Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How’s Your Marriage…or Your Church?

Cal & Loretta 1977

As I have said here before, I am teaching a couple of classes: one on the New Testament and another on Communication Theory.  This week’s reading on Perception got me thinking.  Here is what struck me: (Ronald B. Adler & Russell F. Proctor “Looking Out/Looking in,”  Wadsworth Cengate Learning, 2006, p. 92-93)

Couples who report being happily married after fifty or more years seem to collude in a relational narrative that doesn’t jibe with the facts.  They agree that they rarely have conflict, although objective analysis reveals that they have had their share of struggles. Without overtly agreeing to do so, they choose to blame outside forces or unusual circumstances for problems instead of blaming each others.  They offer the most charitable interpretations of each other’s behavior, believing that their spouse acts with good intentions when things don’t go well. They seem willing to forgive, or even forget, transgressions. Communication researcher Judy Pearson evaluates these findings:

Should we conclude that happy couples have a poor grip on reality?  Perhaps they do, but is the reality of one’s marriage better known by outside onlookers than by the players themselves? The conclusion is evident.  One key to a long, happy marriage is to tell yourself and others that you have one and then to behave as though you do! (J.C. Pearson, “Positive Distortion: The Most Beautiful Woman in the world.” [1996])

My thinking went two directions:  one was about my marriage. We have been married for over thirty years (the pic above is from our dating years in the mid to late 70’s).  And it has been good and it has been hard.  But it has been worth it.  This concept (as I word it) of mutual self-delusion makes me a little uncomfortable.  And yet I think there is some truth in it. If you are in it for the long haul, you have to find some way of getting through the difficult times and the times when you truly hurt one another.

But my thinking also went back to the churches I have served. (In 30 years: one part-time and three full time).  And in the last two, I walked into situations where the church was at war with itself.  (The second one more so than the first one).  From Day 1 (or even before) it was not possible to believe that everyone had good intentions—both sides were frantically pulling you to get on “their side.”   And although I came to love most of the people in both congregations dearly, I don’t know that I ever overcame that suspiciousness /those reservations with which I began the relationship. And it limited my effectiveness in both ministries.

Can you develop that sense of “mutual self-delusion” in a church setting?  Should you?  In the article it says that the couples did not overtly agree to “collude in a relational narrative that doesn’t jibe with the facts.”  If one takes that attitude and the other one doesn’t, (as I have seen in numerous marriages), the result is often abuse and heartache.  If the preacher takes that attitude, but the church doesn’t, will disaster follow?  If the congregation takes it, but the preacher doesn’t (as is more often the case), does disaster follow?  Does a church who presumes, “We have a good preacher,” and where the preacher presumes, “I have receptive people” result in better preaching/teaching?  Or at least the self-perception of it?  How far can/should you push this?   As always, I have more questions than answers.

What do you think of the quote from Adler & Proctor? ( No, this isn’t my class…I just am wanting your input).  Thoughts?


Milton Stanley said...

Man, Cal, you raise a good issue. I've served a couple of churches like the two you mention, and it's really, really tough to know the best way to proceed. I wish I had answers, but I have only the same questions you do. Peace.

Cal Habig said...

Milton: All of my life people have said, "Cal you ask great questions!" I wish they could say, "Cal, you have great answers!" but I don't & so they don't. I guess I'll have to be content with asking questions. (Thanks!)

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