My dad used to call it “flying off the handle” – those moments when we lose it for whatever reason. Someone cuts us off on the road. Someone disses one of our kids. Someone erroneously blames us. Someone blames us for good reason, but in a shaming way.
And then we respond in a way that makes it worse.
Followers of Jesus might recognize “self control” as one of the Fruits of the Spirit – the behavioral evidence that we are working on our spiritual maturity. I love that Paul referred to “self-control” hundreds of years before psychological theorists focused on it. Fight or flight has been going on for much longer than we human beings have been calling it that.
William C. Mills – an Eastern Orthodox priest serving a congregation in Charlotte – has written a “memoir of faith and finding” called Losing My Religion. I recommend it.
Like many of us in Church World, he has experienced ugliness that can wreck a person. It’s happened to me. Maybe it’s happened to you too.
Power plays. Rumors. False accusations. Gossip. Threats. Misconduct. Lies. These experiences often occur IN THE CHURCH stripping people of dignity and damaging the whole community. If you haven’t witnessed such mayhem, I wonder if you are new, inactive, or so conflict-averse that you can’t see it.
Pastors in particular are often targeted because it’s assumed that we will not fight back. We will not cause a scene. We will not pound the pulpit or throw a Bible. And it’s also assumed we will not lean into the conflict. It’s assumed that since we are “nice” that we will not hold others accountable. William C. Mills shares his personal experience with bullies who left the congregation he serves but not before lighting some proverbial fires.
There are pastor bullies too. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. And yet I see more parishioners out to destroy clergy than the other way around. (Not many more- but more – especially in small congregations.) Again, we need to hold people accountable in love. And we need to support those who are being bullied.
What if we happen to lose control – especially in church? How do we recover from that?
Apologize. Be authentic. Be honest. Show people what it looks like to be The Church as Jesus showed us how to do it. And remember that God even uses our mistakes and missteps. And we have divine help at our disposal.
Image is Nicolas Cage losing it in Wicker Man (2006).