The Weirdest Conversation I’ve Ever Had (by Amy R. Buckley)

convo

“Women are trying to take over churches,” the man glanced my way.

I shifted in my seat, hardly believing my ears. He said it after I introduced myself as a seminary student to the men gathered to plan a non-profit fundraiser. I contemplated ignoring the comment or telling him off. Neither reaction seemed a constructive means of winning friends and influencing the men in the room. Lord, what to say?

The earth swirled as—yet again—I wished a trap door would open and transport me to a universe where Christian men don’t act suspicious of Christian women. Jesus, is this really happening?

I didn’t want to sound mousy or snarky; heaven forbid getting labeled b**chy. A listening stance seemed best, however much I felt like throwing something, or calling out the inappropriate comment.

Reflecting on a conflict resolution course, it seemed best to invite a constructive dialog. “That’s interesting. Help me understand. Why do you think women are trying to take over churches?”

“It’s the decorating,” he responded flatly.

And I nearly busted out laughing. Was he joking? I waited for him to laugh, but he didn’t.

God, this is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had. What to say?

The man expressed his distaste for the paint and curtains in his church. Evidently, mauve and floral didn’t appeal to his sensibilities. When I thought about it, they didn’t suit mine either, though I’d never felt alienated by them. Contrary to popular stereotypes, it dawned on me that men do care about decorating.

At the same time, I could not wrap my mind around equating mauve paint and floral curtains with a military coup. Surely none of the women in the man’s church had meant it that way.

I imagined a moose head hanging in a mauve narthex. Might that solve the problem? To some men I guessed it would. Then again, the male pastor of the church where I interned did not care for the deer head hanging in the community hall we rented each week.

Evidently, his daughter had sobbed the first time she saw the head of Rudolph’s slain relative mounted over a doorway. Satisfying “masculine” or “feminine” comfort zones did not appear to make everyone feel welcome in church.

Since I believe Jesus dislikes stereotypes, and values hospitality, it seemed right to validate the man’s concerns, “I think you’re right. Women usually decide upon the decorating, and it must be hard when that doesn’t appeal to your tastes.”

The man nodded, and it appeared some progress was made in my efforts at building gender reconciliation in Jesus’ name.

I thought about relaying the story of the deer head and my pastor’s daughter, but decided against it because it seemed to minimize his point of view. Instead, I made a suggestion that I thought would help him feel included. (The conflict resolution course had encouraged that.)

“Perhaps more men should get involved in decorating.“

The man did not look pleased, and I doubted he would volunteer to help the women in his church change the decor. The bridge between us crashed into a relational ravine, and he changed the subject.

For a time, I wondered if I’d been insensitive. I analyzed and over analyzed the conversation and my motivations, wondering—Had I said too much? Gone to far? Was it my fault the conversation had fallen into a ditch? Had I caused further harm to the plight of women and men’s unity in churches?

Jesus’ gentle spirit stopped my anxious thoughts. Knowing that I’m far from perfect, and I don’t always see results I long for, He is still King of kings and Lord of lords. In the grand scheme, the outcomes don’t hinge on you or me.

I’ve stopped thinking that God expects more than our genuine efforts to be at peace with others as we grow as women and men in Christ. Sometimes the way seems clear; sometimes we shoot in the dark. We don’t always know if we did or said the best things. None of us know the end of the stories that will come to fruition in eternity.

Until then, we do the best we can, granting mercy when needed, asking God’s spirit for grace to live in the best ways Jesus would have us live.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Eph. 2:10 NLT).

amyb

Amy R. Buckley (M. Div., George Fox Evangelical Seminary) is a writer, speaker, editor, and activist. Amy has contributed to Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse, Churches and Their Leaders Look to the Future. She founded the Stop the Silence Initiative as an editor for SheLoves.com, bringing to light domestic and sexual violence in Christian communities, calling for a response in Jesus’ name. Amy serves on the board of Life Together International, empowering church leaders to build strong communities in Uganda and the US. She has written articles for RELEVANT, Mutuality, PRISM, SheLoves, Shared Justice, and Catapult. She is a member of The Redbud Writer’s Guild. Amy lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband and two adopted daughters. Connect with Amy at www.amyrbuckley.com and @AmyR_Buckley.com.

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26 Comments

    • Amy: When I first started reading, you gave me my laugh for the day. As I kept reading, I thought about the narrow ledge we so often travel in trying to promote peace and reconciliation over a number of issues. Jesus understands; thanks for reminding us that “the outcomes don’t hinge on you or me.” Whew. It’s easy to forget this in a millisecond.

      • Suzanne, so glad you laughed! That makes my day. We do walk a narrow ledge. So many issues as we promote peace and reconciliation. The longer I live, the more I learn not to carry the weight of others’ responses (still learning). I keep learning not to take everything so personally and that it’s extremely helpful to keep a sense of humor. : )

  • You handled that so well. I’m going to have to learn to take a step back and engage people who dismiss women. What a perfect mini conversation to have. Thanks for your article.

    • Kimberley, thanks for your kind words. I didn’t feel like I handled it well in the moment, mostly because I felt so angry. If it wasn’t for the conflict resolution course (that I’d recently taken), I’m sure I would have reacted less constructively.

  • Wow Amy, gracious use of conflict resolution technique apparently doesn’t work in situations dealing with patriarchal sexism.

    My read is, the guy you were trying to engage did not want to be engaged, he wanted to be submitted to. That, in a ‘complementarian’ setting, decorating is still “women’s work.” Women are supposed to submit to mans tastes, either asking or intuiting those things?

    I agree, that’s “weird.” I’m continually struck by how contrary to communication (and reality) complementarianism is. It relies on the stereotypes you note, rather than looking for, and seeing, real people who land anywhere on the spectrum, regardless of gender.

    • Too funny. : ) Appreciate your take. Definitely it was a losing situation. Well said: ” I’m continually struck by how contrary to communication (and reality) complementarianism is. It relies on the stereotypes you note, rather than looking for, and seeing, real people who land anywhere on the spectrum, regardless of gender.”

  • Amy, I would have been surprised – pleasantly so, but still surprised – if that conversation had turned out better than it did. He was focused on himself (“Those decorations offend my sensibilities!”) and projecting it onto church polity (“Women are taking over the church and driving men out!”). You handled it much better than I would have.

    • Tim, that’s profound. The focus on himself was glaring, especially as he resisted acknowledging my point of view. I was simmering inside, trying to keep cool because the work involved a possible internship. Praising God it didn’t work out. I knew after the meeting that I should look for another internship opportunity.

  • Certainly not a surprising conclusion to the conversation, although a bit surprised that decorating was really the reason given as to why women were taking over the church. His reaction to your suggestion of men getting involved with decorating answered his own complaint.

    I always think there is such a danger when we pit groups against each other like that. It’s “The women are taking over the church” or I’ve also heard “the young people are taking over the church,” as if they’re enemies to be fought against. I think you handled it well, not looking at him as an enemy and engaging in conversation. How he took it was up to him.

    • Jeremy, to this day I wonder if that was his real issue or if he was just being outlandish, stomping on women with a stereotypical accusation. I’m with you–pitting groups against each other cultivates suspicions and competition. Sad. The longer I live, the less personally I take this stuff. I can only imagine how it was for Jesus dealing with so many divides while people actually wanted to kill him.

      • We tend to lose sight that arguing over something as simple as paint color or what beverage to serve at the church social can escalate to division within the body.
        With that being said we all know that lavender would be a better color choice than mauve. Lol
        Christi Crymsen

  • It reminds me of the same old song and dance. Someone criticizes, then you say, “would you like to help?” They look at you like you are a two headed alien. They meant for you to correct the “problem”. Go figure!

  • Oh Amy, have I told you lately that I love you. What a fantastic post. And funny too, which is always nice.

    I suppose the only thing about it that divided you from the guy really, is that you then spent ages agonising over his possible responses to your words, whereas he didn’t give a fig about your possible responses.

    • Thanks, Bev. It means the world, especially from you! Love you back (xox). Isn’t it the truth–we agonize over this stuff while some who stir up grief trip on with no scruples. Glad you thought it was funny. I had a good time with this one.

  • A great reminder to shut my mouth and ask more questions before assuming I should jump up on my soapbox. Great (and funny) post. Thanks, Amy!

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