There are two brothers who run a funeral home in the town where one of the churches I served is located. Until my very last year there, our relationship was wonderful. They would call on me to officiate at services for people who didn’t have a pastor of their own. We had a friendship that was quite comfortable.
Then, with no warning, I was suddenly cut out of their list of stand-ins. One of the brothers told me to take him off my “MMM” mailing list. I couldn’t understand the change in attitude (I should say that the other brother and I still have a good relationship. It was only the one brother who did a 180 on me).
This came about during my last year at that church. I had one more service with them for one of my church members, so my officiating was a given. The brother with whom I was having this problem was going to drive the hearse. The pastor normally rode in the hearse anyway, so I had a chance to see if I could clear the air with him before moving on to my next pastoral appointment.
“We’ve always had a good relationship,” I said, “and I’d like to know what’s going on. It’s apparent that something has changed, but I can’t understand what it is.”
He said, “It’s your position on the death penalty.” (For the record, I’m totally against it. When New Jersey passed it anti-death penalty law, I shared the news with the congregation, but didn’t go into great detail about it.) He continued, “If you’ve ever seen a little child who’s been abused like I’ve seen, you wouldn’t feel that way. I just don’t appreciate you shoving it down our throats.”
Really? I had mentioned it as a point of information during a worship service, but it wasn’t as though it was a recurring theme at every service. In all honesty, I think he was upset for other reasons, but this one seemed to serve his purpose conveniently.
My takeaway from this conversation is that, when people encounter something they don’t like in another person, it becomes a case of “shoving it down my throat.” I also find it interesting that no one uses that phrase unless the something being shoved down their throats is unpleasant or disagreeable to them. I’ve never heard anybody complain, for example, about a Hershey bar being shoved down their throat. It only becomes an issue when the shoved item/issue is something they would rather not have down their throats.
I think about my own kids – all four of them – and how they have accused Evelyn and me since their early childhoods of shoving religion down their throats. Did they go to church more often than most kids? Very likely. It’s the unavoidable (and, in their view, apparently unfortunate) consequence of having been born into a pastoral family. I couldn’t help it. How would I explain to anybody, much less the congregation, that my own family had an aversion to what I had devoted my life to? Besides, had they stopped to listen to what was being said and taught instead of throwing up defenses right away, they would have realized that religion is the Hershey bar of throat-shoving, something that would not only be beneficial in myriad ways, but even pleasant. But, alas, I could never paint that picture for them. In their view, it was nothing more than an obligation that they hated, period. And which they were more than happy to discard as soon as they were on their own.
Having examined the issue this way, it seems that one person’s disgust can be another’s delight. One person can welcome something being shoved down their throat while another wants nothing to do with it, be it the death penalty, religion, or whatever. When all is said and done, we make our choices on the basis of what really matters to us, to the pleasure or pain of others who care.