed out that in reading the lives of saints (both ancient and modern) you find out that many of them were s.o.b.’s (my unscientific reading has not disproved this).

    1. So, you’d say Wesley is wrong to read the Sermon on the Mount and Galatians 5 as calling Christians to meekness, humility, kindness, self-control, etc.?

  2. I’m all in favor of “not being a jerk to people in your life right now.” I was just saying that my observation was that many who have been revered as saints were not people who were known for not being jackasses. As to your question about the Sermon on the Mount and Galatians 5 – my own reading of the Sermon on the Mount (and I imagine that you are coming down heavily on the Beatitudes here) is that Jesus was not saying something prescriptive (i.e. “be meek”) but rather something descriptive (i.e. “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”). Galatians certainly is a call to meekness, humility, etc… – Like most people (including most of the jackasses I’ve known, loved, and been) we are a complex mixture of these things. I think of a dear friend (I mentioned in an e-mail to you) who struggles with a meth addiction. In many ways he exhibits – great humility and gentleness, etc… – on the other hand – he can be a real jackass (not that many haven’t said the same about me).

    1. We are a complex mix of light and dark.

      Is is possible for a description to also be a prescription? When I was a journalist, I had some “heroes” who embodied for me what being a great journalist was all about. I could describe them, but I also aspired to embody those qualities myself.

      I am wary of my own inclination to settle into my own jackass-ness and give myself a free pass for it. I appreciate the call by Wesley to aspire to more. And I am grateful for the teaching of grace that says this is not a Pelagian command (“heal thyself”) but a promise that what God has called us he provides the power to do if we will follow and obey.

  3. I certainly think it is possible for a description to be a prescription. In many cases that is made clear – in others it is more murky. The Beatitudes sing to me about the way that Jesus sees the world that God has created and delights in. The Beatitudes appear to me to be counter intuitive statements of (what I believe to be) fact – about this world. Perhaps there is an encouragement to be meek in there – but I think it is more (in terms of prescription) an admonishment to me – to pay attention to the meek – to hear, to see, to notice – the glory of God shining in (by definition) a person/a place that is barely noticed, much less seen at all. To see the ways in which God has given/delivered the earth to the meek. At memorial services, funerals and especially in the year after a death – I try to pay particular attention – both for my sake and for the mourners sake – to see the comfort that is there. If I can see it and celebrate it – then I do think others will begin to see very similar things in their own lives and the lives of others around them. It is not definitive, but it is a step in the right direction (for my money). But that was not your original point at all I know. And I’m sorry to have taken this conversation far afield… I do think that Paul is all the time admonishing and challenging the early church folk (prescribing) – in changes in their behavior toward one another (and in some cases to the larger world around them). I think that he is often as vehement as he is (in some cases you can see the pen shaking in rage as he writes that part of the letter – for example in Corinthians as he writes about the Eucharist) points out what a battle this is for all of us…should I attempt to be less of a jackass? Yes. Will I succeed? Maybe a little.

    1. No problem with going afield. I try not to have an agenda when I write here, but questions and honest observations from where I sit. Your point about being aware of the meek highlights a discomfort for me. While it is an invitation for me to be aware of my own privilege, I am profoundly uncomfortable adopting the position that some other person is the meek one. It feels like presuming a lot to me. (And this pure personal statement not intended in any way to describe what you meant or intended.)

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