Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

“You Just Don’t Get It”

with 3 comments

In Improv there is a concept called endowment. When setting a scene, you say things about other characters, and they say things about you. Those things become true as a result of them having been spoken aloud in the scene, whether or not they were part of the performer’s original conception of their character.

So if for instance you and I are in a scene, and as you walk onstage I salute you and say “Hello Captain”, I have just endowed you with the character trait of being a high ranking official in some hierarchical organization, probably active military personnel. You have no choice in the matter. I made you into that.

Like many aspects of Improv, this carries over into real-life in muted ways. Children are often endowed with characteristics by their teachers. A child who is told he is a bully will tend to act out in ways that would be expected of bullies, a child that believes themselves to be gifted will tend to work harder and earn better grades as a result of what others say about her achievements.

I person that is told they do not and cannot understand a concept. Won’t.

At seminary, I’ve been endowed with the role of campus conservative. An ironic distinction, considering the criticisms from the right I had grown accustomed to taking, but not one that is altogether false. I do after all believe the Bible is authoritative on all matters on which it speaks, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and that there is only one God and one way to that God through Christ.

WLIIA--_Robin_WilliamsIt’s also not a totally unexpected role for me to play considering I am a white straight male from an upper middle class background. I look like the poster child for privilege, and again, that isn’t false. I have pretty well every kind of privilege there is. But where previously it was an attribute (and one I worked to identify and mitigate) now it is my Identity.

It all started my first week here when a friend invited me to a wedding reception held after a campus BBQ. I hadn’t met the brides, but I’m an extrovert, and was assured that the invitation was open to the whole campus and that that’s where the people would be.

It was about the second conversation I became a part of that someone asked me what I did before and frowned when I said the word “InterVarsity”. In retrospect that cannot have been the first thing about me that made her frown. She was a young lesbian student beginning her last year and fighting a difficult ordination battle in the church, drinking a lot, and celebrating a victory for her community in what she expected to be a very safe space. Here I come bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to start seminary with few if any qualms about the church. InterVarsity was just the clincher.

”Why’s she frowning?” Someone asked

“There’s a lot I like about InterVarsity, but they are also currently leading the charge against the required inclusion of homosexuals in leadership”

”It’s an adjective!” She said

“What is?”

”Homosexual people. Homosexual is an adjective”

”I’m sorry, of course. Against the required inclusion of GLBT individuals in leadership”

”No! Not Of course. Language is important, language matters, and when you drop the word ‘person’ off and just say homosexuals you are dehumanizing the entire community which is done in order to subjugate…”

It was a rant, and it went on for some time. At the end of it I apologized again, and was soon relieved to hear my friend was leaving and I had an excuse. I spoke to him at some length about my difficulty with the conversation, feeling like my misstatement was incommensurate with the verbal lashing I received. But I had no idea. By morning it seemed word had gotten around that I was the a conservative, fundamentalist, sexist, racist, republican, and the reputation stuck

(never mind the irony that those are all adjectives used as personal nouns)

So now people approach me with that presumption. Whatever I say or do goes through a filter of what is expected of me as a straight white male conservative republican. Because there is a kernel of truth in all of that, what comes out is always confirmation. It often results in my being criticized and when I ask for more details they tell me “You just don’t get it” or “I don’t want to talk about it with you” or “You’re blind to it”

whoseBut that’s an endowment. If I’m blind to it and you won’t talk about my blindness with me then I am condemned to be blind forever. If I said “homosexuals” and you won’t accept my apology then there can be no absolution. Therefore I have no choice but to continue being that guy you expect me to be

When someone says to you “Your white privilege is preventing you from seeing how racist that is” There is no response that does not solidify you into that identity more deeply. your choices are “Yes you’re probably right, I am certainly privileged” or “No, I don’t think that’s true in this particular case” and either one confirms their suspicions and encourages them to say more things like that to you more often. Sub “white” for straight, cis, Christian, upper class, abled, American, monogamous, etc. and there is pretty much no sentence I can utter that I will not soon have to admit is the result of one privilege or another.

”The clouds sure are beautiful today” yet I apologize for my sighted-privilege and oppressive western standards of beauty

But I don’t think there is a lot of awareness about how much my community has made me what I am. How much my role in the seminary is an endowed trait that I was given. I didn’t come here expecting to be the conservative guy. If you had asked me in 2013, I would have told you I would probably be the radical missional guy, the couchsurfer who was intentionally homeless for a spell as an immersion experiment, who pared down possessions to a single carload, who runs scripture studies with Muslims and Homeless people. Or maybe the community guy, who designs board games in the big apartment, and worked previously putting on events on campus. Now I’m the guy who makes the bible verse references, who argues that evangelicals aren’t as crazy as we think they are, who gets chewed out for the way things I’ve said could me misconstrued as racist in other contexts in which I did not say them. The community has effectively made me more conservative

This isn’t a “poor me I’m so oppressed” situation. It’s actually the opposite, I’m pushed farther into a place of privilege and oppression. Is that really what we want to do to people like me? Will that help the cause?


Written by RyanGaffney

May 5, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. There are a lot of little gems of truth in this.


    May 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      • Thanks for reading and for engaging in the subject matter, whoever you are. You didn’t give me much context to determine exactly what you mean by this article, but I read it and it’s interesting. I do hove to say however that if you see it as some kind of rebuttal to my experience, then you misunderstand what I’ve said at a pretty foundational level. I actually did what this article suggests a person do (apologize immediately and dispassionatly) and it still served to escalate the situation.

        Now it’s your prerogative to choose to believe I did not. But that would be evidence of a belief that liberals are always right. It would turn your hand and reveal your cards the prejudice that if a person is upset by someone more liberal than they are, it is not because the progressive person did something impolite or offensive, but because the comparatively conservative person is failing to properly own their privilege. That’s black and white thinking and it is consistent with liberal fundamentalism, and horseshoe theory as I wrote about in my next blog.


        The truth is that I’m trying to work on the same side as Everyday Feminism, trying to beat down prejudices, and address privileges create equal rights for all people because Women and minority races do not have that now. But I do sometimes have critiques of the far left just as I do of the far right. When I find missteps we have taken in the name of equality, I do that in the interest of helping us all to make progress better and more quickly with less resistance. I don’t think it helps the cause of Everyday Feminism to make an enemy of me when they could have an ally, and I don’t think thinking so makes me more misogynist.

        I’m also noodling on the idea of coaching people on how to respond to them. That’s what the article you linked is trying to do, and it’s sort of what I am trying to do here. Doesn’t seem like a really productive activity. Probably by the time I have to tell you how you were meant to respond I’ve failed at communicating. So I’m sorry, thanks for engaging, and maybe that idea will become an article of it’s own one day.


        May 26, 2015 at 6:56 pm

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