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I apologize

December 28, 2009

You know, when I have it in me to insult someone, I generally don’t feel bad about it. Maybe I’m a bad person, but guilt doesn’t strike me if I intended my action. The difference, of course, is if the other person responds by killing me with kindness. That’s pretty effective at cutting through my coal exterior. Never fails at making me realize I was the jerk all along.

But yeah, as I was saying, if I intend to insult, hurt, harm, whatever, I generally do it remorselessly. It’s pretty sick, actually.

But I don’t think I’m so callous. After all, most times, I *don’t* intend to harm, hurt, or insult. So, if I accidentally do so, I feel terrible. Or even worse…I feel terrible when people interpret my motivations as being to insult. When they think that my only goal and reason to interact with them at that given time is to abuse. Such great misunderstanding! It is so tragic when intention is so totally misunderstood…and something that is meant to help is instead taken as something meant to destroy.

But this isn’t just unique for me. Rather, isn’t this what plenty of people suffer through? Especially ex-Mormons when they deal with Mormon relatives or friends.  When Mormons reach out to the disaffected, I am pretty sure that most of them hope to help. So, aren’t they just as hurt when the disaffected member (or ex-member) instead sees their efforts as harmful and damaging? The believer didn’t mean — in any sense — to harm, and yet the miscommunication is so great that that’s the only story that will get out, most of the time.

However, I recognize that resolving this isn’t so simple. As much as I want to say, “Please, forgive me — I was only trying to help” (and as much as anyone who reaches out wants to say this), this doesn’t change the fact that the other person has been harmed, even if unintentionally.

And how do we apologize after we’ve done such a thing?


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  1. My maternal grandfather was a devout Nazarene who had me baptized into the Nazarene church as an infant. He died in his 50s in 1984 due to complications from diabetes, when I was 2 years old and living far away in Alaska, so I never knew him. I don’t know much about him other than that he didn’t like my father (good call, there) and he really, really loved me.

    As I’ve grown older I’ve come to have a negative view of infant baptism. I vehemently dislike the idea of infants being baptized or young children being pressured into baptism. I think that making that covenant with God should be a choice and that the person making it should be old enough to know what she or he is getting into. So part of me doesn’t like the fact that I was baptized as an infant.

    The other part of me sees that, in an imperfect way, my grandfather’s act was a gesture of love. He didn’t have the understanding of baptism that I do now, but having me baptized was his way of dedicating me to the Christian life. It’s interesting to me that I’m the only one of the five children in my home who found my way out of the “bad Protestant” household we grew up in and into an active Christian life as an adult (so far). It’s also interesting to me that my spiritual journey started at age 10 with the Nazarene church—through my aunt (my father’s sister-in-law) who had zero connection to my grandfather. It makes me wonder if God doesn’t honor broken, imperfect requests, if heaven didn’t open its gates to impart to me a gift which my grandfather was no longer around to give himself, even if he had some things wrong about the way in which he gave it.

    So I don’t resent my grandfather for having me baptized. I know he believed he was giving me the best. And I think that’s how ex-members should try to see the attempts by their friends and relatives to bring them back into the fold. It’s okay to search out diplomatic ways in which to ask them to stop, but try to look for the motives behind what they do. Try to see the love (when love is present) in their attempts to reach out to you, and be gracious about it.

    My visiting teachers have been trying so hard with me. If they’re the least bit intimidated by my knowledge of Mormonism or the fact that I have a degree from BYU, they don’t show it—and I love it. One of them came over last week and dropped off the new 2009 Gospel Principles manual, which I took as her cue that she’d like me to stop skipping Relief Society when I visit. I loathe both Gospel Principles and Relief Society (see my post on the new GP curriculum here), but something about her perseverance and energy just makes me smile. She just might get a few RS visits out of me. We’ll see.

    As for unintentionally offending people, nothing to be done for it but try apologizing. The damage may not completely go away, but an apology is usually superior to no apology. I had it happen earlier today (yesterday?) on fMh, and I think apologizing really helped smooth things over between me and the person who misunderstood me.

  2. One of the things that has really empowered me has been always to accept people’s good intentions as a gift, even when they express those good intentions in ways that are potentially offensive.

    For instance — the most prominent example — it has not been uncommon to have people with conservative religious views, upon learning that I am gay, inform me that they “will pray for me.” At one point, this struck me as arrogant and used to make me furious. I prayed to God for over 11 years, pleading with him to “change” me…

    But what has fuming over something like that ever gained me? Nothing, really… And then I realized, if someone is really praying for me, it means they actually care. And after 11 years of praying to God to change me, one day I finally received a message from God: God didn’t want to change me. He created me this way for a purpose, and he loved me and accepted me exactly the way I was. If God could answer my prayers in a way I didn’t expect, he’s probably more than capable of doing the same for others who are praying for me. So their actual, real concern for me could lead them down a path that they don’t expect either, but that could be positive for all of us.

    So now, when people tell me they will “pray for me,” I sincerely thank them…. And I offer to pray for them too.

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