Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The voice of the Pope or how to stick your foot in your mouth

Well, we certainly have all learned a brief lesson on how to stick your foot in your mouth, especially over hot political issues. (I think the church lady from SNL would say something like that, and then say, "Isn't that special.")

I know I have a tendancy to speak without thinking about what I am going to say or the impact the words will have coming from my position. I have found out that some people, including my kids, will twist what I said, or say I said something I did not say. Imagine that. This happened recently with my youth minister. But we got that straightened out, at least she came and talked to me about it. And it turned out she had misunderstood what I had said. I am glad we got it straightened out. It caused me to stop and think, that I am at a new church, with new people, new staff that don't know me. So that for awhile we are going to have misunderstandings, miscues, and miscommunications. But it also caused me to think that as a Pastor our words are often taken as the word. And that we are suppose to always have the right word for every occasion and situation and need.

When one is writing a sermon, one can go back through and not only proof read for errors, but go back through and make sure you are making sense. You can go back through and try to hear it from the person in the pews ears, well sort of.

But when one is standing there having a conversation, you don't always have the time to edit what you are saying. It is a difficult position for anyone, how many times have we misunderstood our spouse, or they us? How many times have we hurt a friend with our words not meaning to, and they us?

Its just going to happen. The deal is we have to be willing to go back and say what it is that hurt, and then we have to be willing to work through it with each other. My husband and my kids can cut me to the heart quicker than anybody, but so can I. But we have learned and are teaching our kids to work it out.

The sad thing is that with the Pope saying what he did, the people who heard him, are just not interested in the process of conversing, working it out so that we can be in relationship with each other. Even now as I type this I find myself carefully thinking out what I have to say. At this point these people are so angry that their filters and anteannas are looking for words, and actions they can react to in anger and rage "to kill the west." That is a sad, and unhealthy place to be. But how many sit in our congregations who are like this, and no matter what you say or do, are going to react in an unhealthy way. What is the Pope or Pastor to do?

It seems the anger began after Benedict, in a talk in Germany on rejecting religious motivation for violence, cited the words of a 14th century Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith." The pope said Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" that Muslims took offense and stressed that the emperor's words did not reflect his own opinion, however, most in the Islamic world, including the Turks, were not satisfied. I went to CNN to access both what was said that incited the reactions and to read the Pope's expression of regret. Clearly aware of the sensitivity of the issue, Benedict added, "I quote," twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as "brusque," while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them. "The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable," Benedict said.
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pope said, issuing an open invitation to dialogue among cultures.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope was not giving an interpretation of Islam as "something violent," although he said the religion contains both violent and nonviolent strains. Benedict did not touch directly on the current controversy over Islamic extremism, although it is an issue he follows with concern. Last year in Cologne, Germany, he urged Islamic leaders to take responsibility for their communities and teach their young to abhor violence according to the CNN article. Last week, he told a gathering of Christian, Muslim and Jewish representatives in Italy that no one can "use the motive of religious difference as a reason or pretext for bellicose behavior toward other human beings." The Pope's option in favor of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is equally unequivocal. In his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on 20 August 2005, he said that such dialogue between Christians and Muslims "cannot be reduced to an optional extra," adding: "The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity".

It is a tough place to be right now as a Leader in the Western World to say anything about the state of violence in the world, especially where terrorism is.
Apparently the Pope is interested in dialogue and movement toward reconciliation. But I don't think it is the case with those who are reacting with violence. Now, I am not saying all those who practice Islam and follow his teachings are reacting, or are not open to dialogue. Many are trying to act in peace and trying to dialogue, and come to reconciliation.

I will say this, I have been in their place, by that I mean in a reactionary place, and an unwillingness to dialogue or reconcile. It has taken many years of therapy and healing to move from that place to one of dialogue and reconciliation. I pray for healing for those who are in this reacionary place.
And I pray for healing for those who do say and do things just to incite others and don't care how they are heard, or for those who are abusive with their words and actions.

My suggestion for the pope is to remember he is no longer in an academic context when speaking, and people are not listening to him with an academic mindset. In a classroom you can have a question and answer period, or a time to dialogue or disagree with the teacher in the understanding it is academic. It just isn't that way outside of the academic setting. I have a Bishop who came from an academic enviroment, and is still learning this lesson, or maybe we are learning to listen to him with academic ears.

This is Abi signing off and thinking outloud, with more thoughts to come on this subject. You have the right to agree or disagree with me, but please be willing to dialogue with me, and realize I might not write exactly the way I mean for it to say or come across. This is also not meant in anyway to put down the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church or Academia. Nor is it to incite more violence or to put down the Islams or the ones who are reacting from an anger position. Nor is it meant to put down or make fun of my Bishop in anyway. These thoughts are mine, not my church, not the District, the conference nor those of the United Methodist Church.


JWD said...

Thanks for these insightful thoughts. You write about it with some sensitivity and lift up the subtleties and complexities. Your reflections, in fact, reminded me of the lectionary text this past week from the book of James--about the difficulty of taming the tongue. I've never heard that text in that way before, so thanks.

As one who straddles the academic and the church world, I wish we could find better ways to listen to one another--and to break down the barriers and prejudices between the two.

Free Flying Spirit said...

Wow! Abi you are right on. It is better to acknowledge that misunderstandings, and errors can happen with even your staff members.

If they know this is part of the learning the new relationship things in a new place and any new ministry, and that we all make them, and offer to be open to any concerns, it always seems to diffuse the anger.

They then know you have an open-door policy if something comes up. Relationships contain responsibilities on all sides.

Someone once said that there are people who look for ways to be offended. The weather isn't right, you're hair is right, someone's clothes, their music, etc. This isn't peace promoting, but some people are so angry inside from past things that they cannot, sometimes even choose not to, 'see' clearly.

The Pope got caught by not 'seeing' clearly that any kind of words against Islam, no matter where they came from, or when, would be volatile, especially right now. It was so sad to hear this and know what would come from it....more hate; more prejudice.

You are right in thinking of who the audience might be. There is a big difference when speaking in a public place where the world is obviously listening not just colleagues.

It also makes me aware that what I read goes through my filters before it exits my mouth in any way. I am still responsible for whatever comes out in word and action.

It's about being, and becoming more conscious in our living. Whew! That means being "on our toes" a lot.

A Prayer offered...
God grant us the grace to rephrase, or not speak at all; and the grace to not act in hurful ways.

And may we be open to others in love and forgiveness.....and may we learn to treat ourselves in the same manner.


hipastorzwife2B said...

This is what my church school lesson is about tomorrow. Thanks for the prep! Lord, help me to listen and not speak, for a change!