Resistance, light shows, and other super powers.

I hate talking on the telephone.  Maybe this makes me sound anachronistic, or anti-social, or unlikeable.  I hate it.   My excuse has always been that I spent six years answering crisis calls at a rape crisis hotline and at a domestic violence shelter, where every call was guaranteed to be emotionally difficult or downright scary.  I don’t know if this is the case, but it’s a pretty decent excuse.  But, more than phone calls, I hate asking people for things.  Small things, big things, abstract things, concrete things.  Favors, things deserved and things needed.  Asking for help, for information.  It’s hard.  Part of it is likely pride.  But, thinking about some of the models I had growing up, it struck me lately that a portion of that resistance stems from not knowing what tone to strike.  Simple human interactions just seem so challenging sometimes, and the moment of request, of being vulnerable to “no,” heightens the feeling of being rather at sea in this world of people, most of whom seem to be able to interact with others with very little effort. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched people my whole life, studied my classmates, colleagues, people on the street and on television, my teachers and friends.  Somewhere in my childhood, I learned the skill of reading a room.  Who is uncomfortable?  Who is the leader here?   Who’s the bully?   A good friend?  In pain?  Enjoying herself?  Most people do this, I imagine, but my sense of it comes viscerally, and usually in color, bodies and personalities subtly webbed together in my mind, a moving light show of human relationships.  The problem here is that along the way, I didn’t learn how to situate myself in the web.  I can’t read the ways I connect to others, which is where the watching comes in.  Meeting someone who does “human” well, I find myself dissecting how it is that s/he manages it, especially they wear it easily and with grace. 

You’re wondering about now… okay.  What do talking on the telephone, asking for things, and feeling connected have at all to do with one another?  Well, it seems that community organizing and the role I’ve been called to in the church require all of these skills.  I could just laugh, if it weren’t so frustrating.  During my internship this year, I’ve been commissioned with the task of building a lead team around the issue of healthcare in the West Ohio Conference parish.  I think I’ve frustrated the very soul out of my supervisor asking detailed questions about how, in fact, one goes about doing this.  She is one of those amazing people who seems to be effortless in her ability to build relationships with people, at the drop of a hat.  I’ve hemmed, and hawed, and reorganized my notes, rewritten my agenda, emailed, emailed again… but there has been a stony resistance, a nearly literal barrier between myself and making those calls.  Because… I do hate talking on the phone.  Crisis calls are easy – someone else is calling me for help, knowing that my expertise is available and focused, knowing that I am there for the sole purpose of saying “yes” to whatever they ask.  There’s little vulnerability there.  But, oh… these lead team calls.  Even to folks who’ve expressed an interest in the issue, I have to sell a product.  I have to sell myself, as a coordinator.  I have to sell the conference.  It makes me want to bite something.

So.  A couple of weeks ago, having spent some time sitting in the dark in my office, parsing out exactly why I was hating this process so much, despite the fact that I very much want it to be successful and believe in it… and, annoyed with the fact that I had let something get the better of me… I made the darn calls.  In my heart of hearts, I simply knew I would sound ridiculous, unprofessional, under-educated, young, and generally flaky.  Each person would tell me “no.”  I would fail, and paradoxically, I would be proven right – failure and success in one tight little package.  But I swallowed hard and dialed.

And had numerous lovely conversations with bright and accepting people about the state of healthcare in Ohio, its relationship to spiritual formation and simple living, and the possibilities for real change through a coalition of followers of Jesus who firmly believe that we can’t do the work of God to the best of our ability unless the bodies God gave us are cared for. 

Holy hell.  I hate to be wrong.  But sometimes, a psychological smack in the face is a good thing.  One woman, she even told me at the end of the phone call that she hadn’t been very excited about this project until she spoke with me.  Yeah.  I really giggled at that, when I hung up.  But then my little internal light show blinked like a cloud of fire-flies, and one little baby light flickered into view.  It was me.  The realization that not seeing how you fit into the greater picture is not the same thing as not being in the picture at all.   Just as our feelings that God is absent sometimes is not the same as God actually being gone… Our eyes just aren’t that well-adjusted.  We can’t see everything, and we really can’t figure out for ourselves how it all fits together.  This is what I keep thinking about as I reflect on these phone calls.  Yes, I still hate the phone.  I still really dislike asking people for things.  I still read a room and struggle to know how I fit into a group, how other people see me.  Those things will likely never change.  But they don’t have to, really.  Because I get to learn from them.  Resistance is an opportunity to figure out why we are the way we are.  Fearfully and wonderfully made, and all the junk, too.  Discomfort and anxiety, uncertainty and blindness, these are human traits, not God’s.  Not liking to talk on the phone, not connecting immediately with other people, being afraid to ask for things… just because these skills are important to the work I’ve apparently been called to do, and I don’t really have them, doesn’t negate that call.   Because I don’t have all of the information, and I’m often wrong.

I’m going to chuckle about that woman’s comment for a while yet.  All the things I think I know.  And the ways in which I have no idea what I’m talking about.  God’s probably laughing, too.

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2 Comments »

  1. Allan Said:

    I’m with you a thousand percent on hating the phone – I even hate ordering Pizza. It always seems like verbal awkwardness is magnified on the phone like at no other time.

    That being said, I’ve been thinking a bit about the dynamic that arises when one’s own misgivings prevent one’s own action. And I think that the only real solution is an absurd level of personal unawareness – which may work great for some people – or a conviction that the thing you are working on or toward is beyond you or even beyond the answers of individuals to it.

    One of the dilemmas of our modern world is the tight corners it works our own decision-making into. Moral and ethical decisions are so complex now that it seems more and more impossible of thinking how do live ethically because instead it should be “how to do the least amount of harm” – how to have less of a carbon footprint, how to consume more locally, how to care more about the poor both near and far (a concern that is inverse when we thinking of that proximity in geographic versus economic terms.) But I think one of the silver-linings in our modern age is the fact that we can, all the more, work in the direction of the good without the self-concern of individual efforts, because now those issues bare so much upon everyone it is impossible to think that the dilemma rests only on one’s own shoulders. Perhaps some say no, perhaps some laugh, perhaps some will not commit. But the immediacy is universal, and the need is everywhere. And in my mind, at least, there is comfort in that.

    Good luck rattling the medical cages of Western Ohio. No matter what happens, you’ll have the chance to make a hell of a lot of noise.

  2. cordelia Said:

    Oh, honey..been there..lived the twelve part mini series that no one watches anymore because it is such old news. Well honed self-consciousness is a paralyzing trap which I have spent years trying to escape. I have come to believe that following the Way ( as opposed to being a Christian because I have no idea what that really means) is a matter of turning our hearts toward God and having our actions follow regardless of what we think may or may or happen as a result. That is a tall order for those of us who have survived by taking the emotional temperature of a room. Your expereince is a wonderful and humbling reminded that we don’t have to know we just have to do. As Allan says, maybe the enormous scope of the issues that face us can be a freeing thing. It does, at least for me, require a substantial re-orienting of approach but is, in the end, terribly freeing


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