You would think that 4 years of college, 4 years of theological training, 4 years of doctoral studies in theology, and 10 years of ordained parish ministry would prepare one for theological confrontations. But no. At least, not me. When I needed the words the most, all I could do was splutter, embarrassingly.
You see, I had been at this second call (that is, second “job” for those not familiar with Presbyterian lingo) for about 2 or 3 years. Long enough that I could easily spot a visitor from the pulpit. After leading worship, preaching, and saying the benediction (that is, blessing the people on their way,) I walked down the aisle and prepared to greet everyone with a hug, or a handshake, or a body check. (See previous post.) The stranger came through around the end of the line, and I was ready to greet him with enough enthusiasm he knew he was welcome, but not so much that he got scared off. It can be a fine line.
I’m all ready, big smile, hand outstretched, when I am blasted with the scalding laser-like intensity of scriptural inerrancy. (That is, when folk believe the Christian Bible is to be read and understood with word for word literal meaning and interpretation. Also known as “Literalist.” See, that seminary education comes in handy for some things!)
His outrage? His complaint? His righteous anger flecked with spittle? Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but he was pompous and arrogant and rude. All those things we Christians are supposed to NOT be. (If you’ve been to a Christian wedding lately, you may remember these famous words: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.) Apparently, this guy didn’t read THAT part of of the Bible, because he was so focused on the part that says “Women should be silent in church.”
Yes. He saw my name on the sign outside – And last time I checked, “Amy” hadn’t crossed over to a gender neutral name. And he came to worship with us. And – did I mention this? He slept through the sermon. And then he had the audacity to complain that I was a heretic, a sinner, and definitely not a Christian because clearly I did not follow God’s word.
What did I say in response? I spluttered. Indignantly, mind you, but incomprehensibly. And once he smugly walked out, his “good deed” done for the day, what did I do? I burst into tears. Yeah. So much for all that experience and education. (I’m still researching why women have a tendency to cry when angry. Stay tuned on that one.)
But why did all my education escape me when I needed it most? What happened to my knowledge of the historical context of that particular scripture quote he was throwing at me? Why did all those snappy comebacks disappear – Like the one that cheerfully reminds a biblical literalist to sacrifice a turtle dove every time they have sex with their spouse? Because that’s in the Bible too. And if someone doesn’t like a woman preacher, they sure don’t want to hear one talk about them having sex.
This is what happened: I felt threatened. And I felt scared. And those responses emerge from deep, deep within the oldest parts of our brains. And they literally flood our body and brain with neuro-chemicals designed for physical response, because even though he only used words, I felt physically threatened.
And when we are threatened and scared, the more advanced parts of our brains, where we think, and form words, and come up with snappy comebacks – Well, there isn’t much blood flowing to the top of our heads. Our brains are wide open to all the sensory inputs that can help us determine if we should fight, or flee, or freeze, and while it’s taking all this in, it can’t put much out. Run now, think later. That’s why your quick snappy comebacks only occur to you late at night or three days after the exchange, when you’re nice and calm.
He had years of preparing his attack, and chances are, I wasn’t the first one he had come after. Me? I had no time. AND I felt personally attacked. So I felt defensive. And I spluttered. And then I cried.
But, there are many things we can do so we’re ready next time: One, rehearse your come-back. Know what you are going to say, and memorize it. Remember to breathe. Remember to take your time. And it’s also helpful to see how others respond when they are attacked. Check out Reza Aslan’s composure when the reporter accuses him of Muslim bias in his book on the historical Jesus, “Zealot.” http://video.foxnews.com/v/2568059649001/zealot-author-reza-aslan-responds-to-critics/
Because staying calm is possible. There are options beyond spluttering. But it takes intentionality, and preparation – Don’t wait until you are being confronted by an angry rigid confrontational thinker. Start now. Heck, then you’ll be ready for the next presidential election!