After leaving the fundamentalist sect I was raised in years ago, I find that members of the sect, especially relatives, engage me in conversations about church that still hook me: somehow I am in a conversation or email exchange that I want out of, but I can’t leave, because my relative has gotten the last jab. I need to get the last jab in before I can leave the conversation.
What are my needs? I need respect (from my relatives). I need to be heard (by my relatives). If I walk away in the middle of an argument about my faith, I lose respect, and my hard work on my faith has not been acknowledged. Yet I’ve been here before, many times. I already know I will not be heard, get respect or acknowledgement from this relative. But he has hooked me and is reeling me in. So how do I get off this hook?
I know the answer, it’s just not the answer I want. I have to ask myself, “If I weren’t hooked, what would I do?” The answer is usually, “Walk away. Drop the conversation in the middle, with my relative getting the last jab.”
This is the same advice given to people who have to live with people who have severe personality disorders or severe mental illness: When the person puts you in a no-win situation, do what you would do if you were not in the no-win situation. It’s a freeing perspective.
The reason it is so easy for my relatives to hook me is because I was raised by Shame. I don’t want to be unfair here, there were many good things about my childhood. But frequently I was scolded or ridiculed for having normal childhood needs: attention, comfort, acknowledgement, autonomy and information. This is standard child rearing in fundamentalist, alcoholic, military and mafia homes. Jesus never ridicules us for our normal needs.
Whenever the Pharisees or Sadducees approached Jesus with a question they were challenging his honor, because they saw Jesus as a challenge to their honor. Honor, in this context, is the flip side of shame.
My relatives approach me to shame me, because I have challenged their honor. Shame is the most painful emotion to me, so I respond by defending my honor. Thus I am hooked. I cannot unhook myself until I accept that I am not going to defend my honor. I have to walk away from the conversation allowing them to shame me one more time, or I will never be able to walk away. Those are my choices: stay in the conversation defending my honor, but constantly being shamed, or walk away in shame.
Jesus honors us. Paul points out that while we were sinners Christ died for us. That he exchanged his seat of honor as the Son of God for the shame of the cross, so that we would not suffer condemnation, but be honored as sons of God. Jesus gives us His honor.
Whenever I am in a shaming conversation about religion, I can rest assured it is not a Christian conversation.