By this, they wilt knoweth that ye are my disciples; if ye throwest the greatest shade.
-Jesus, The Wishful Thinking Translation
Sometimes I can be a real jerk; selfish, petty, arrogant, sarcastic and mean—and that’s on my good days.
And although I should (and usually do) internally despise my profound jerkiness, far too often I find myself outwardly defending it, justifying it, even celebrating it.
It seems as though social media has hardened us all into professional posturers; less apologetic for our nastiness and more openly defiant in it. We begin to almost revel in our malice instead of repenting of it. Where we once viewed these hateful traits as fertile ground for personal renovation, we now see them as moral virtues to be flaunted and applauded.
As someone daily immersed in the public discourse over matters of faith, I feel a heavy sadness seeing the cruelty which now seems standard issue for Christians; the sarcasm, snarkiness and venom we so regularly wield with our words. These are the wildly mismatched accessories for a follower of Jesus, which we’ve all somehow convinced ourselves actually fit. When we publicly skewer someone or one-up their insult or shame them silent, we feel quite proud of ourselves; morally vindicated even if nothing in our conduct gives off the slightest whiff of the goodness of Christ.
Sure, these attack strategies that we employ in order to deflect criticism or avoid meaningful dialogue or sidestep deep reflection often accomplish their intended tasks, they also pretty much urinate all over our public testimony as well, in the process.
That’s because most of us now really cherish winning an argument over reflecting Christ’s compassion and humility. We’d rather put people who oppose us on blast, than love and pray for them.
We have become far too comfortable in our own viciousness and diluted ourselves into worshiping a false Jesus, who somehow is cool with the sheer jerkitude we daily dispense in his name.
Ironically, we regularly unleash all manner of verbal awfulness upon people and then dare to wonder why they reject faith or run from the Church or avoid us like a root canal.
The more time I spend on this planet and the more I seek God, the more compelled I am to simply try to see individual people, to listen to their stories, and to treat them well. So often I witness my brothers and sisters out there in the world wagging their fingers and spewing hatred and beating their chests and tossing insults from a distance, and I just want to grab them and shake them and say, “Can you just try to be a decent human being? You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.”
You can’t berate anyone into belief, you can’t simultaneously be both sarcastic and sincere, and you can do anything good in a person by treating them horribly. If you win an argument and your words leave someone feeling less than human—you’ve lost. If you shout someone down or shame them into silence or ridicule them, you simply haven’t loved them as Jesus would and no amount of tap-dancing with the facts or stretching the Gospels stories will change that.
A few quick ways to practice a decidedly non-jerk spirituality:
Don’t mistake social media for conversation. What transpires on timelines and profiles and comments sections is not dialogue. It is at best, a volleying of separate monologues that doesn’t allow the necessary elements of recognition of tone, real-time course correction, and nuance. If you can’t speak in person, the words that you begin to type to someone, hit backspace and pause until you come up with something more redemptive.
Have some Jerk-alarms in place. In the speed and emotion social media generates, it can be difficult to notice how we are really coming across. I have some great people in my life; people I respect, who won’t shy away from giving me hard words when I need them. They tell me the truth even when I’d rather have something far less invasive and far less honest. Good friends let you know when you’re being a jerk, so find yourself some and then listen to them.
Talk to a person, don’t play to the crowd. I see so many Christians who respond to public calling out with an equally public, yet usually more vicious response. Fueled by the easy high of Retweets and Likes, we all end up from time to time sucked in, caught up in the adrenaline-injected moment, and briefly forfeiting our souls to gain some social media kudos. It’s a bad play every time. Seek private, direct conversation as often as you are able, and resist the buzz of the atta-boys from a choir of acquaintances.
Use sarcasm sparingly. Seriously. We have become so comfortable with tongue-in-cheek, half-hearted speech that many of us have lost the ability to be genuine, to be humble, to be dignified. I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m continually resisting the temptation to remain in that lazy, insincere language. Sarcasm is a place you want to visit now and again, but no place you should live.
When in doubt, shut-up. Note: A response is not always necessary. Questions do not always need to be answered, false information doesn’t always need immediate correction, and uninvited personal attack doesn’t always require a defense. When Jesus was falsely accused, mocked, and beaten on the way to his wrongful execution, he was simply silent. In response to the manufactured drama that we face every day, shutting-up may be the most sacred and faith-affirming thing we ever do.
Practice ruthless self-examination. Hold on to the very real possibility that you could be wrong at any given moment; that you could be misinformed or misguided or just plain terrible. We who follow Jesus, need to be more adept at our own personal inventory than in identifying the mess of others. The first place to look for jerky behavior should always be in the mirror.
Repeat. This is a moment-by-moment process that we’ll be in until our very last breath. When you think you’ve arrived—keep going.
Friend, both you and I will most surely miss the mark here and much sooner and more frequently than either of us would like, but we can’t let that keep us from being relentless and steadfast in our search for a better version of ourselves with which to face conflict and discord and opposition.
If we’re truly looking to share our faith and reflect an accurate picture of Christ to the world (and not just win the Internet today) we’ll do the painful, repetitive work it takes, and we won’t be satisfied until we’re more in his image than we were yesterday.
May you and I pursue the elusive, difficult, but so very Jesus ministry—of not being a jerk.
*Incidently, this also works extremely well for non-religious folk. You too can seek compassion, kindness, decency, and understanding, and beautifully de-jerk your life quite well…………John Pavlovitz