Donald Trump is a pathological bragger. I have just watched this CNN interview in which he’s unable to resist responding to the hard to dispute observation that he’s not known for his humility: – ‘I’m much more humble than you would understand.’
Politicians brag, so do WWF wrestlers and pretty much all pre-schoolers. While bragging is unpleasant regardless of who does it, with these categories of people it isn’t surprising. They do it because they think it will sell them to their targeted constituents, or as part of an elaborate act, or because they haven’t learnt that a self-blown trumpet is noise pollution to anyone but the blower.
Some of the worst braggers however, are ‘high-profile’ Christians, and I find this more than distasteful. I think it is the antithesis of Christ-like servant leadership, and I think it needs to stop. However much syrupy spiritual language is drizzled over the proclamation of success and accomplishment, it still amounts to the same message: ‘look at me and all my wonderful successes’. Peel back the veneer of the shiny Christianese words and you find the boast, lurking in the shadows : ‘fruit’ used to mean lots of church members/ book sales/ money, ‘gifting’ meaning my awesome talents and excellent abilities, ‘international ministry’ meaning someone paid for me to fly somewhere on a plane- how cool am I?
High profile Christians brag on the ‘about’ pages of their websites, they brag when they are interviewed, they brag from the big platforms they get to speak from, they brag in social situations, they brag to everyone who will listen. I’m not talking here about a factual account of experience and qualifications in an appropriate context. I’m talking about an inflation of the truth, about squirreling in self-praise whenever space opens up in conversation. I’m talking about quoting the praise and endorsement of other important people when there is no call for it. Yuck. Just yuck. And yet this happens all the time.
I have some theories about why:
- They suffer from imposter syndrome, as many people in positions of responsibility do. They are therefore trying to convince both themselves and others that they are worthy of what they are being asked to do. But Jesus chose people eminently unsuitable and unqualified to be his inner circle and lead his followers after he left. Moses had a speech impediment and a horrible temper; Gideon was a coward, David was anointed as the future king of Israel when all he knew how to do was look after sheep. The point is, God doesn’t choose people to do important jobs based on their impressive CVs. He chooses people who are obedient and happy to do what he asks.
- They believe the hype, and have come to think very highly of themselves which has led them to feel no discomfort about proclaiming their own greatness. If this is you, can I let you in on a secret? No one likes a bragger. Your boasting makes us want to bring you down a peg or two. It makes us want to bash you over the head with an inflatable mallet. One of the most fundamental principles for good writing is ‘Show. Don’t tell.’ Same applies here. Let others be the judge of your good qualities and accomplishments.
- No one has ever called them on their bragging. They don’t know they do it, and they don’t know it is horrible to behold. This is where we all have to take responsibility. Deformations of character happen because no one loved us enough to tell us when we began to go wrong. This is a dangerous thing to do, but I’m asking you here to care enough for me to tell me if I ever become boastful. I can tell you now I will cry and probably be frosty with you for a couple of weeks, but once my bruised pride has stopped throbbing I will be deeply, deeply grateful.
Paul wrote that his only reason to boast was Christ, and him crucified. If we have to brag, let’s brag about our weakness, our failures, our brokenness. In and through the truth of who we are, the glory of God is visible. Let’s give credit where it’s due, and shut up about the rest.