5 minutes reading time (1073 words)

A new experience for me - offending a stranger

Pardon me while I process out loud a bit.  I had an experience at lunch yesterday that I can't stop thinking about.  I offended someone, and was left with no opportunity to rectify the situation, and was left with an afternoon of introspection.

 

First, I'll state for the record that I am unabashed about my support for full inclusion of people who identify as LGBTQ--in society, in the law, in church.

Second, on this past Tuesday I attended one of the 3 conversations on the PC(USA) changes to the Book of Order regarding marriage, hosted by our Presbytery at First Presbyterian Church in Omaha.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.  I enjoyed a vigurous debate with a person who does not agree with allowing same gendered couples to marry.

I have a lunch buddy at work, Wade.  We always go out of the office building somewhere for lunch.

Yesterday, Wade was interested in my experience at the Presbytery conversation event, so I shared the conversation with him over lunch.  We were in a fast food restaurant, one with lots of hard surfaces, so there was a lot of "white noise" shrouding our conversation.  Unless someone were sitting close by, and unoccupied by a conversation of their own, no one else should have been able to listen closely to our conversation.  Though, on the other hand, we weren't speaking conspiritorially....others could listen if they chose to.  The point is, I wasn't preaching to the entire room.

I did my best to objectively share my debate partner's point of view.  I tried, but surely couldn't resist somewhat judging his position.  But, I also tried hard (successfully, in my opinion) to not judge the person himself.

Part of the conversation involved identifying what I perceived to be the debate partner's barriers to agreeing with my inclusive position.

After laying out those thoughts, I then sequed into an observation of the human condition.  I think what I said was pretty close to the following:

I think that part of the problem ["problem" in the sense of "challenge" to we human beings] is that we humans tend to be so tribal.  It's our human nature.  We gather with others that we perceive to be like ourselves; that like-ness depending on the circumstances:  skin color, gender, sports affiliation, political affiliation, religious views.  It's natural.

Eventually, our tribal groups, seeking to validate that which draws us together, have a tendency to assess our group's qualities as "right", "correct", and that leads to assessing those that aren't part of our group as "wrong", "incorrect", or, at the very least "lesser" in some way.  This leads to strong senses of "us and them", and the 'us" have a tendency to feel that we're "better", somehow than "them".

I lamented that I wished that weren't such normal human behavior, that we as a species could find a way to either expand the "us" in a way that included everyone, or in whatever manner embrace everyone and be less "tribal".  I felt that this was part of the problem with the marriage debate.

Speaking abstractly, at the large community level (not at the level that impunes real individuals), I went on to observe that I am so happy in my traditional heterosexual marriage.  And, rather than want to exclude same-gendered people from that institution (on the basis that those of us in traditional relationships are somehow more "right"), I am inclined to want to invite others (same-gendered couples) to this wonderful party.  "Come on in" I say, "this marriage thing we have going on here is great, you should join us".

By this point, I was waxing philosophically, not speaking specifially about the Presbytery conversation event, and feeling a mild dispare that I don't have what it takes to affect broad scale change, and that I hurt inside for a society that is at such odds with itself over this kind of issue.  (By the way, I don't mean to minimize the sincerety with which those opposed to my inclusive point of view hold their views.  I don't mean to imply that those who disagree with me are wrong or bad...just that it makes me sad that there is such strong divide in our society over this issue).

So, it was at this point when I was confronted.  There had been a man sitting by himself, with his back to me, but in the direction that my voice would have carried.  He was alone, and could have listened over the din if he chose to.

He was finished eating, and ready to leave.  As he stood, he turned toward me, leaned down in my direction (no, he didn't get "in my face"), and with a clenched face, and clenched tone in his voice said "As a Christian, I find your attitude offensive, you claming that Christians think they're better than everyone else".

My lunch buddy and I were both stunned.  I had not impuned Christians.  I had lamented about natural, normal human nature.  I had said "we" (deliberately including myself) repeatedly.

Upon dropping that verbal hand grenade, he immediately turned his back to me and began walking away.

I called out to him (politely, I assert) "Sir, I think you've misunderstood me, may I clarify.....?".

But, he would have none of that.  He was not interested in a dialog, because by the time the word "clarify" was coming out of my mouth, he was outside.  Perhaps he had an urgent appointment.

Wade said he would have had two particularly choice words in response, rather than my attempt to engage politely.

On the drive back to the office Wade and I enjoyed imagining any number of delicious come backs that would have been so satisfying (but not prone to reconciliation).

Asside from having fun with the imaginary come backs, I have spent the 24 hours since that event in self examination (did I say something offensive to Christians?  I didn't think so.  Had I taken a tone of judgement?  I had intended not to, but perhaps I did.)  

And, I have felt frustration at having been blocked from an opportunity to reconcile that man's opinion of me.  He doesn't know if I myself am a Christian or not.  I suppose he might not agree with my self-identifying as a Christian, anyway.

So, I'll move on with my life.

But, his reaction has affected me.  I'm not devistated.  I am stunned.

That's my story.

Thanks for listening.

0
Sermon for April 26: Till We Know the Shepherd
PCM Turns 50!
 

Comments

Robert Keefer on Thursday, 30 April 2015 11:49

Wow. It's an elegant testimony to how easy it is to be misunderstood. I get what you were saying and how you used your own experience as a Christian to serve as an example, but he got lost in the example and reacted emotionally to that. I've had similar experiences more times than I can number, so it forces me to struggle to listen more carefully, lest I react to something that the other person is not saying (yes, I've done that too, and carry regrets for it).
Thank you for telling us this story.
Bob

Wow. It's an elegant testimony to how easy it is to be misunderstood. I get what you were saying and how you used your own experience as a Christian to serve as an example, but he got lost in the example and reacted emotionally to that. I've had similar experiences more times than I can number, so it forces me to struggle to listen more carefully, lest I react to something that the other person is not saying (yes, I've done that too, and carry regrets for it). Thank you for telling us this story. Bob
Guest - Suzy Browning on Thursday, 30 April 2015 12:17

Andy, it seems clear that he wasn't listening clearly enough. He may have been hard of hearing. Or he may have made that all-too-human mistake of closing his mind to the argument and not hearing everything you said once he heard something he disagreed with. Perhaps the silver lining to this story is that he'll probably talk to someone about what he thinks he heard you say, and that may give him and others another chance to discuss the same gender marriage issue.

I feel for your struggle and will say a prayer for your peace and his.

Sincerely, Suzy Browning

Andy, it seems clear that he wasn't listening clearly enough. He may have been hard of hearing. Or he may have made that all-too-human mistake of closing his mind to the argument and not hearing everything you said once he heard something he disagreed with. Perhaps the silver lining to this story is that he'll probably talk to someone about what he thinks he heard you say, and that may give him and others another chance to discuss the same gender marriage issue. I feel for your struggle and will say a prayer for your peace and his. Sincerely, Suzy Browning
Michael Osborn on Wednesday, 06 May 2015 10:38

My own thoughts are that something you said hit certain emotional detonators in his head that he had already primed. It sounds like the conversational equivalent of stepping on a land mine: it's not your fault you stepped where you did; you were just the unlucky soul that triggered the bomb. He was NOT interested in any kind of rational discourse, just in venting his pain and anger at an easy target. You can pray for him, but you cannot help him until he allows it.

My own thoughts are that something you said hit certain emotional detonators in his head that he had already primed. It sounds like the conversational equivalent of stepping on a land mine: it's not your fault you stepped where you did; you were just the unlucky soul that triggered the bomb. He was NOT interested in any kind of rational discourse, just in venting his pain and anger at an easy target. You can pray for him, but you cannot help him until he allows it.
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Captcha Image

Upcoming Events

Announcements

October 09 2018
September 21 2018
July 03 2018

Latest Updates