On a recent holiday morning, we sat in the living room of my parents’ house with a parade playing on television in the background. When a musical group came on during the parade, ten-year old Clay announced, “I love them.” One of his siblings, who shall remain nameless, groaned and declared disdain for the band in question. This wasn’t the first time said sibling had criticized Clay’s musical choices. Of course, Clay’s favorites fall right in line with today’s pop culture and include some of the most popular artists out there. But Clay’s sibling deems these same bands uncool or at least not cool enough for an “older aged” crowd. Clay refused to stand for it that day. He looked at his sibling and shot back, “you’re just here to criticize.”
Even after their argument ended, Clay’s statement stayed with me. I started wondering why we fall into this snare so frequently. We see situations in which we disagree with how things are being done, and what do we do? We talk about how terribly things are being managed, usually behind others’ backs. We may not have any real interest in improving the situation or care if things get better, but it becomes a sport to pick apart the choices that others make. We stand back and wait to see if those implementing the current policies fail. And, sometimes, we act petty or even nasty. It’s easy to criticize when we’re not the ones making the decisions, whether at work or church or school. We’ve all been guilty of such behavior. I know I’ve done it, and I’m not proud of it.
Not to say that criticism does not have its place. There are times when decision makers get off course, and their actions should be questioned. And venting can provide some positive benefits – getting our concerns off our chests so that we can get back to dealing with the matters at hand. But frequently, our criticism just provides us with a chance to tear down another without providing any constructive ideas. Instead of offering to help, we focus on the negative. We say what we would do if we were in charge, but we don’t volunteer to serve. We talk a good game with a little snark and sarcasm thrown in to make ourselves seem witty and above it all.
But that’s not how Jesus acted. He criticized many of the establishments, people, and situations of his day. But he didn’t stop there. Jesus offered a different example of how to be. He was a servant leader. He ate meals with outcasts and touched those who were considered unhealthy. He taught that forgiveness was better than holding grudges. He even washed his disciples’ feet.
Jesus could’ve easily sat in judgment, making pronouncements from afar about how the rulers of the day had it all wrong, sitting on a proverbial high horse, not getting his hands or feet dirty. But that’s not who he was or how he made his way in the world. I don’t think he would want us to be that way either. He wants us to follow his example and get to work when we see a situation that needs our help.
So, the next time we find ourselves huddled with others complaining about how things need to change in our given community, large or small, let’s remember how Jesus offered criticism but then showed others how to be different. Let’s ask if we if we can help change things in some way. And one day if you find me falling into this negativity trap, you can remind me of my own essay and ask me Clay’s words: “are you just here to criticize” or here to help?