So many elephants

In addition to my own personal church drama, our church is looking for a new pastor. The ways that churches make decisions like this can be byzantine and fall into grooves of tradition that I don't begin to understand.

Fast forward to a meeting last night, where discussion about a new pastor candidate was tense. To say the least. There were several elephants in the room, some of which got talked about ... sort of directly. Some not.

I was amazed and saddened and also fascinated. The biggest and baddest elephant is the one that trumpets loudly inside or outside so many churches, and that's the question of whether it's okay for women to lead in various positions. Our church has maintained an incredibly tenuous position that is (I think) a compromise. There are others who think it's intolerable.

This is an elephant that sort of got talked about. I am on the side of women being able to do things like preach and teach in church, but I have learned that having a woman as a senior pastor is the final frontier and a lot of people just can't handle it. I have had a woman pastor and she just about saved my life, and that's another story. But I respect that final frontier, and as far as I'm concerned, if women can do everything else but just don't happen to be senior pastor in this particular church, I can live with it.

I forget, until nights like last night, that there is anger about this issue. Deep anger.

And here's where it gets interesting. Here is where the fork in the road lies. When confronted by someone who is usually a man, usually older than me, and angry that I want to be able to have the same opportunities to minister and live out my faith just like anyone else does, I have a choice. I don't always remember that I have a choice, but I do.

I can decide that this man has a conscious desire to take from me and keep for himself. That he wants to take my rights or my opportunities, even though he has plenty for himself. That he believes a version of God who favors men over women like a parent favoring a child. That he has contempt for me because he thinks I'm not as smart or deserving, based on complete lies. These beliefs lead me to an angry dead-end, because a person who wants to do and believe these things is not a likable person. He's wrong, he's mean, and he's my enemy.

That's what's behind door number one, and isn't that where we almost always go? It just seems to make sense, because otherwise I don't get it. So there I go charging down that blind alley, bumping into the wall like the marching band in "Animal House," and then I'm stuck.

But I don't have to. What's behind door number two is a completely different story.

Here's someone who is angry. Just like me. He's angry because his belief in the way things should be, which comes from what he believes God has told us to do, is being challenged. Just like I do. Of course, I'm angry because I'm scared and hurt.

Maybe he is too. On the rare occasions where I push door number two open, behind it is a mirror. It takes time and thinking and some kind of refuge from the anger that makes me stupid, but when I can get there, I see the mirror. My opponent in this debate is scared. Being disagreed with on a fundamental level is scary, and while I can't exactly understand why, I can try.

Trying to figure out why someone has done something that seems terrible to me is hard. Here's what I do: I make up a story. Maybe he's scared because he doesn't know how much we would change, we who want equal rights for women. Maybe he's been told all his life that people like me are man-haters who want to abolish marriage and have an all-female Cabinet and a lesbian president and we won't stop until there is a woman in the pulpit in every church in America. I know, I know, that's infuriating, but stay with me. If he's been told that or something like it, he's scared because he doesn't know how much change there will be.

Bottom line is, he doesn't know what he's fighting against, and he's scared. I am too.

So here I am behind door number two, and I have told myself this story, and suddenly the man gets smaller and older. He's not powerful. He hears Bob Dylan and he knows the times they are a-changin' even though he has fought that change his whole life. I understand his fear.

Here's how I experience this fear. I get angry, really angry, about names. If you have chosen one of these names, forgive me. You probably won't need to forgive me because nobody reads this blog, including you, whoever you are. (it's very freeing) Anyway, I am ... well, honestly, I get really angry about names that are ... different. Names like Dakota and Caitlin and Jaden that are done to death, names that were popularized by rock stars. Names like Storm that are supposed to convey some kind of strength but just seem pretentious to me. Why not Avalanche or Cataclysm? These "new" names drive me crazy and I'm alarmed at the bile that they bring forth. Why do I care if people pick what I think are stupid names for their children?

Because it's everywhere. Because the times they are a-changin' and apparently names that seem like names to me are out of fashion. I perceive it as a rising sea level of bad taste and tackiness that engulfs the world, and I am left alone here up on high ground, praising holdouts who still give names like David and Elizabeth. I'm not old yet but I now know the feeling of being left behind by the world in this small way, and it makes me angry because it's scary.

Yes. I understand that man's fear and anger if I look in that mirror that's behind door number two. In my story, which has become a movie in my mind, we talk. I say "I'm not really pushing for the whole enchilada right now," and then he knows that I want some change but not all of it. What if we talk about why we believe what we believe, and he tells me how that has shown up in his life. I could tell him about the woman pastor who saved my life, and that I can't believe God didn't want her to do that.

In my movie we just talk, and I'm not convinced, and he's not convinced, but who cares. He's a person now. One of his grandchildren lives in Chicago. We live two streets over and the hail destroyed his roof too. We realize we aren't going to change each others' minds, we can't change each others' minds.

We don't need to change each others' minds.

What we need is to know that the person on the other side of the debate is a person. We have looked into that person's eyes and we could not stop ourselves from liking that person just a little bit. Maybe even more than a little bit.

The problem is not that we disagree. The problem is that we don't know each other, and the disagreement becomes personal. It doesn't have to.

Last night I wished I had my People Remote so I could just pause the situation. Stop us before we get all jammed up in that alley of enmity. Let one person come forward and just tell his or her story. Let us all stop, and breathe, and remember that we can love each other just fine, even if we don't agree, will never agree. Agreement isn't everything.


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