Wednesday, April 27, 2005

the social equivalent of the titanic

We thought we had a foolproof plan. We had a pretty innocuous discussion topic (friendship), we scoped out seating arrangements (we all sit together), and we were excited about the fondue. For once, in the 5 ½ years of planning these monthly church people dinners, we felt kinda good about how easy the evening was going to be.

Then it all fell to shit.

I mean, HOW COULD A CONVERSATION ABOUT FRIENDSHIP TURN TO SHIT?? HOW, in the name of all that’s good and American, can a group of thirtysomething 4thers turn a mild exploration of how we make friends, keep friends, love friends, have friends – how could THIS turn into seminary debate team? HOW could an evening in soft lighting, melted cheese, wine and FONDUE suddenly make a pastor depressed over whiskey, make three women so mad they wanted to EAT their cigarettes and put us all in despair over the future of progressive Christianity?

I’ll tell you how.

Get a man who misses the social mores of 1850 and put him next to me, my roomie and our sharp lawyer friend K- and THEN have him say that a single woman having lunch/dinner/coffee/wine with a married male friend of hers alone is tantamount to pedophilic priests being left alone with children.

Get a woman who teaches at a local university and get her to say that she doesn’t think healthcare should be provided for seniors or poor people and put her across from a Scottish pastor (who sings songs by the wobblies from the pulpit) and watch things get so bad he calls her hateful from across the table.

Get a brainy, argumentative Ph.D in neuroscience, put a drink in his hand and then have him crack open his brain and watch him get into aggressive debate defending strict Calvinism, apostle paul, women's submission in church and watch the table fall silent with dismay.

Get a young perky girl and get her to ask the three of us if religion plays a part in who we date and then one of us says No and watch us suddenly get on the hotseat about why we were deacons then.

That’s how a nice evening can turn to shit.


LutheranChik said...

Gosh...and here I am out in the northern Michigan bush, fretting because I have no access to urbane parties with witty, intelligent conversation. I guess I should just chew on my beef jerky, listen to my neighbors' natter about NASCAR and country music, and count my blessings.;-)

P.S. It sounds like a party where surreptitiously setting the tablecloth on fire might have been an amusing interlude.;-)

ding said...

at least with nascar you can blissfully zone out and still hold your composure.

(if i'd thought of setting the tablecloth on fire, i would've. all i could do was sit and stare in horror.)

reverendmother said...

I'm having fits on your behalf; I'm also sitting with my pastor/facilitator/moderator hat on going "how could it have gotten so out of control?"

And despite our best efforts and doing all the "right" things, it can.

So I won't diagnose, just commiserate. Yikes!

Christian community is a helluva lot easier in the abstract.

Anonymous said...



Ouch :-(.

Cynthia Tucker had an excellent column this week (find it at under the Op/Ed section) about how it seems that the more power women get, the more fundamentalist religions want to put us back under strict social domination. I'm thinking about the guy who said having coffee (in public!) was tantamount to adultery. I'm a software engineer. There are all of four women in my department of over 20 people. All the guys are married (or engaged). If I didn't eat lunch with them, I wouldn't have any company most of the time.[Sarcasm on] I wonder what he thinks about the fact that I share an office with a man. Is that adultery too? [Sarcasm off].

I honestly don't know to talk to people anymore either. We, as a nation, seem hopelessly divided into those who look to the future (us progressives) and those who want to turn back the clock a hundred years or more. I've never been good at arguments (never could have been a lawyer), so I don't even know what to say to people like this. Obviously you need to find common ground, but if you can't find it in FRIENDSHIP, where the ???? can we find it?

Sorry about your dinner :-(. What was that saying about good intentions and the road to hell...?

Progressive TXmom

Pastor John said...

Oh I can just see myself in that party. . . Trippin Trippin Trippin. I would keeps the flames buring high and then throw cold water of all of them and just state the Rodney King theology; "Can't we just all get along?" Really, it sounded like the kind of dinner party that required a Pastor John type personality, laugh your heart out!

john patrick said...


where did you meet these red staters, and how did they get to your place? did you invite them?

one of the values that i attribute to my old country catholicism is that we don't argue at a table with food on it; also, we won't sit at a table with people we don't respect.

so i'm so glad i wasn't at your party. i want to hear more about your fondue. you didn't even tell us what you wore!

ding said...

dad, i actually found myself thinking of you afterward. i now totally understand how congregations can drive pastors mental.

jp - it was a social church thing! a way to get 30-somethings together because our congregation is so large! and we are mystified how our church (notorious for being progressive) has suddenly become the hangout for the ayn rand types among us.


anon - you're totally right. the guy was completely mystified that we women had several platonic male friends. he honestly didn't think it was proper or natural. bizarro!

St. Casserole said...

Oh rats! What a bad evening! I'm sorry. Don't give up on fondue yet. Great blog.

Xpatriated Texan said...

My first instinct is always to rush in with great advice. I've learned that isn't always what is needed, though. I've also learned that I often do that so that I won't have to feel the pain of what I'm hearing.

I feel such a complete pain in this event. Everyone went in with high hopes and left feeling as if the entire world had been set on fire. Worst of all, there was an expectation of fellowship - of being able to drop your defenses somewhat and stand naked before other believers.

I left several churches along the years because I felt that way. During Sunday school, while everyone was trying to make plans on how to protest the opening of an abortion clinic, I blurted out, "Wouldn't Jesus be more likely to offer the women entering the clinic compassion than judgment?" Several worried calls to me and my wife followed. We never went back.

I held that against God for a very long time. How could he let such people carry his name to the world? Only recently have I truly begun to come to terms with the fact that he tolerates it because he expects me to confront the injustice. He knows that I am woefully inadequate and I will stumble and fall and give up a thousand times along the way. But he also knows that I cannot truly quit.

Neither can you, Churchgal. Even in your pain and despair, you are being called. As much as you hate it, you are responding.

This is why Paul said, "I have made myself a fool for the sake of Christ." Only a fool strips themselves naked and hands a stranger a whip.


ding said...

XT: it's funny you quote paul. i've admired that piece of scripture but i've never really applied that to me. i hate looking stupid in front of others. (that's why i was so bad at adolescent witnessing -- too self-conscious about being a dork.)

what disturbed me even more was what you and others have mentioned: community or fellowship was completely ditched in order to get embroiled in theological debate about doctrine.

i even complained about this to my dad: who cares about the ins and outs of the tulip and why should we christians constantly get drawn into these debates when we can't even have a simple conversation?

i don't mean that doctrine isn't important but does every single gathering have to turn into a spiritual pissing contest?

greg said...

Ding and XT:

Well, it's hard, isn't it. I had a similar experience a few weeks back that I wrote about on my blog. What should have been a rational discussion with another christian degenerated into a very unchristian (or typically christian?) pissing contest.

On the one hand, we are called to love each other; on the other we are called to follow Christ; i.e., to live as Christ lived. So how is it that when Christ stood up to idiots, he never ended up feeling the way that we do when we try the same stunt? Well, I suppose he could walk on water, too, and I never expect to be able to do that.

But seriously, I think that the key is in the word "idiots." It's difficult to love someone and think that they are an idiot at the same time. And although you and I and probably most everybody we know and respect would respond to the gentleman that you describe with the thought "idiot", that is somehow not helpful. One needs to respond with love.

Of course, I have no idea how that is actually done, but given that these days the word "idiot" pops into my head almost everytime I read the news, I am thinking that I desperately need to figure it out. So, I look forward to the post in which you've got this all figured out.

ding said...

me figure this out?? i can barely figure out my taxes.

responding with love. i often think love is an after thought. in almost all of our interactions, even ones that aren't fraught with political peril, love comes as a second thought. we think of it last. it is our best and less heeded intention.

is that a fault in our spiritual lives? have we become so caught up in doctrinal ins and outs, shoulds and shouldn'ts, that we've forgotten the most basic law - to love one another?

i think we have. i have.

ding said...
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Horse Sense said...
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