Monday, June 8, 2009

On Disgust and the Avoidance of Causing Injury

The congregation had a conversation yesterday... strictly speaking, not a "meeting," since, in our way of thinking, that involves a vote. Yesterday was about process (how does this all work?), and processing (how do we feel about all this?). People spoke from the heart. Overwhelmingly, they affirmed my ministry there. It was quite moving.

I tried very hard to lift up the voices of those who are not happy, who feel that my manner of living is a scandal to the church (my words, based on their words) and a violation of scripture. Only two were willing to speak, though others were present. One spoke haltingly, clearly uncomfortable and in some level of distress. I thanked him, recognizing how difficult it can be to speak out if one feels one is swimming against the tide. The other... crossed a line.

I recounted the whole thing to Beloved later, and we were remembering this column from the New York Times about a week and a half ago. In it Nicholas Kristof talks about the differences, not just of thinking, but of feeling, between those we call liberal and conservative. The latest research would seem to show that the overwhelming feeling-motivators for liberals are a sense of fairness and the desire to avoid subjecting others to injury. For conservatives, on the other hand, the feeling-motivators are respect for authority and the avoidance of that which causes disgust.

The person who crossed the line betrayed disgust. It was audible in word and inflection, it was visible in body language.

Ironically, the disgust demonstrated keyed into this liberal's desire to avoid causing injury. I assured the congregation that if it is their will that I go, I will do everything in my power to leave them healthy and whole. And if it is their will that I should stay, I will do everything I can to continue to reach out to those who feel distressed.

The line-crosser has gone back and forth as to whether they would like to meet with me one-on-one. Now, I feel that I have new information. A meeting may be pointless, if at least one person spends the entire time feeling so icked-out that they can't focus on what is being said.

But I'll keep offering. I am proud of this congregation... of all of us, really. The conversation yesterday was heartfelt and kind. People who want me to stay also don't want to lose those who are on the fence (or even half-way out the door). There was a great deal of love in that room. That's always a good place to start.


FranIAm said...

Oh Cecilia! I am praying for you and praying for that person, the line crosser.

Isn't it astounding that it is often the case when we are affirmed by many and rejected by a few, we focus on the few? I am simply saying this as to reinforce the hope of these words of yours, "Overwhelmingly, they affirmed my ministry there. It was quite moving."

Overwhelmingly. I like that word.

Love to you and many prayers.

Songbird said...

I'm not sure it's wise to have a one-on-one meeting with that person. You run the risk of being misquoted, at a minimum. Further, as pastors we're charged with creating the container in which a meeting, large or small, occurs, and it's hard to imagine you could create "safe" space for a person who has displayed disgust for you in a public setting. That has less to do with your own will to do it and more to do with the other person's ability to receive it.
Either way, you have my prayers.

God_Guurrlll said...

It is so hard to deal with other peoples issues and their sense of shame in themselves. The way I've come to peace with this is that this is their issue, not mine. Put it's still hard to hear.

I think you are so couragous.

Peace and love

Mary Beth said...

My God. The courage of every one of you shines out to me in this post.

You are in a liminal space.

So many prayers coming your way! for you, for Beloved and your kids, for your congregation (all of them), for your larger church body.

Just me said...

I am sorry you have to experience the feeling of disgusting someone. But I see how many are behind you and thank God. I know for myself that one person, anybody thinking badly about me affects my self esteen so I pray that you will have an overwhelming sense of value in God's eyes and peace. Love A

August said...

This sounds really, really hard! I mean, you sound like you're in a good place with it - but still. Hang in there - we heart you.

KJ said...

Difficult, but necessary, discussions.

I would encourage you to include another in your "one-on-one" discussion with the "icked-out-one." When I have found that to be necessary, I advise the other about it beforehand, and simply explain to the other that I want to be accountable for what I say (i.e., It's me, not you!).

Peace of Christ

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Just out of curiosity--how had the line-crosser treated you before? Was that person already uncomfortable with your pastoring? If so, the behavior doesn't surprise me. Your honesty has just given that person confirmation that their opinion of you was justified.

If not, this person has now turned you into an "idol of perversity" (to borrow a title from a book I used to teach) and needs to be called on it. You are not a different person than you were before--just a transparent one.

Pax (and prayers),

MaineCelt said...

The linked article is helpful. I suspect that disgust comes from much deeper in the brain--it seems almost like a reptilian, recoiling kind of thing, almost too deep for any lovely neocortical processes to access, identify and over-ride. That's why it's so very challenging to interact with folks who have low disgust thresholds... I am dealing with a similar reaction from a conservative member of my extended family, and I'm in the midst of my own wrestling with the discernment of appropriate responses.

I'm thankful for all those in your congregation who have responded out of respect and care and love. May we all get there together!

Mary Sue said...

According to that article, I'm a conservative. The study cited seems very skewed contextually to a white male worldview, though.

jsd said...

Prayers for you and your congregation.

Sara said...

I agree with Doxy.

Even with all the of the support, it's tough to lose even one.

Love, hugs and prayers continuing.

Anonymous said...

I am proud of you for having these conversations (though I know they are necessary, they are not easy by any stretch.) Songbird has sound advice.

You have my love and prayers.

Jan said...

You are still in my prayers, even though I seldom comment. As I can see with our new priest, no one is totally affirmed or validated. Some people have left our parish. It is awesome that "Overwhelmingly, they affirmed my ministry there. It was quite moving."

Sophia said...

So impressed with how you are working with your community through this and all the blessings that will come from that. Praying always.

SCG said...

I agree with what others have written, and encourage you to never forget the "overwhelmingly" of the affirmation.
Still, as a good pastor, you are recognizing and seeking after the "lost sheep", the ones who are uncomfortable seeing you for who you are as opposed to what they believe you should be.
You are very brave. And there are so many acts of courage displayed in your post... including the voices of dissent.
Prayers for you and your congregation. God is working his purpose out.

revkjarla said...

prayers, and prayers, and what everybody else said.

Processing Counselor said...

Much love to you and your Beloved in this unstable time. And time of Great Joy, too!

FranIAm said...

Checking in with love and prayers!