There’s a powerful story in Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn. Last year, I read this book to my children, and was so struck by this story, that I stopped to highlight it.
In a town Huck is visiting, an angry mob gathers, infuriated over the actions of a man named Sherburn. Read on if you’re a real man:
Well, by and by somebody said Sherburn ought to be lynched. In about a minute everybody was saying it; so away they went, mad and yelling, and snatching down every clothes-line they come to to do the hanging with. They swarmed up towards Sherburn’s house, a-whooping and raging… They swarmed up in front of Sherburn’s palings as thick as they could jam together, and you couldn’t hear yourself think for the noise. It was a little twenty-foot yard. Some sung out “Tear down the fence! tear down the fence!” Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave.
Just then Sherburn steps out onto the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca’m and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back. Sherburn never said a word—just stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to outgaze him, but they couldn’t; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but the kind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that’s got sand in it. Then he says, slow and scornful:
“The idea of you lynching anybody! It’s amusing. The idea of you thinking… you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man! Why, a man’s safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind—as long as it’s daytime and you’re not behind him.
“…I know you clear through. I was born and raised in the South, and I’ve lived in the North; so I know the average all around. The average man’s a coward… Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark—and it’s just what they would do. So they always acquit; and then a man goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back, and lynches the rascal.
“Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you; that’s one mistake, and the other is that you didn’t come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought part of a man—Buck Harkness, there—and if you hadn’t had him to start you, you’d ‘a’ [never come].
“You didn’t want to come. The average man don’t like trouble and danger. You don’t like trouble and danger. But if only half a man—like Buck Harkness, there—shouts ‘Lynch him! lynch him!’ you’re afraid to back down—afraid you’ll be found out to be what you are—cowards—and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves onto that half-a-man’s coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you’re going to do.
“The pitifulest thing out is a mob… But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness. Now the thing for you to do is to droop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole. If any real lynching’s going to be done it will be done in the dark… and when they come they’ll bring their masks, and fetch a man along. Now leave—and take your half-a-man with you”—tossing his gun up across his left arm and cocking it when he says this.
The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart, and went tearing off every which way, and Buck Harkness he heeled it after them, looking tolerable cheap.
I could ‘a’ stayed if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to.
Isn’t that powerful??!
A man can speak for himself.
Don’t join the mob just because they’re screaming loudly, and you don’t want to be taken for a coward.
A man takes responsibility for his actions.
A man feels the fear and walks toward the danger anyway.
A man can look his critics in the eye.
A man can take criticism without breaking, because he hears the Other Voice.
A man doesn’t have to run down his opponents.
A man doesn’t have to quit.
I don’t know what you’re facing, pastor.
It may be an angry mob.
It may be spiritual attack.
It may be the forces of hell lining up against you in temptation.
It may be criticism.
And frankly, if it’s one of these, it’s often ALL of them.
Whatever it is, you can face it.