Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Common Denominator of My Obnoxiousness Factor

I had a bit of a revelation this week, but before I can describe it, I must give some background.

I think the first time that I realized that I was obnoxious (at least to my Christian friends) was several years ago. I considered Pastor Steve as being my best friend at the time. He was nice. We had had many long conversations of substance . . . talking about both his issues as well as mine, with an equal time devoted to each.

One day, Denise and I had told his wife Janelle that we were coming by for a visit at 2 PM. At that time, our visits were rare and so much valued, at least to me. It is long story, but we got to their area of the city early . . . I think it was around 1:40PM. The odd thing was I saw Steve suddenly sneak from the house, jump in the car a take off. Being a pastor of large Presbyterian Church I could just imagine a host of reasons why he would have to take off in a hurry. But then again, I thought it could be something simple, like running to the store to get some soda or chips for our visit.

Janelle was always gracious and pleasant. We came in and had a seat and started a lively conversation over some lemonade. It wasn’t long until I asked, “So where’s Steve off to? I saw him pulling out as we came down the street.”

Janelle seemed embarrassed, “Well, he went shopping and won’t be back.”

I was perplexed. I hadn’t seen him in a month and I had considered that we were best friends. “Shopping?” I asked.

Janelle hemmed and hawed and finally in a moment of brave candor (assuming that she wasn’t too happy with Steve’s behavior) answered, “Well . . . honestly, he saw that it was about time for you to get here and he had to think quickly of something he could do to avoid you.”

How do you respond to something like that? I was tempted to ask why but I could tell that Janelle already felt embarrassed about the situation.

I was hurt, but far more than being hurt, I was curious. I am a very inquisitive man. I mean, my approach to life is that I feel like Frodo with a head full of about a ton of question marks. When I ask questions, they are real, honest questions . . . not opinions disguised as questions, nor are they rhetorical.

So, after my experience with Steve (and btw our paths have never crossed since, by no fault of mine) I started to notice a pattern. I’ve shared before that I think that I desire good friendships more than most people, at least more than most men, yet I am lonelier than most. Since I’ve been a post-Evangelical, I find friendships very rare and I do think that the Christians, which I try to relate to, find me obnoxious.

But I try very hard not to be obnoxious. I find the old Evangelical Mike far more obnoxious than the new me. The old Mike knew the answers to everything and was not afraid to tell you. He also wasn’t afraid to tell you about your errors. The new Mike would never do that. I have a strong sense of grace and mercy. I feel that I would make a great friend because you could tell me anything and I would never think less of you. In that way I’m like your dog.

The only time I ever voiced disapproval to a friend was when he told me that he were unrepentantly molesting his children and having affairs behind his wife’s back and would not stop. But I had a Christian leader confine in me once that he was an alcoholic, and I had more respect for him than ever and made sure he knew it. He was my hero for coming clean about it.

I also try very hard not to talk about myself . . . and maybe that’s why I blog so much. But in my professional life, I spend the entire day talking to people about the intimate details of their problems, incest (as victims and perpetrators), depression, anxiety, suicide attempts and anorexia. I have several, actually many, young girls who are patients and who are cutters. I know how to sit and listen with my whole heart and feel great empathy and I never talk about myself to them. I am a listening robot.

I know that a blog, as I’ve said before, can be a narcissistic exercise, but I would never focus on myself, one on one, with potential friends the way I do here. So it seems like I would make a good friend.

And again, the reason I even wonder about all of this is that I am driven by curiosity.

During my friend-making attempts I also can be inquisitive, and maybe that could be one obnoxious factor. I mean most of the time, we all like for people to ask us about ourselves. But sometimes my questions are misunderstood as judgments. But, I am a far greater admirer of Socrates than Rush Limbaugh. I am not one that would want to argue over opinions. I feel like such arguing is a futile exercise in self promotion, not persuasion.

Here’s an example of my questions. I’ve said things, to potential male friends, like, “Does it bother you that your wife spends four evenings a week with her personal trainer . . . who, by the way looks just like Brad Pitt? I know it would me?”

The man might take offense at me for that, while it is an honest question . . . in the same way that a sociologist or psychologist might ask it. I am honestly curious about if something is wrong with ME that I would be bothered by my wife hanging out every evening with Brad.

I am also driven by a great zeal for candor. I just can’t stand lying and pretending anymore. That’s where I relate to the insane guy on Revolutionary Road. He couldn’t stand pretentiousness either. But I don’t call other people on their pretentiousness . . . only myself.

So now . . . to my point. I am with a group of Evangelical friends once every two weeks right now for a discussion time. A sociological light bulb went off over my head this past week as I noticed that I was being perceived more and more obnoxious as the discussions went on. I, as an observer, took a step back and started thinking about what it was I was doing that was alienating people. I think I figured it out, at least for the Evangelical setting.

There were several discussions during the night and the end of each one would find me on one side and the rest of the group on the other. There was a common denominator to the discussions and my positions. In my opinion, Evangelicals assign to non-Christians worst motives than they deserve and to Christians, better motives than what they deserve.

So to my Evangelical friends, everything that non Christians do is a conspiracy to do evil, and every thing that Christians do is a plan to do good. I kept finding myself defending non Christians, and calling into question Christians. But, it wasn’t personal. I mean I would never call into question the people in the group. But I would people like Benny Hinn. I also try to use myself as the example of Christians acting badly . . .which always delivers come kind of shock factor.

This is how the conversation ended last week. We were talking about common miracles. I made the statement that sometimes Christians over-state miracles for the effect. There was a look of disgust on the faces of a few, like what I was suggesting was very offensive. Then I used myself as the example. I can clearly remember times (I didn’t say this but it was when I was an Evangelical) that I exaggerated or frankly lied about things to make them look like miracles. I gave the example of a group of us (Navigators) telling the story over and over how the VW van we were in ran 50 miles with no gas in it. But we all knew, in our hearts, that the gas gage didn’t work and it really had gas.

That is the common denominator . . . me always defending the non Christians. That night I had defended several non-Christians, which (in my opinion)they were trying to demonize. But I was disrespecting Christians, namely myself by suggesting that sometimes we lie. They seemed appalled that I had lied for Jesus. They had never heard of such a thing, a Christian doing something like that before. Nor could they even imagine a real Christian doing such bad things.


Anonymous said...

So interesting...

Your posts regularly remind me of a dear friend of mine who, heh, has the ability to annoy almost everyone he knows with his inquisitive nature...I think because he never did figure out which questions and comments are simply NOT allowed in an evangelical setting. Not that I should talk, but at least I did, once upon a time, know and played the game, whereas he never did 'get' the game. lol...

What I wanted to say, though, is that he is loved dearly. Maybe not by everybody, but at the same time, by some. And what I also wanted to say is that I've never seen a better follower of Christ. I'll tell you what, he might be on "heretic" status during adult Sunday School for daring to ask a non-approved question (or, more often, not being SATISFIED with the approved answer-ha), but you'll be hard pressed to find a better picture for love in the trenches. When a friend's dad was dying, who was there visiting him every day (including sharing whiskey shots in each other's morning coffee's...)...and eventually hosted the older man in his home, where he was so loved he didn't want to leave...and was with him right to the very end. When a young woman in the church went crazy and the church leadership decided to do a deliverance session on her and help her straighten her theology, who was there saying, "she needs a docter," not willing to leave the leadership meeting even though the disapproving stares made it very apparent he was not wanted. Why did he stay...? Because he loved that family and that young woman and he was willing to do the hard things to see that she was cared for properly. When my own marriage blew up outwardly (though inwardly it had been so for some time), who knew it and continued to love, call, and stop by to visit *both* of us, when everyone else disappeared into the woodwork?

I could go on, but I think that I know a lot of people who know the approved answers and whatnot, but I don't know very many people who honestly love in the little things, who truly care about people and serve them like Christ does, even while being fully human and therefore fully flawed. :)

I rambled...but just wanted to say that my friend has meant a lot to me.... He annoys me...and I annoy I've been privelaged to see a glimpse of Christ through this guy, and have very little respect for those who know all the right answers (and know not to ever ask the wrong questions) but have no love to give for anything beyond their precious right answers. I have a lot to learn about love, but seeing people like that living their lives is better than any textbook/workbook lesson in a sunday school class...

shallowfrozenwater said...

i think i hear you here, especially on the exaggeration of miracles thing. i know that i've felt like i've done and do that very thing. i think my issue may be in not realizing how obnoxious i really am, i just don't listen well so i guess you're at least one up on me.
i appreciate your honesty here though. feel free to visit my blog too if you wish.

Don Hendricks said...

You have captured what I was saying in my blog about being dissed. Now that you are indentifying with the brokeness of the world and Christs identifying with it your friends think something is wrong with you. Sad and painful to go through.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that I'm not much of a commenter, but I really enjoy your blog and so identify with your posts. Thanks for sharing.

MJ said...

Interesting to hear ad-in-m. So we obnoxious people (referring to your friend) are not hopeless:>)

Shallow-froz, I did visit your blog and hope to be back. Thanks for your thoughts.

Don, I need to learn to write those short, to the point, thoughts like you do. Yes, I read your dissed piece and I can relate to your desire not to be dissed.

Anonymous, feel free to comment anytime. No one around here puts their foot in their mouths more that me so their is nothing you could say that would be taken wrong.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. Your story about your personal journey has been really interesting. Also love the pictures of your island.

I guess you were serious with your example of that Brad Pitt question. To me that seems like a question you ask a close friend, not someone you're scoping out. Maybe my sense of social propriety is a little different from yours. Maybe after all the years of lying, you have gone overboard and now demand total honesty from people who don't even know you. I'm guessing you're the kind of person I wouldn't want to greet on the elevator by saying, "Hi, how are you?"


MJ said...

Anna, I would only say something like that to a close friend.