Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vulnerability and Sharks

I was attending an "Exploring New Membership" class with my new pastor this week. She made a very candid comment about herself (can't remember what it was now). Later, she, in attempts in giving a realistic view of this church, she tried to explain some of the criticisms she faces. For one, which surprised me a bit, is that she is accused of "always getting her way" when it comes to church business.

But the next criticism was very different. She said that her candidness, and, in her words, "vulnerability" is offensive to some. Some people think it is unbecoming for a pastor to talk so easily of personal failures.

I relate to that. How man times I've been told that I'm an embarrassment to my profession, to be an elder, to being a Christian and even to being a man.

This uncomfortable-ness with self-incrimination is certainly not limited to Evangelicalism. If I have a criticism here of the evangelical church, is that it should be above this "put only your best foot forward" mentality. I mean, aren't we all on the same page? Blood of Jesus covering us . . . or we are totally (not a percentage) lost?

But I watch this scenario play out on many stages day after day. I'm on a medical blog and those (medical professionals) tend to be quite arrogant. God-forbid that anyone should saying something that doesn't put themselves in the most (inflated) positive light. But the same thing happens in many church settings. I may be wrong, but it is especially true with men.

So you say something honest, which shows your vulnerability for stupidity, or laziness, or sinfulness. Something like, "I should have gotten up to run Saturday morning, but that bed felt so good that I slept in until 9." It is like you are in a school of sharks and you just picked the scab on your knee. There is a little blood in the water and the sharks start swarming around you.

One takes a bite. "Nine AM! You must be joking. I haven't sept that late since I use to party all night, before I met the Lord." Then the next shark smells blood and swims closer, "Hey bro . . . I'll call you next Saturday at 5 AM. That's what time I get up. We can run together . . . that is if you can keep up with me (wink, wink)."

I dream of a world where we could say anything and the only litmus test was if it was true or not. No test if what you said makes you look godly or not. No test if what you said made you look manly or not. No test if what you said made you look like a professional or not . . . just simply, was it honest or not. Not if it fit some very precise theological position (that's why most people hold very precise theological positions, say in eschatology, just so they have a place to put their teeth in case you waiver from it.) Occasionally these people swim to the surface over at iMonk. I'm sure it is much more common on evangelical forums and blogs.

I've had a few friendships over the years where I knew that I could say absolutely anything and there would be no blood in the water, no search for a bite-hold in my flesh to tear me apart. I think our mothers (most normal mothers) fit that role. I have a sister like that. I could tell her that I robbed a bank and she would think that there must have been a good reason. But those are the kind of Christian friendships we all must envy.


pennyyak said...

"I have a sister like that. I could tell her that I robbed a bank and she would think that there must have been a good reason."

Can I borrow her?

jmj said...

I hope that you have someone like that. Someone who believes in you so much that they always error in giving you more credit than what you deserve. Some would say that's not healthy. But it is one small point of light to counterbalance the daily bombardment of people expecting the worst from us.

Sixwing said...

I imagine that there must be a connection between this response, this tearing-down of someone else in order to look better oneself, and the culture of hypermasculinity that often pervades these types of churches in my experience.

The very ones who most loudly dismiss anything feminine (or coded feminine, which can be everything from mercy to makeup to crying to not liking spicy food, for heaven's sakes) are the ones who will most quickly tear someone else down.

It's bullying, and it is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Pennyak, JMJ -- My writing partner, maybe one or two others. I wish I had a cuddly female who was like that.

Sixwing -- I first came across the word "Hypermasculinity" in a copy of the 1943 OSS psych profile on Adolf Hitler. Apparently it means defining masculinity as dominance, aggression, violence, and male supremacy (all the dark sides of the male role model) and firewalling them to the max.

Islam (especially its extreme forms such as the Wahabi or Talibani or Khomeinist) also has a rep for this, to the point I've heard it called "The Real Man's Religion."

Headless Unicorn Guy

Sixwing said...

HUG - Yeah, that's exactly what I meant by it. Though the violence, if it occurred, was hidden very well.

PRS & ALS said...

My thoughts exactly.