Thursday, November 13, 2008

face to face: a mask too far?

I hate being a projection of people’s past. If you’ve got a problem with pastors then that stinks. But why dump that on me?

I was talking yesterday with a group and the blessing in Numbers 6:26 came up – May the LORD turn his face toward you, and we talked about what it might mean to really be face to face with someone.

And when you place a “mask” on me, constructed by your previous experiences of religion, then surely that makes it hard to have open and honest communication, simply because you are not actually talking to me face to face, but to a projection of what has been? Or is that too hard an ask, and in fact all our human encounters are coloured by our past, and we’re all putting masks on each other?

Posted by steve at 05:14 PM


  1. Interesting post steve. I know I’m guilty of this, but as you rightly say, I think everyone does it a bit – puts masks on others and often they are unfair – based on past experiences or even just on gossip and stereotypes. I suspect some people project a bit of how they see God himself onto their pastors. I know for me that past experiences left me refusing to even engage with any pastors for a couple of years until I realised that this was unfair and illogical. However it does take a conscious effort to stop and analyse my emotional reactions and let reason dominate instead, and it is quite a hard ask and I fail at it often. It’s easier to stop and do when blogging than face to face – in fact its been four years since I spoke to a pastor in person because I’m afraid of failing. It must be frustrating for you to be on the other end of undeserved negative projections, but hopefully being aware of it helps you not to take it too personally.

    Comment by Jack — November 13, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  2. It’s interesting, because usually when I think about masks, I think of people using them on themselves to hide from others, not project things onto others.

    So do you just rule out everyone who has had bad experiences with pastors? Say that the way they see things stinks?

    Seems like such an attitude can only reinforce it, I mean how much do you think this kind of approach plays right into the ideas of someone who did have a problem with pastors?

    Comment by illegalbrain — November 14, 2008 @ 11:19 am

  3. It’s David btw!

    Comment by illegalbrain — November 14, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  4. jack – thanks for your honesty. perhaps one of the gifts of the internet is that people can engage without the physical. it’s also one of the pains, as you well know from being part of some of this blog’s “battles” in which people drive by having a shot! i think your comment about time is important.

    illegalbrain — what i mean is that i grieve at the stories i hear of how “pastors” have hurt people. that mistreatment stinks. but what i’m then processing is what might happen if that mistreatment is then projected onto the next pastor. as you express so well, i’m wondering if people can place masks on other people, and if so, what that does to the communication.

    and i’m now wondering (blog-aloud), about it and what is the best way to seek communication. i’m wondering if it’s simply a fact that all communication is shaped by the past and i am simply reduced to being a mask? or are there ways to move the communication on?

    i realise in doing this that it might be an uncomfortable post for people who have problems with pastors. it’s also an uncomfortable post for me. but often those people say they want open and honest communication, so i thought i would be open and honest and see what happens :). as it says on my blog header – “steve taylor finding God/self/other in new spaces … a work in process … thoughts expressed are personal opinions, and are not necessarily final opinions.”

    sometimes i feel that people are not actually talking to me, but to their previous bad experience. it’s just the wierdest feeling. i had it 7 months ago after a service and i actually clapped my hands and say, hey, we’re not in the 90’s any more. and it was like a spell was broken and we both laughed.

    Comment by steve — November 14, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  5. Yep I agree it can be both a blessing and a curse – engaging on the net. But to go back to your original bible quote, I’d say that honest ‘face to face’ without masks, is the best. I don’t think internet communication can replace that. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve concluded that honest and meaningful relationships must involve getting rid of masks, projected or self imposed. It would be wrong to put such relationships in the ‘too hard’ basket. The key I think is the realisation that it often takes a lot of time and effort. I know some of the students I teach at college arrive in class with a very negative view of me simply because I represent the ‘system’ to them, a system that hasn’t worked for them. And I have to be thick skinned, ignore the negative vibes and start the long process of building a relationship with them.

    Comment by Jack — November 15, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  6. Jack, you wrote “I know some of the students I teach at college arrive in class with a very negative view of me simply because I represent the ‘system’ to them, a system that hasn’t worked for them. And I have to be thick skinned, ignore the negative vibes and start the long process of building a relationship with them.” — sounds just like being a pastor :), with people loaded the “system” onto me!

    so i’ll take your advice and try to work at the long process of building relationship. now, you’re in a class, which gives you ongoing contact. often, i’m faced with very fleeting moments – one church service, or one social engagement. so that’s a difference,


    Comment by steve — November 15, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  7. That’s a big difference… there has to be a time commitment which means you have to accept you are not going to get there with everyone. However, you are dealing predominantly with adults and one would hope that their maturity would make the process easier.
    “so i’ll take your advice and try to …” Now there you go challenging the mask I had flung on you – here I was assuming pastors just gave advice 😉

    Comment by Jack — November 15, 2008 @ 4:49 pm

  8. hey, “here I was assuming pastors just gave advice ;-)” — now that’s the 2nd time i’ve heard that today.

    perhaps i’m fooling myself and i give advice in subtle ways, but most learning/counselling theory suggests people change when they learn something themselves. so i see my role as creating learning spaces, of all shapes and sizes.

    that involves a safe space, in which i place some inputs. then we see what happens and what God and people want to do,


    Comment by steve — November 15, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  9. “and what God and people want”

    And how do people know what God wants them to do. Often the pastor gives the ‘advice’ on that one, through sermons, guidance or subtle affirmation.

    Comment by Jack — November 15, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  10. I just realized it’s not that I don’t like pastors, it’s that they generally don’t like me.

    Comment by David — November 16, 2008 @ 4:20 am

  11. ahh david. am i meant to read something deeper into your comment? are you wanting to project onto me, a pastor, a general dislike of you?

    if so, rest assured that i don’t know you well enough yet to have formed an opinion on you.

    Comment by steve — November 16, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  12. Human beings tend to categorize people very quickly, usually the first time we talk to someone we start finding a box for them, so I find it very dubious when you say you haven’t formed an opinion of me, especially given your many inferences about what I am “really” thinking or what my “real” issues are.

    It is just that you keep going on about this labeling/projecting psychoanalytical stuff so much I feel the need to defend myself. It’s simply wrong that I don’t like pastors because of the fact they are pastors. I’ve had a couple of key incidents that have really hurt me in the past, generally with pastors who act childishly hurt at the slightest criticism and seem bizarrely intimidated by me, but there are actually more pastors who I get along with well (there are 9 on my facebook friends, not counting you, and I am in email contact with another two).

    So your little theory that I just have a problem with pastors generally, which I might add you threw at me the first time I got in touch with you, simply doesn’t stand up to the facts.

    Think about it, I contacted you and made myself emotionally vulnerable to you, sharing things I don’t even usually talk about with people I know quite well, because I thought you were a person I might be able to trust and talk to about certain issues, not because I didn’t like or trust you etc. Your reaction was “well, it sounds like you might have a problem with pastors, so I am pretty hesitant to meet with you” and you haven’t stopped going on about it since then.

    If I did have a problem with pastors, do you think your words and actions so far would have disabused me of that notion, or strengthened it?

    Comment by David — November 16, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

  13. David, i’ve emailed you, copying a record of the email conversations we’ve had, and hoping we can make a time to talk further face to face. Hoping that you’ve got the email, and that we can get together and gain some greater clarity,


    Comment by steve — November 17, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

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