Monday, May 21, 2007

From the Big C to the Big R...

I’ve been pondering relationships. This is partly an outgrowth of events in my personal life, as well as some events in the church.

Some issues/questions I’ve been thinking about (and this is open-ended, so feel free to comment—in fact, comment is welcome):

I’m in a quandary about meeting people and revealing myself to be clergy. As most of you know, when you met people, inevitably the question comes up, “So what do you do?” I’ve had people instantly cool—glances that were flirtatious or warm become merely friendly or speculative, if not downright hostile or suspicious when I tell them I’m clergy. I’m talking about purely social situations—parties and so on, where I’m there as Rainbow Pastor, not The Pastor. One friend had someone walk away from her on the dance floor when she told him she was a director of Christian Ed. But obviously, I can’t shade or omit that information. So what’s to do? I know the obvious answer is to be open about it…but rejection and hostility ain’t no fun, my friends.

It’s part of a larger issue of honesty in relationships. I know most people want to be in relationship—personal relationships, work relationships, church relationships…but they all rely on trust. I’ve seen both a personal relationship (not one of mine) and a church relationship implode recently over a lack of honesty. And yet if all the individuals involved had begun and/or continued with honesty and integrity, instead of some of them deceiving or shading the truth, the relationships would probably still be strong and healthy. The temptation is to put the best slant on things, if not outright deceive. This isn’t from bad intentions, for the most part, but simply an attempt to look as good as you can to possible partners—or churches, or employers. So the salesman becomes the senior seller, or the teacher’s aide becomes a teacher; years drop off; as do pounds; income creeps up; circumstances change to make the person look better. It’s more than self-marketing, it’s also, I think, an attempt at boosting self-esteem. But when the deception is found out—as it almost always eventually is—then the results are disastrous.

I’m making some first tentative steps towards new relationships-very tentative, baby steps, practically inching my way along here—and these issues are very real to me. When and how do I tell people—potential friends/romantic interests—that I’m clergy? So far, I’ve been telling them as soon as the question of occupation comes up, and letting the chips fall where they may. I don’t say it in a defiant way, nor apologetic—at least I don’t intend either of those. I try to simply say it, as neutrally as possible. I will sometimes put it in terms of “working for a church,” or “being involved in ministry” and work up to the clergy declaration. Other times, I just go for it. Depends on my read of the other person. So far, I’ve gotten mostly positive responses—only one person walked away (metaphorically).

In a larger context, how do we, as individuals, self-reveal when we join a church, or a new group of some kind? Our board is looking at how we integrate new people into the congregation and life of the church. This church has had a past history of moving people into service too quickly and then burning them out so they become completely pew sitters or else leave. We want to break those habits and change that pattern. Most of the responsibility for change rests with us as a church, of course—to create a process for involving people, to monitor and mentor them—to guide them into appropriate ministries and levels of involvement. It involves honesty again—which can be difficult and even painful.

I think most people would agree in principle that honesty is the best policy…but it doesn’t always work and sometimes it actually backfires—when it isn’t believed, for example, because it’s unexpected. On the other hand it can be very powerful—for the same reason—because it is unexpected.

I don’t think I’ve come to any conclusions here…if I have, will someone please point it out to me?

Maybe it boils down to this—honesty is the best policy (now where have I heard that before), even will it will cause pain or discomfort, unless the pain is unnecessary (I’m thinking of complimenting a person’s ugly new hat, for example). Sometimes the honesty is needed, even though it will hurt or put us at risk for speaking truth.

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