“The real me isn’t the person I describe, no the real me is me revealed by my actions.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Assessing the Problem
How many times in relationships and life have we ignored people’s actions and tried to ascribe to them a better attribute than they deserve? Maybe they’re busy, perhaps they didn’t really mean what they said, or I know this person just lied to me, but maybe they misspoke. A detective in a documentary said one time that to ignore coincidence after coincidence is just plain stupid. When people act childish, manipulative, jealous or hateful. There is no mistake.
And that’s the hard part, isn’t it? It’s not that we don’t recognize these character flaws, we try to believe the best about people and unintentionally blind ourselves refusing to accept what we know in our heart of hearts.
Accepting What We See
A man who was engaged to a woman I knew got into an argument with her and put her out of his car. Just told her to get out at the next corner. That was the real him. That simple act said a lot about the value he put in her as a person; it told a lot about his temperament as well. She was shocked, and I don’t know if she saw this before the engagement, but fortunately, she didn’t go over that incident and marry the man, but many folks in the same position do ignore such events. Science tells us that our gut and our brain are connected. (Harvard Medical Journal) I wonder whether this science holds true for intuition about people. When your gut says something is wrong, what is the reaction of the brain? Do we ignore danger, run or fight?
For years, I ignored all the dirt that God was uncovering to me in my church. I wanted to believe, like people do in relationships, that these were isolated incidents, misunderstandings, or hearsay. I guess I thought that if I kept going and working hard and ignoring everything, it had nothing to do with me and I was ok. “It won’t affect me,” I would tell myself, “Everybody’s not bad.” And even though that was true, the leaders had problems of character that I couldn’t fix. For years, I tried to ignore this as a few bad apples, but there was a pattern among the leadership of ignoring wrongdoing, not only among their Pastor-friends but also their personal friends. And then, it was the subtle negative change in attitude toward women across the board, female ministers and women in the church in general. And then it was their lack of care in following the Bible in many of their churches across the board. It got to the point for me that it was difficult to invite people to a place where I knew they would eventually encounter politics and partiality and undue control over their lives.
Actions Reveal Character
One time, I was the subject of a series of meetings, in retrospect, it was because God wanted me to see the people I worked with for who they were. If things had stayed the same, I would probably still be there making excuses for what I witnessed, but God wanted me out of there so that I could continue my ministry.
Here’s how it went down:
One of the Elders told me a minister’s meeting was coming up, and I asked him what it was about. A simple, reasonable question. He told me to talk to the Pastor about it. I thought that was odd but okay. The Pastor said, “It’s about the new building.” At the time, our church was in the process of purchasing a new building. So I thought we were discussing purchase business. (I was told later by one of the ministers in that meeting that the Pastor had asked them to not alert me about the real reason for the gathering). So in other words, it was a trap.
Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. Matthew 18:15
On the phone, when I asked him the purpose of the meeting, he had a chance to discuss with me any problems he had with me, but ignoring the above scripture, he apparently wanted to wait to humiliate and embarrass me in front of the entire ministry. So I came to the meeting innocently thinking this is just a business meeting (By the way, this is the second time I’ve been the subject of this type of behavior and by reports, others had this trick played on them as well. So this seems to be their modus operandi.)
Apparently, one of the ministers had gathered information against me about a private conversation I had with a young lady who asked to meet with me about the politics in the church. She reached out to me because she was distressed by what she was seeing.
If you follow this blog you know, in toxic systems, anyone who brings problems to the surface, becomes the problem.
However, she didn’t become the problem. I was in trouble for giving validity to those concerns.
So the meeting became about me and my “conspiracy” against the ministry. The statements I made were a “slap in the face” to the ministry, he said. Whew! Talk about drama.
The Pastor started the meeting saying “we don’t want to carry bad feelings and attitudes to our new building” Wow…there’s the switch. This is how he justified his statement about “the new building”.
It was amazing to me that any statements about the condition of the congregation were an issue when there were other ministers in the room that night, including the minister that took this conversation to the Pastor, that had opinionated on the same things–the toxic atmosphere, the fear, and the politics. It was insane to endure, knowing that some of THEM had called ME concerned about his leadership and the same issues this young lady had brought up. I became the liaison to him for these issues–big mistake. But that was the real me–too eager to correct things when I should have just bided my time and gotten out of there. No one, not even the people, seemed to want to bring these issues to him.
I would go to him privately about areas I thought he could improve to help him as a leader. Again, the real me. At the beginning of his pastorate, he would call me to discuss church matters, get my thoughts on issues. My husband and I had worked very closely with the people in the congregation for over 20 years at that point. Unfortunately, the Pastor did not take the pressure of criticism well, something that is a must as a leader.
Well, the meeting didn’t go the way the Pastor and his wife wanted because I apologized for any comments I made that were offensive. They expected me, I think, to lie my way out of it. Not happening. He tried to make a conspiracy out of it, but there was none, just a conversation about what a lot of people were already talking about.
My Head Is Spinning- Stop with the Meetings!
Directly after the initial meeting, his wife came to me, out of the blue, and begged pardon for some statements made two years prior( !) at a lunch we had together.
This was really weird. You both just accused me of stirring up strife in the congregation in front of the entire ministry and now you are apologizing about a statement made 2 years ago at a restaurant?!
It was a lunch date I had arranged after speaking with her husband. The purpose was to assist her in her role as a Pastor’s wife since she hadn’t worked closely with the congregation.
When she was correcting her old statements, I said to her “You don’t remember why we had that lunch, do you? It was to help you do better as a pastor’s wife because of complaints against you. I wanted to help you do better, but we ended up talking about your problems with the trustees”. She didn’t remember. So I said, “Ask your husband knows the reason we met, I asked his permission to meet with you, go ask him.”
To this day I have no idea why she needed to repent about a 2-year-old statement. Apparently, she went too far in her expressions, and it wasn’t accurate. Why it came to her then, after they had just run me over with a train, I don’t know. But, since they were acting stupid, God had me remember that information. I was trying to get her to remember something and it came out. I wasn’t trying to be hurtful, but my husband said, “uh, oh..uh sweetheart, the way they are, she’s not going to like this at all. He may get some serious blowback from her.” I didn’t care at that point. Frankly, I had gone out of my way to help them, they made it clear it was time for me to protect myself. I honestly didn’t know where all this venom was coming from.
Immediately, at 6 AM the next morning, an email was sent reviving the matter about my conspiracy.
What? You all are taking back your forgiveness? Come on, no take-sy backsies!
Was some grand confederacy discovered hiding in the basement? What could have happened between 9PM that night and 6 AM the next morning to bring on more meetings? At his direction, we had two more meetings about my “conspiracy against the ministry.” I thought it was solved with apologies, but apparently, my apologies were stamped “not accepted.”
He just couldn’t leave it alone.
Even though he spoke softly, his actions spoke louder. This was the real him, argumentative, childish, thin-skinned. Not his finest moment in life.
In the second meeting, with me, his wife and the other elder, all the pettiness came out.
I asked, “Have I ever been a problem in this congregation?”
He admitted, “No.”
“Have I ever been a problem to you as a Pastor ?”
Again he answered. “No.”
“Then what are we doing here?” I said, ” A simple conversation with me would have sufficed. I don’t understand what all this is about. What have I actually done to you that bothers you? What is it about me that just seems to bother you.”
He said: “You’ve been making faces at me.”
Excuse me? Hold on. All this because you think I was making faces at you? You can’t think of any other problem we have here? Who says this as an adult?
I think he was at a loss to explain his own actions. Anger, hatred, jealousy, or maybe his wife put him up to it? I don’t know.
I did find out later that she and the minister that brought the charges against me had other issues with me while this was going on that didn’t come out until later. Could it be they were lathering the Pastor up against me for their own pettiness?–the real them.
Did the other Elder say anything to correct the pastor through this process? Nope–the real him, political. I would find out later that while he had been complaining to me, he was making the Pastor and ministers believe he was part of their cliche. The difference, I told the Pastor how I felt. He apparently did not.
Some ministers did go to the Pastor about using the Bible in this process, and that this was hurtful the way it was being done. But his response was reported as, “There is no Bible for being hurt.” The real him – not interested in following the Bible.
The ‘making faces’ statement was the most ridiculous thing ever said to me in my life. I calmly explained to him, that this was not even my personality and that I had no idea what incident he was referring to where I had made faces. He knew from experience that I didn’t make faces. I would come and talk to him. In retrospect, if I had seen his character earlier, I would have kept my mouth shut. The real me was again, ignoring things again and too trusting just because he was a Pastor. He tried to fix this statement by saying other male ministers had complained I was bossy and that a female minister complained I acted like I had some authority over her. Again, he didn’t use the Bible to settle this at all. Why is all this being brought out to me through the Pastor and not them personally?
But he couldn’t stop there and had a third meeting with ALL of the ministers saying that he said he uncovered other evidence, proof of my unfaithfulness to the ministry club. There was no proof.
Again, ignoring the Bible.
Honestly, when it comes down to it, no matter what organization you’re a part of, a sorority, corporation, neighborhood club, or church, focus on people’s actions, not words.