"Not Just a Worm" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
I can tell when I'm being talked down to.
I can tell when I'm being spoken up to.
I can tell when someone is talking to me as an equal.
Not long ago I ran into a pastor and his wife. They were nice. But there was also this strange attitude of pastoral care that rubbed me the wrong way. I call it the ‚Äúick of concern‚Äù. It feels like pity. It feels like I'm being talked down to. Especially when it came to light that I ‚Äúused to be in the ministry‚Äù, then the concern ramped up and I felt I had been knocked down another notch or two.
You know what? I couldn't always tell when I was being talked down to. Why? Because it was so embedded in my religious culture that I didn't recognize it for what it was. Condescension. A very kind and gracious condescension, but condescension nevertheless. Don't get me wrong. I liked the pastor and his wife. They are probably good pastors. But I was reminded of a cultural norm that so much of organized religion participates in that I no longer want to be a part of.
As a young pastor I used to be condescending. But I went through a series of changes that eventually brought me to a place where I realized we are all equals. Our roles might be different, but fundamentally we are equal and on the same level in terms of respect. I learned, by hard-earned experienced that I show people the respect they deserve by speaking, not down to them, not up to them, but across to them and to expect the same from them.
This is offensive to people who think too highly of themselves.
This is dignifying to people who think too little of themselves.
This is authentic to people, all people, for they are indeed your equals.
How do I deal with being talked down to? I used to just be quiet and play along. You know‚ respecting and submitting to those in authority over me. I don't do that any more. It took me some time to gain my self-confidence, my own personal sense of dignity and worth and value, to be able to talk to whatever person was talking down to me as though I was their equal. Sometimes they are offended. Sometimes they are surprised. Sometimes they get it. But in every case I maintain my dignity and self-respect. This is important!
I do the same when people try to talk up to me. I try to disarm that right away. I speak as though I'm nobody special and that we are equals. The same thing happens though. Sometimes they are offended. Sometimes they are surprised. Sometimes they get it. But in every case I maintain my dignity and self-respect. I like to be affirmed (one of my love languages). But I don't like to be high and lifted up‚ if you know what I mean.
The etiquette of class distinctions is quite strong in the church. Haven't you noticed?
So, the first step is to get a healthy sense of self-respect and dignity.
The next step is to project the same respect and dignity upon others.
Then find the courage to live this out in your relationships and conversations.
So, no more worm theology, but a theology of human dignity and mutual respect.
(Want a community that shares mutual respect? Join us at The Lasting Supper