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Thursday, June 30, 2011


The post below appeared in our church's June 2009 newsletter:

Lynn handed me the phone just as I settled on the couch to watch a game: “It’s someone calling about the Sigma Chi directory.”  Sigma Chi is my college fraternity, and I’d recently updated my personal information on their website.  Responding to an e-mail prompting from Sigma Chi headquarters, I saw myself listed as married, no kids, and living with my parents in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.  An update was indeed in order!  

The caller was a pleasant, soft female voice.  I believe she said her name was Janice.  Janice said she was calling to confirm the information I’d given Sigma Chi online.  The fraternity had been sending a postcard every couple weeks or so in the mail, urging me to call and confirm my information.  But since I knew I provided them with correct information, I didn’t see the need for that.  I’m a little oblivious sometimes to the subtler ways of marketing. 

I assumed Janice worked for the fraternity and was calling brothers around the nation to “confirm their information” because my fraternity is nice and thorough like that.  There was not the chatty, keystroking background din you normally hear when a telemarketer calls.  It sounded like Janice was calling from a quiet office in Evanston, Illinois, and that she had looked forward to confirming my information all day.

After confirming what I supplied online was correct, and that I was a minister—and she pronounced “Evangelical” flawlessly (rare!)—Janice asked whether I had earned other degrees since college.  I told her of my Dallas Seminary degree and my current doctoral work at Beeson.  “Oh, that’s outstanding!” Janice said, seeming impressed, “How many more hours do you have to go on that?”

She was establishing report in showing interest, dropping in little questions and affirming comments.  The zenith moment for Janice was when I listed my kids’ names.  “You have five children!  And how old is Colson?” she inquired sweetly.  I told her 2½, and then she said, “Aw, I bet his name really suits him.”  I’m thinking, “Wow, this Janice gal is really intuitive!”

At that point the information was all confirmed and I expected my new friend to bid me a pleasant good night for the glory of Sigma Chi.  But Janice’s tone slightly shifted.  As a preacher I am never oblivious to the subtleties in voice inflection.  It was like her boss walked by at that moment and she needed to sound more official.  I could see her straightening in her chair.  “Now, Rev. Huffman…” she intoned carefully, smoothly, and proceeded to tell me how possessing a directory of my own would reconnect me to brothers near and far, and also network me “to other brothers who are ministers like yourself.”

“So, can we send you a directory?” Janice probed, the cheery tone reasserting itself in her larynx.  “Is there a cost for it?” I asked.  “We can send it to you for two installments of $44.95…”  And she continued on about how sure she was I would agree that such an investment is worthwhile, but all I could think was, “I can get TWO Greek lexicons for ninety bucks—which I’d actually use!” 

I pleasantly said no to her offer.  She paused, offered it another way and I declined again, very nicely.  The cheer in her voice evaporating faster than summer rain, she offered a third way: a CD-ROM version of the directory for only $19.95.  But I wasn’t biting on this either because one of my absolute rules in life is buy nothing for $19.95—never ever.  This life rule was set in my teens after I persuaded my dad to order a “revolutionary” car wax from a TV ad, for $19.95, and it dulled the finish on the car. 

After the third no Janice realized she struck out and perfunctorily provided me a 1-877 number “should you change your mind.”  By the flatness of her tone—all the perkiness was gone now—it was apparent I had proven a disappointment to her evening.

I wonder if Janice will go to a church this Sunday.  I wonder if there she will hear the gospel offered.  I wonder if the gospel she’ll hear will be essentially an installment plan: do this and don’t do that and God will send you His love.  Or maybe a $19.95 version of the gospel, the brilliant grace of God waxed dull: He just wants to have a transaction to get you to Heaven, not transform you on Earth.

I wonder if Janice would agree that the investment of her life with Christ is worthwhile.  Or is she repelled by the cost for inclusion in Heaven’s directory, “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27)—the cost to selfism; the bankrupting of “love of self, love of money, love of pleasure” (2 Tim. 3:2-4)?

If I’d been quicker I could have thought to ask Janice these things.  I should call her back and ask.  She did leave her number.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Dove Not On My Shoulder

I’m currently reading Matthew Lee Anderson’s Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.  Anderson is responsible for the blog that I keep a link to on this site.  In this his first book, Anderson devotes a chapter to tattooing: “Tattoos and the Meaning of Our Bodies.”  I’d not yet read a Christian author’s—or any author’s—treatment of the subject, so it interested me.

I learned from Anderson’s chapter the following: that nearly 40% of adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-eight (the generation just behind me) sport at least one tattoo now; that tattooing either accompanied enslavement or was used punitively, or to associate with gods, in ancient cultures (the direct reason for Israel’s tattooing prohibition in Leviticus 19:28); that wherever Christian missionaries have gone through the centuries tattooing has largely ceased, yet when the subject arises in discussion with “tatted” young evangelicals, many of them will say their ink has proven a good conversation starter with non-Christians; and that some justify tattooing for Christians (dubious hermeneutics, but nevertheless) on Isaiah 44:5 and 49:16, Galatians 6:17, and all the talk of branded foreheads and thighs in Revelation. 
For most of the twentieth century tattoos were a countercultural statement or a soldier’s permanent token of war.  But then as countercultural movements begun in the fifties and sixties became mainstream mindsets, tattooing lost its antisocial chic as suburbanite kids found in tattoo parlors a means of unique self-expression.  Anderson, reflecting on why tattooing has become so prevalent now, says it is because “tattoos function as aesthetic expressions of meaning-making, as we attempt to navigate the hollow emptiness of the world in which we have been raised” (p. 120).  This hollowness is for many filled with personal ink.
While reading Anderson’s chapter it occurred to me that I’ve never been asked to counsel anyone through a tattoo decision.  This means either I minister among people for whom body art/body modification is no decision or it is something about which they feel no need for pastoral guidance.  But if I were to be asked, here’s how I would counsel a young Christian contemplating it.
Anderson points out that in generations past, self-expression often took the form of ink to paper (poetry/writing) and paint to canvass.  Tattooing turns the ink and paint on ourselves, as it were, making ourselves the canvass and the poetry.  There is, then, an inescapable self-referential (even self-reverential) experience that tattooing invites, even sanctions.  In the marketplace of self-made identities our tattoos become our trademarks. 
I want Christians to think hard on this, along with a corresponding consideration: that self-improvement/enhancement has for followers of Jesus always been more about the “internal artistry” of ourselves than our external artistry—our character more than our coolness.  This by no means makes our bodies irrelevant.  Our bodies matter to our faith, as Anderson aptly subtitled his book.  Paul, in a context of warning about sexual immorality, says our bodies are “a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 
Paul wasn’t thinking of tattoos there, but he does make a blanket statement about what our physical bodies mean to God.  Tattoos are culturally popular and sometimes sought to commemorate meaningful experiences, including salvation, baptism, and/or a cherished passage of Scripture (which, as Anderson notes, is “even cooler” if tatted in the original Hebrew or Greek). 
But I wonder if eschewing a tattoo can display what I’ll call “cultural modesty”?  A lot of Christians in my generation and younger have adopted a cultural strategy of accommodation, finding in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 9:22 principle of “becoming all things to all people” a permission slip to participate in most everything the world does, just without going “too far.”  (It is apparently self-evident where “that’s okay” ends and “too far” begins.)  But this strategy has panned out a lot of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) for us.  Anderson quotes Lauren Sandler, whom he calls “an outside observer [of evangelicals]”: “Young Evangelicals look so similar to denizens of every other strain of youth culture that, aside from their religious tattoos, the difference between them and the unsaved is invisible” (from her book Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, p. 6).
I wonder if we might make more visible inroads with the world if we’re “marked” (pun intended) by humble restraint.  This is what I mean by cultural modesty.  I’m willing to bet you that a young tatted dude or dudette, encountering a tattoo-less contemporary, might actually find it more intriguing to hear from him that he gratefully (and of course, non-judgmentally) considers his body a temple of the Holy Spirit, rather than pulling up his sleeve to reveal a crying dove on his shoulder, “Because, like, you know, a dove descended on Jesus when He was baptized, plus I also love that Prince song, ‘When Doves Cry.’”
Another line of counsel I’d take in this consideration is the caution against what I call “absolutizing your now.”  You will likely feel differently about the tattoo later on.  As I get older I want to put more distance between who I was as a younger man and who I am now, even though I don’t “have a past” in the loaded meaning of that phrase.  It’s that I want to grow and mature, believing as I do that I become even more useful to the younger ones coming behind me.  In other words, the younger need me to be older, as I am.  They don’t need an older guy trying to be like them, but a guy they can learn from, hopefully winsomely, how to be like Jesus. 
I’m glad I don’t look at my fraternity crest on my ankle in the shower every morning, had I opted for that in college; therefore my grandkids will never feel the need to ask, “Why do you have a big E-X (Sigma Chi) on your ankle, Grandpa?”  (I concede it would be worse to hear, “Why do you have a big crying bird on your shoulder, Grandpa?”)  Will we feel the same about our tats, and even the experiences they memorialize in emblem, in our sixties as in our twenties?  I remember a Saturday Night Live skit featuring a woman who got a “tramp stamp” on the small of her back that said, in elaborate cursive, “Pretty Lady.”  They then time-elapsed the inevitable sagging of skin in the aging process; it mutated the artsy stenciling on her back to “Pretty Sad.”
Some of you reading this have tattoos and will perhaps fear my seeing them now.  Don’t.  What’s done is done.  I don't judge you.  I sometimes ask people about their tattoos and even genuinely compliment the artistry, finding tattoos to indeed be good conversation starters with strangers made in the image of God as I am.  In many cases there is a meaningful story behind the tattoo and I don’t discount this.  I think the medium is suspect for a follower of Jesus to avail, that’s all.  One isn’t sinning in the act of getting a tattoo, I don’t think, but neither is one exhibiting wisdom, which is what we want to be permanently marked by.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Few Kind Words for Camp

Three of our children are at two different Christian camps this week.  Of those three, our youngest camper recently asked me how it was I knew I would be a pastor someday.  My memory instantly transported me back to a balcony seat in the Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center on a humid North Carolina night in the summer of 1983.  The speaker was from Oklahoma, I recall, and one night during my youth group's week at Ridgecrest I left that seat—at the speaker’s invitation—to walk the aisle with a few hundred other kids who were "doing business with God" in the parlance of Baptist youth evangelists.  I was 14.  And while not exactly Samuel with a linen ephod (see 1 Sam. 2:18), I knew God had tapped me to be in vocational ministry of some kind.  I never looked back.

I was received below the platform by one of the many youth ministers there who handed me off to a camp counselor, an older lady.  She called me honey and patted my knee when we sat down in a room to discuss my decision.  "I'm surrendering to the ministry," I said, although there was no real "surrender" to it.  But that's what Baptists called it.  It was non-emotional for me as I recall, but still significant.  Other kids around us were crying or trying to explain to their counselors what they thought they were doing: getting saved, rededicating their lives, seeking baptism.  But I knew why I walked the aisle that night.  I was making it official: I will work for God.  The grandmotherly lady took down my information and told me to discuss my decision with my pastor when I got back to Alabama.  I did and found my pastor delighted and affirming.

Randall Balmer remembers his Christian camp experiences, too.  Balmer is the son of an evangelical minister; I remember viewing some years ago his PBS documentary Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.  I believe he concluded that documentary on evangelical life in America at a Christian camp in the Adirondacks.  (I searched the Internet in vain for a clip from that series, so what follows is from memory.)  He sits at the camp bonfire site, alone, where the climactic worship service of the week always happens, and reflects on the psychology of camp conversion experiences.  Balmer implies that much of what happens with kids in those moments is sincerely meant but nevertheless emotionally manipulated.  It's not difficult to get religiously oriented adolescents quivering with guilt over their inherent offensiveness to God.  The bonfire provides just the right ambiance for an interlude with contrition that Balmer considers a fundamentalist rite of passage.  But if the kids grow up to be postmodernly intelligent like him, this too will pass. 

I suppose it does for many.  After all, tens of thousands of kids go to hundreds (if not thousands) of Christian camps every summer.  So of course there are those who conflate a temporal desire for godliness with true resolve for it.  I remember picking up our son Caleb after his first year at one of the Kanakuk Kamps (yes, with a K) outside Branson, Missouri.  We decided to vacation there that year, along with my parents and my sister’s family.  When we retrieved Caleb, who was almost 10 at the time, he got in the car and announced, “I’m a changed person!”  My sister immediately looked me and declared, “I’m sending Mackenzie here next year!”  Caleb’s “changedness” lasted for about a week.

I don’t pooh that, however.  Spiritual growth and change doesn’t happen all at once.  We eventually learn this walking with the Lord, that spiritual growth and change require incremental steps, what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction."  What our camp experiences did for many of us, including me, was provide a kind of memorable sacred ground on which to take those steps in larger strides.  I intend no romanticism in the point, for Christian camps are not Christian utopias.  Some kids regrettably get introduced to human wretchedness in their camp experiences.  While there are sacred grounds of a kind, there is no truly safe ground in a fallen world.  But for many of us who grew up going to Christian camps, sitting lakeside in a cathedral of trees, reading our Bibles and praying for a solid week or two—a taste for God was developing in our young selves.  We usually can’t replicate those moments nor should we try.  Camp experiences are not norms to achieve but memories to appreciate.

So this Friday and Saturday, when our campers return home, we’ll enjoy hearing about their experiences.  They’ll tell of the fun, quiet, and even the emotions of camp.  And we’ll trust that God Himself was there using all of that to draw them nearer—for life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Little Chick

With Father’s Day approaching I am of course grateful for each one of my five children.  But one of my kids, fourth in the birth order and the youngest girl, is particularly on my mind of late.  Caley Kate (CK) is eight-years-old (turns nine in October), and I’ve mentioned her before in other writings on this blog.  The above picture of her was taken on Easter.

A couple of years ago CK was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In her case this accounts for her cognitive and social developmental delays.  I was once skeptical of Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses, suspicioning a lot of parents turned to that to cover bad parenting skills in our therapeutic age.  But we knew CK “had issues” and the diagnosis was helpfully clarifying—we know now how to help her development.  To improve her cognitive functionality Lynn homeschools her, and to quote the Peace Corps slogan it’s the toughest job Lynn’s ever loved.  This past school year CK repeated the first grade at home after failing it the year before in our local school.  Thanks to Lynn’s teaching acumen, CK is making great cognitive progress.
But for improving her social functionality there’s not as much we can do for her.  CK is generously disposed to everyone; she thinks every girl is her potential best friend.  But a lot of girls and boys don’t warm to CK like she warms to them.  Toward the end of her last semester in our local school Lynn observed some of the boys in her class beginning to mock her.  I’m glad I didn’t see that!
This morning I dropped her off in our church’s excellent summer kids’ program—her second day in the twice-per-week class.  During our drive to church she excitedly announced to me the name of a little girl in the class, calling that girl her “new best friend.”  I suspected the little girl probably didn’t feel the same way (unless she’s like CK).  I walked CK into the room and she immediately pointed to the girl, led me by the hand to where she was and said to me, “Daddy, this is my new best friend!”
The little girl actually rolled her eyes and sighed.  Suspicion confirmed.  Stab to a dad’s heart! 
I had to right then suppress the urge to retreat, to pick CK up in my arms as if removing her from a burning room.  Suddenly the kids in her class looked like bullies to me, waiting for me to leave so they could have at her.  (I’m telling you what I instantly felt, not what I actually think.)  I lingered for a few seconds, considering whether to ask the teachers to keep an extra eye out for her.  But I thought that too reactive, even defensive, and decided it was best to go on to my office and work. 
Americans sentimentalize our children and childhood more than any other people on Earth, conferring on our children a close-to-perfect status when they’re young.  But children can be rather rude if not cruel to each other, like the little yellow chicks pecking the discolored chick in the chicken house.
When I took CK home today I asked her whether she buddied around with the girl she’d favored, knowing that CK doesn’t pick up on nonverbal cues like the girl gave this morning.  “She said she couldn’t be my best friend; she already has too many,” CK told me without a hint of disappointment, because CK doesn’t really understand social rejection yet.  It makes her wonderfully unconscious of herself but also adds a layer of distancing between her and most of her peers.  She took the girl at face-value and moved on to whoever would play with her today, which she said was one boy.
This Father’s Day I find myself thinking not as much on the joys of fatherhood, though there are many for me and I do think of them and thank God for them.  I’m thinking more of the pains of fatherhood, those stabs in the heart when you see your child behind or excluded or maligned in some way.  I’m trying to thank God for this experience of fatherhood too, because it is said that fatherhood brings us into an experiential appreciation of God’s fatherhood of us.  And while His fatherhood of us gives Him immense joy, it is also painful for Him.
I’m not thinking of the pains we cause Him in our preference for sin.  I’m thinking of the pain He’s caused when our differences with our peers in the world invites their scorn or smirk or otherwise resistance to us or rejection of us.  That has to stab at His heart as a father! 
Psalm 56:8 says He puts our tears in His bottle, including the tears a dad sheds for his little girl when finding her way socially, even at eight and even at church, includes difficulties for her.  She’s not tuned into it right now but she will be someday, as I am.  This tunes me in though more to everything the fatherhood of God means for me.  And for this I thank Him.  And for this I hug CK tight, my little chick.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Upside of Anger

I have not been cussed like that ever in my life, even by my profanest high school coach.

We were on vacation last week, staying at some friends’ lovely beachside condominium.  On Thursday one of my daughters and I transported a few sacks of finish-out-the-week groceries up the elevator to our place on the seventh floor.  We utilized a luggage cart which I then returned to the ground floor garage.  Through that garage is the main walkway to the pools and beach. 

Upon my return to the ground floor, the elevator door opened to a narrow hallway full of people.  I navigated the cart—a most awkward thing to steer even when empty—to one of the entry-exit doors.  If only I had been a minute later!
She came at me from around the wall separating the two entry-exit doors.  “You ought to learn how to say, ‘EXCUSE ME!’” she bellowed at me with an expletive and look of complete disgust on her face.  Without a blink I instantly bristled and with a wave of my hand said, “You don’t tell me what to do! Go back inside!”
It was, shall we say, on.
My dismissive response to her “invective corrective” threw a switch in her.  It’s the switch that controls the urge to embarrass oneself in public.  She took a menacing step toward me.  I said, “What are you going to do?” and took two steps toward her.  We stood toe-to-toe.  I’m 6’4”, 200 lbs.  She is not.  I am white.  She is black.
She looked up in my face and blistered me more in 62 seconds than the Florida sun could do to me in 62 minutes.  Her words were vile and racist, unjustifiably disproportionate to the perceived offense.  Those awaiting the elevators were suddenly ringside to a one-sided verbal smackdown.  I was painfully aware of her two small children and mother watching wide-eyed behind her.  Thankfully, none of my children were there.
I stood there and took what she dished out, keeping my hands folded behind my back in a gesture of passive but firm ground-standing.  I never raised my voice or responded in kind to her words.  I simply said, “You are rude, ma’am, go inside,” whenever she took a breath.  The proverb about the gentle answer turning away wrath had kicked in—late, but it did kick in.  She bumped me once and for a moment I feared she would slap me (it was the way she was flailing her arms, like a snake coiling itself to strike).  But after a minute of vitriol she began backing away toward the elevators.  I kept standing in place.  Finally, she went in an elevator door, still screaming obscenities at me.  When she was gone everyone looked at each other, then at me with nervous grins.  I shrugged.  Two teenage girls told me they wouldn’t have taken that.  “Well, I’m not going to hit a woman,” I answered flatly.  “Some people are just angry at everyone, girls.”
That altercation bothered me deeply the rest of the day.  I simply wished I’d ignored her.  Where did my usual restraint go in that moment?  No, I didn’t yell at her or intend harm to her.  But why did I ever let myself say, “You don’t tell me what to do!”  I debated whether to tell Lynn about it and finally did that night during a family stroll on the beach.  We didn’t tell the children.
On Saturday we were taking in our final beach and pool hours when I noticed the woman walking down the beach.  She was with what appeared to me to be her sister and their children and parents.  They were splashing the children and enjoying themselves.  I pointed her out to Lynn and sighed.
Between the two swimming pools at the condo was a small heated pool with Jacuzzi jets.  I sat in it a lot during the week, even in the heat, because the massaging water felt good on muscles I abuse in exercising at 42 like I’m still 22.  I was enjoying my final time in it when the woman’s family walked up.  I hoped with sunglasses on and submerged in the water she wouldn’t recognize me.  I sensed she did though.  She said nothing and opted to get into the other pool beside us. 
But her daughter, my Caley Kate’s age, jumped in the hot pool with Caley and me.  Caley Kate, my nomination for the World’s Friendliest Child, instantly said to her daughter, “Do you want to be friends?”  The little girl said “Sure!” and they exchanged names and began playing in the water as eight-year-olds do.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye that her mom, my Clubber Lang, was keeping a close watch our way.
It was finally time to collect the kids and go.  We had dinner plans that night.  I announced to my children that I was returning to the beach to collect things we left there and then we’d go inside and cleanup for dinner.  When I came back from the beach Lynn happened to be poolside, placing towels on our kids.  With Caley Kate’s “Do you want to be friends?” reverberating in my brain for the last half hour in an almost Augustinian way, I decided to approach my vacation adversary.  Her family and mine were the only ones there.
I looked down at her gliding in the pool.  “Are you the one with whom I had an altercation at the elevators a couple of days ago?”  She stopped and stood in the water, looking up at me squint-eyed in the sun. “Yes, I am,” she said with what seemed to me a hint of defiance. “Would you please forgive me my part in our getting sideways?” I asked.  She made her way toward the steps to exit the pool and said, “Yes!” with exuberance.  With Lynn standing there observing I said, “May I give you a hug?”  And we embraced one of the sweetest embraces I’ve ever enjoyed.  It was genuine forgiveness.
It is a genuine gospel that renders me even capable of wanting that reconciliation.  It’s a strange favorite moment for a vacation, I’ll admit.  But gospel moments are always the best.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Since the word "vacation" comes from "vacate," I'm giving my blog a rest until mid-June in order to take some time off.  I leave you with these "words to vacate by" from Frederick Buechner's fine little work, Secrets in the Dark:

"All the absurd little meetings, decisions, inner skirmishes that go to make up our days. It all adds up to very little, and yet it all adds up to very much. Our days are full of nonsense, and yet not, because it is precisely into the nonsense of our days that God speaks to us words of great significance--not words that are written in the stars but words that are written into the raw stuff and nonsense of our days, which are not nonsense just because God speaks into the midst of them. And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are "Be merciful...feed my on toward the goal."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sermon and The Lunch

This is the title of an essay by C. S. Lewis; it appears in his anthology, God in the Dock.  Lewis tells of listening—for a little while, at least—to a sermon given by a pastor-friend.  The pastor’s daughter invited Lewis to lunch afterwards in the pastor’s home, stating that Sunday lunch was “always a little less frightful when there’s a visitor.” 
What tuned Lewis out to the pastor’s message (as well as everyone there “under thirty,” Lewis observed, in a description of congregational disinterest that makes any preacher wince) was that he idyllically sentimentalized the Christian home and everybody intuitively knew it.  The reality of his own family dynamic was “frightful” in the British sense of the term, meaning it was quite less than idyllic.  Lewis doesn’t fault him for this, however, the way we might—we who are always quick to locate hypocrisy (strong word) in others.  The pastor is human, not a hypocrite.  Lewis faults his friend for wasting his congregation’s attention on sentimental blather about the home that no home, however well-intentioned, fully approximates.
The lunch revealed what Lewis already suspected: not even the pastor’s home was the place where “we retreat from the noise and stress and temptation and dissipation of daily life” as he presented Christian homes to be in his sermon.  There is noise and stress and temptation (and, yes, even dissipation!) in our homes too.  Lewis describes the lunch so well I could hear the crunch of celery sticks: the pastor-father was full of blustery opinions about society and politics that his son and daughter, both home on leave from military service, didn’t fully align with.  But the father would brook no contesting his points, certainly not from them.  The mother tried to change the subject to her recent mistreatment by a neighbor, seeking sympathy from her family.  She didn’t get it, not because they don’t love her but because they know the hurt to her wasn’t meant as she took it.  The kids were mostly trying to converse with Lewis but continued to be interrupted by the preposterous things their parents said, almost as if they weren’t at table.  Finally the family members just ignored each other and each proceeded with his or her own conversations with Lewis.
It is because that dynamic is so common to family life that Lewis found the pastor’s sermon on the home that morning preposterous:
“[The pastor] is not telling us at all that home life is difficult and has, like every form of life, its own proper temptations and corruptions. He keeps on talking as if ‘home’ were a panacea, a magical charm which of itself was bound to produce happiness and virtue…. He is not talking from his own experience of family life at all: he is automatically reproducing a sentimental tradition—and it happens to be a false tradition. This is why the congregation have [sic.] stopped listening to him.”
Lewis knew the congregation would have been better served homiletically if the pastor spoke to the realities of home, not the sanitized version of “sentimental tradition” he proclaimed.  The pastor spoke of “being himself” at home.  Exactly the problem!  The “him/herself” one is at home is often not the public self we present.  Again, this doesn’t automatically make one hypocritical.  It is fault-worthy humanness, correctable humanness, yes; but doesn’t always rise to the level of deviant or mercenary humanness. 
Consider: the pastor would likely never interrupt his parishioners as he interrupted his own kids over the lunch discussions.  And yet the pastor loves his own kids more than his church, which is precisely why he feels the irritation of their disagreement well-up within him more strongly.  Home is the one place “that part of him” comes out.  Likewise for the kids: Lewis observes how the pastor’s son “would have borne patiently and humorously from any other old man the silliness which enraged him in his father.” 
In other words, home is—more often than we like but nevertheless—not us at our best.  Lewis felt his friend simply avoided this in his sermon because “being himself” at home presumes the very best “him” at home.  But this is a delusion, and not even a comforting delusion, as the congregation already knew.
I read Lewis’ essay this morning in the oil-change shop.  His essay spoke to me not just as a preacher but also as a father and husband.  I like to think of myself as consistently even-keeled socially.  But I know my wife and kids have had experiences with me (and “of me”) that no one else will ever experience.  You can corroborate this with my wife and kids if you like: I’m not a tyrant domineering my home.  If the Huffman family became a reality show it would make for rather dull television, I think.  Not because we’re boring but because television cameras like the drama, and we don’t do a lot of drama.  We mostly enjoy being together and are grateful for each other.
And yet, because Cole Huffman is “himself” at home in a way he is no other place (forgive the third person here); and being himself includes his sinfulness—as it does for his wife and children—the Huffman home is therefore no insulated “retreat from the noise and stress and temptation and dissipation of daily life.”  I can hurt and be hurt on Wheatstone Cove like no other place on Earth, and Christians are the one people on Earth who should be the most realistic about this.  The realism doesn’t excuse us when we at our worst; to the contrary, it’s the only thing which truly accounts for it and prompts those practices of repentance and grace that make for an authentically peaceful and even happy home: forgiveness, forbearance, patience, self-control, listening, sharing.
I’ll give Lewis the final word:
“How, then, are people to behave at home? If a man can’t be comfortable and unguarded, can’t take his ease and ‘be himself’ in his own house, where can he? That is, I confess, the trouble. The answer is an alarming one. There is nowhere this side of heaven where one can safely lay the reins on the horse’s neck. It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God… This does not mean, of course, that there is no difference between home life and general society. It does mean that home life has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult than that of the outer world.”