(NOTE: This is a really hastily written post… so, please forgive me this one! Thank you!)
If you are a minister and you are not full of yourself – which unfortunately, happens a lot – you must know that we, pastors, preachers, ministers, priests, church leaders, make lots of mistakes. Here is something that happened to me recently and that I thought appropriate to share. This is not the first mistake I have made, nor will it be the last. I know this because, well, I am human and we all make mistakes. But I have been thinking a lot about this one and decided that it was good to write about it.
On Tuesday, the first email I sat down to write went something like this:
“Dear X, I am so sorry for my attitude on Saturday. I was rude to you in my response to your question, and for that, I am truly sorry. I am not opposed to join you and others [in the project the person had asked me to join.] But my way of answering you was not the appropriate way of letting you know how I felt, and for that I ask your forgiveness.”
The note continued with some other details on the project I had been asked to be part of and on how I wanted to be involved.
I kept thinking about my reaction to this person. What was I thinking when I answered her question so rudely?!
You see, we all make mistakes. We all get caught in the moment and let our feelings take the best of us. In this case, when I was asked about participating of this specific project, the “asking” was more of a “command.” I had not really been invited as been signed up without even knowing it! That, of course, caught me off guard and I didn’t quite like it. But – and here is where my mistake came in – my feelings had nothing to do with this person! She was not even the one in charge of the task. Instead, she was just the “messenger” if you will. She had informed me of my being on that assignment, but she had no idea what was behind it or how I got on the list of “volunteers.” My reaction to her was wrong. Period. I was rude in the way I responded her question when she approached me. I was also caught on some systemic flaws that I have fought for decades and yet I was replicating! This is what brought me to write about this experience.
Here is the problem. I am a Latino/Hispanic, openly gay, Protestant (which within my own cultural milieu is a minority) member of the clergy who grew up as the child of a poor family. I have been a minority my whole life! Yet, I too have power in certain circumstances. In fact, my own culture tells me that, because I am a man I am more entitled to things than the women around me. Moreover, my culture also tells me that, as a member of the clergy, I am above those who are not clergy. The larger American culture tells me that, because I have two graduate degrees, I am entitled to more power than those who do not have graduate degrees…
In my conversation with this woman, some of those positions of privilege came into place. She serves as the assistant to a colleague and she is a woman. My biases – which I try to overcome every day – made me approach her from a place of power on my side. I made assumptions about what her “role” ought to have been and how she should have approached me. It did not occur to me that in my interaction I was actually falling for those powers-that-be which have also oppressed me! I was being sexist, elitist and classist. I was using my privilege in our context to belittle her. That, of course, was wrong.
But here is the great news… Because of my own experience with oppression in many different forms, and because I have worked really hard in recognizing where I have been the oppressor, I was able to see my mistakes during this interaction. Moreover, I also realized that I had to apologize for my rudeness during our interaction.
Talking in theological terms, I can say that the experience reminded me that indeed none of us is free of sin. However, the important thing is not to just recognize it, but also amend our actions, ask for forgiveness and commit ourselves not to sin anymore. A friend and theologian and ethicist, Dr. Valerie Dixon, taught me once that we all are both oppressed and oppressors. Valerie always reminds us that oppression has many overtones and that we have to be always mindful and recognize when we are being oppressed or when we are using our own power – whatever that power might be or wherever that power might come from – to oppress others.
After I sent her my note, I received a reply from her with kind words. She also understood my concerns regarding the task I was assigned/volunteered, and she also let the door open for more conversations and more collaboration, in spite of my having been a jerk to her! (What a relief!)
We all are humans. We all make mistakes. But I am grateful that my experiences of making mistakes have helped me grow as a human being and as a minister. I look forward to continue working on my mistakes, on amending them, on “sinning no more” and on building a better environment for everyone around me.