My family is one of those expansive, Irish Catholic clans which has been richly enhanced by the presence of priests, nuns, brothers, and in far larger supplies, devout (but down to earth, not syrupy sweet) lay folks. Spanning several categories, we have church workers, theologians, dedicated volunteers and others involved in a wide array of church activity and leadership.
Over the years, I had the chance to meet a lot of “leaders” of various types, and by association, hear about others who had a bigger presence still. What surprised me very much as a teen was to learn how rudely some bishops, in particular, would be treated while out in public – it’s as if they had a big target on them! (And this was long before the pedophilia scandal broke.) Why is it that if someone is especially visible, total strangers feel entitled to accost them and say terrible things to them? We know that it happens to celebrities, so I suppose it shouldn’t be so much of a shock that it happens on a lesser scale to those who are likewise in the spotlight to a lesser degree, such as bishops and probably also priests, theologians and others.
I’m no church leader, and no star either, but because I do a lot of marketing (in my case writing on my many blogs) for my real estate practice, and do some public speaking on social media and realty related things, I’m somewhere on the low end of that continuum of being at least a little bit in the spotlight. It is sometimes odd to be out in public and find someone staring at me. Jim, my husband, will reassure me that I don’t look bad or funny, it’s probably that someone recognizes me and is trying to figure out how they might know me. Ok, that is not so awful, if a little weird sometimes. But recently I experienced one of the negative side effects of being known, so I wanted to mull it over here today, now that I’ve processed it a bit, and by extension, connect it to the faithful harassing church leaders because of their public position.
A few days ago, I received an anonymous letter, telling me off for not staying on the phone longer with someone who wanted to discuss a rental property (not on the MLS), someone who was offended because I seemed to be abrupt. (Like most Silicon Valley Realtors, I don’t do rentals – most are not on the MLS.) If that weren’t enough, this same person recounted in the note that 5+ years ago, she heard me speaking to someone at Border’s in Los Gatos and I didn’t seem to be very pleasant there, either. The message: she thought that I’m not very nice, and it was important for her to let me know that I’m not very nice, that I should behave better.
I’m not used to getting anonymous criticism, and I admit that I was both stunned and a little hurt to get this kind of a letter (dropped off to my office, not an email where I could respond). It also really surprised me that someone would connect a conversation I had in Borders years and years ago to her call to me when I was working recently.
Regarding the call, I think that I was either writing an offer and had an immediate deadline or was receiving offers on a listing at the time the phone rang – whatever it was, I truly was in a hurry, but didn’t remember the conversation as unpleasant or as my being unpleasant either. I do fairly often get contacted about things I’ve blogged about, and sometimes they are just “community interest” or event posts and not something I’m in charge of or especially connected to (such as “are you hiring lifeguards?” after I write about the HOA pool); if they’ve phoned me by accident, I’ll redirect them if possible to the right source (such as the HOA’s website rather than mine). Usually I make light of the error but try not to linger on the phone if it’s not something I can help with.
The bookstore incident I didn’t remember in the least. I used to visit there almost weekly after Mass at St. Mary’s in Los Gatos, and my only unhappy memories of that establishment was the battle we regularly had in getting our daughter to leave when the rest of us wanted to go.
I recounted about the letter to my husband, and separately to my now 22 year old daughter (the culprit in the “it’s time to leave Border’s” battles of old). Independently, both responded that if I sounded grouchy at the store, it was probably the ongoing problem of getting her to leave. Yes, that did seem the most likely thing. A stranger caught me annoyed with one of my kids – in public. And that’s how I will be remembered by her!
Had she emailed me, I would have said that I was very sorry for offending her on the phone. Sometimes I am rushed… No offense was intended (and I didn’t realize that I’d come across as abrupt). But she didn’t give me a way to respond.
We all have better and worse days, times where we are most ourselves and others where perhaps we weren’t at our best. I know that when my dad died a few years ago, I went into an emotional tailspin for awhile and was edgier than usual as I moved through some very rough grief. It took me a long time to really feel like myself again. When people don’t act the way I think they ought to, I will remind myself that I don’t know what’s going on in their lives. Perhaps a loved one just died, or they were diagnosed with cancer or served divorce papers. Who knows. My mom used to say “you never know what happens when the front door closes” – a good reminder to cut people some slack, because we may not know what’s really going on with them.
My experience is a tiny taste of what happens to church leaders on a more regular and bigger scale when they say or do things which others don’t like or agree with. It can be frustrating to think or feel that the church leadership isn’t doing what we think is best, or when particular people do something wrong. I would like to encourage good discussions on making the church better, and that can mean charitable, constructive criticism. But the delivery is as important as the message – say what needs to be said with love. Stick to the current issue (not a litany of all sins from all ages!). Sign your name. Allow a response.
We are all in this together.