I never have good dreams. They always fall into the weird, creepy, or just plain terrifying category. Last night was no exception. I’ll save you the diary entry but after sharing the short saga with my husband this morning (who I’m sure dreams of lollipops, if he could only remember), he looked at me and said, “Geez, Erin. You really care that people like you.”
It was a neighborhood prank gone wrong. In the dream, I had been running through people’s lawns and hiding in bushes with my husband and two other guy friends. We were armed with squirt guns, except that they weren’t squirt guns; they were household cleaners. I don’t know what we thought we were doing exactly – take that organic tomatoes! and that you meddling cat! – but we soon got caught and I proceeded to be excluded, shamed, and taunted. First by a group of wives who snickered at me from a safe distance in their convertible and whispered, “She’s always trying to be one of the guys.” Then by a work colleague standing nearby who asked me, “How would Jesus feel about your actions?” and then let his wife hose me down with a sprinkler, which in retrospect was very un-Jesus like. And lastly by one of my guy friends in crime who called me “snotty” for hamming it up for a photo opp when the press arrived.
One thing I like about Christianity is that it tells me what to care about, and it’s not how what others think about me. This is good news since I don’t think I, or people like the apostle Paul, say the most likable things or have that sort of nonthreatening adorableness that works well for women and hamsters. In fact, I’m still waiting for someone to make a movie version of Paul’s life in which he’s played by a Paul Giamatti-type who can be equal parts brilliant and oft-putting, but who always has your sympathy.
My spiritual ancestors were hardly the popular kids. My favorite criticism levied against the early Christians was that they were cannibals, eating the flesh of their risen Savior. But it didn’t stop there. During one of the earliest persecutions of Christians, the newly formed sect was accused of misanthropy or hatred of humanity. I can see it now, me reasoning with Emperor Nero, “If you’ll let me explain about virgins and doves and miracles and resurrection, I can make you like us. Cross my heart.”
Having dinner with a friend two weeks ago at a Mexican joint, I shared how it’s been hard to turn off the internal critic after I say something questionable or send an email off in haste (I may or may not have used the phrase “hotboxing farts” in a professional correspondence this week). It’s hard to let go, to let other people form their own opinions of me, to read me through their own eyes. Even if they’re misinformed or – worse sometimes – spot on.
“I get it,” she sympathized. “But you know, as someone training to become a pastor, I’m beginning to think I’m probably not preaching the Gospel if I don’t get fired at least once.” She continued, “In fact, I have resigned myself to the fact that at any given point one or two people probably can’t stand me. And that’s okay.”
This is another thing I like about Christianity: its guarantee of suffering, of persecution, of alienation, of just being kinda-sorta-generally unlikable to one or two people – maybe more. Call me fatalistic, but I like my odds on this one.
Erin Lane is a freelance communication strategist for faith-based authors and organizations. She received her Masters in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School with a focus in gender, ministry, and theology. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about the intersection of her faith and feminism at www.holyhellions.com. She is also co-editing an upcoming anthology on the taboos experienced by young American Christian women. She lives in Durham, NC.