I had to laugh when I read that line. And we all do it, too . . . . We make assumptions about others we don’t know or don’t care to know or don’t like or we think are weird or “whatever.” And, quite frankly, we all do it for any number of reasons or personal agendas on a list that could be pretty much endless.
Read with me what Dr. Cloud wrote in the preface to his book, “Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again” (2014), titled “The Nineteen-Foot Spinning Jesus,” regarding a conversation he had with a television executive (pp. xiii – xviii):
I was excited about my upcoming meeting with the television executive. He was working with one of the major networks on a project he wanted me to consider. He was familiar with some of my work and some associates had told him to contact me. We had a great telephone conversation about how I would approach the topic he wanted to address, and he had really connected with what we had discussed. Until . . .
I walked in and the maître d’ escorted me to his table.
“Hi, I’m Henry. Good to meet you face-to-face,” I said.
“Hi,” he said. But his demeanor was not as exuberant as it had been on the phone just a few days before. After we ordered our food, he did not waste any time and jumped right in to let me know why.
“So . . .” he began. “I Googled you.”
“Yeah, and what did you find?” I asked.
“When I typed in your name, it was as if ‘a nineteen-foot-spinning-Jesus was over your head.'”
“Uh . . . what?” I asked. I had not ever seen Jesus hovering over me, so I was a bit surprised and confused.
“A lot of the stuff you have written and talked about is so ‘religious,'” he said. “When we talked, you seemed pretty normal, so I was kind of shocked. I mean, you are a real doctor, right? But in one clip I could not tell if you were a psychologist or a preacher. You were talking about God and Jesus and a whole bunch of religious stuff. So, what gives?”
I laughed so hard I spewed out my coffee.
“I totally get it,” I said. “The ‘spinning Jesus’ and ‘you seemed normal’ make me laugh, but it is a real issue sometimes.”
“How so?” he asked.
“Well, exactly what you said,” I went on. “My professional life is serious to me and very scientifically based. I spend a lot of time deep in the research of clinical, relational, and performance issues. So, yes, I am a ‘real doctor,’ as you said. And most of my work is in very mainstream, secular settings, like this network or CNN or Fox, or corporations or leadership events where the topic has nothing to do with faith or spirituality. What I talk about fits in because when we are discussing what causes depression or a relationship breakdown or a CEO’s destructive behavior, I work from very real principles and research-based science. That is why you connected with what we discussed on the phone. Just ‘normal’ psychologist stuff, as you say.
“At the same time, although I am not particularly ‘religious,’ to use your term, I am a person of faith. I have come to believe that all of science and research strongly validate what my faith tradition teaches. So sometimes I have an opportunity to speak, write, and work in contexts where I talk about faith too. So I am not surprised that you ran across some of that material. Don’t get scared,” I said, still a bit amused at it all.
“Well, you said your expression of faith sometimes causes issues. What might those be?” he asked.
“The look on your face when I walked in!” I said. “I have seen that look before.”
“What look?” he asked.
“You summed it up when you said, ” I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.”
“Because I also write about faith and how it affects our lives, sometimes people associate me with weirdos they have met from religious groups, and I have to work to convince them that real faith is not weird at all. So sometimes I have to overcome an extra step–guilt by association with the kooks. It’s just that I see and experience great compatibility with spiritual wisdom and scientific knowledge, and for me, they validate each other over and over. I see no conflict.”
“Okay, that makes sense . . . I think,” he said. “You didn’t sound crazy when we talked, but I just wondered. It scared me.”
“Well, I am a bit crazy in my own ways, as my family and friends will tell you, but nothing that requires institutionalization,” I said. “Just garden-variety dysfunction.”
He laughed, relaxed a bit, and we moved on to talk about the project he wanted to do.
So, what does that encounter have to do with the book?
This television executive was afraid that I might be too “religious” for him. And in my experience, many people have this same fear about matters of faith. Anything that sounds too spiritual makes people wary, and they immediately turn off. I do not want that to happen with this book, so I wanted to start with a few words about where I am coming from. [At this point Dr. Cloud explains the foundation of his book. He then goes on to explain the following to the readers of his book:]
If you have had some bad experiences with people from the faith world or with spiritual language, please reserve judgment and take a fresh look with me. Take the spiritual writings I share, the Bible verses, at face value; please don’t view them through the lenses of the kooks you have known or seen on TV. Believe me, I am with you and have the same negative reaction to those people myself.
But I have learned not to let the crazies ruin faith for me, and I would like for you to engage with me in this book to take a fresh look. Faith and spirituality might be very different in reality than may have been expressed to you in some sad distortions. So if you would, take a real look at the spiritual principles I share. Try to see their great, great wisdom, which I believe shows that Someone truly did design it all and wants us to know him and know more about how life works than we can discover on our own.
God and faith are not weird. My own relationship with the very real, living God and the realization that his ways are true is what saved my life back when I was really suffering. And ever since then, he has sustained me, grown me, and led me into a life I never thought I could have.
My prayer is that this book, in addition to sharing some great life principles, will also give you a fresh look at God, and I thank you for the opportunity to share it. (Quote source: “Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, pp. xii-xviii).
For a small taste of what Dr. Cloud’s book is about, the ten items mentioned in the title of the book are available in an article by Dr. Cloud titled, “10 Things Successful People Never Do Again,” published June 24, 2014 on Success.com. While this blog post is not about his book per se, (and, by the way, I’m really looking forward to reading it as I just purchased it yesterday–it can be ordered at Amazon.com at this link), the preface he wrote could not have been a better example of the assumptions we often make about others that turn out to be so erroneous. And that is the topic of this blog post.
If you are like I was as I read the preface to Dr. Cloud’s book, I nodded in agreement and laughed along with him at the misconceptions people automatically assume about “people of faith.” And, of course, a lot of that comes from the things that Dr. Cloud points out in his preface.
As I think about my blog and the explanation I gave when I started it back in 2011 on my blog’s home page, I sometimes think the readers who don’t know me might assume the same thing about me that the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud. In reality, while I do believe everything I write on my blog post, my blog is specific to that particular topic, and none of us are one-dimensional. Also, I do not consider myself to be “religious” either, but rather, as Dr. Cloud stated about himself, “a person of faith.” The term “religious,” especially here in America, can conjure up all kinds of weird stuff to those who are not particularly faith-based or “religious,” just like the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud.
My faith originated with my mother when I was a very young child, and I wrote about my mother in a blog post titled, “Incomparable,” on July 25, 2012. However, my educational background and degrees comes from secular colleges and universities. And for most of my professional career and working life I worked at secular colleges and universities. I didn’t talk about my faith or my beliefs in the work setting (except when I worked at a Christian university for several years where faith-based conversations were common). As a person of faith coming from a Christian worldview, I have never felt that verbally expressing my faith in a secular workplace while performing a job for my employer was the proper place for faith-based discussions unless someone specifically asked me about my beliefs. This is not dissimilar to the first phone conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive where the subject of faith was never a part of that first discussion. In fact, it was not until the television producer Googled Dr. Cloud’s name after talking with him that he discovered that he was, as the television executive described him, “religious,” which had a chilling effect initially during their second “in-person” conversation.
There is a time and a place for faith based conversation, and being sensitive to that timing is important. While I didn’t discuss faith issues during working hours, that is not to say that over the lunch table or any social setting with work colleagues that the topic might not come up, especially with other Christian work colleagues. However, my policy in the secular workplace has always been to not discuss religion (or politics) with other staff or the students I advised in college settings unless the topic was first brought up by them, and even then I believed in treading lightly.
There is an excellent question and answer discussion on Forbes.com regarding this very topic in an article titled, “How To Talk About Religion At Work,” by Liz Ryan, a former HR professional who now writes for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com, and leads the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. The situation in that article occurred when an HR manager had to get involved when one of their supervisors told an employee to stop ‘hassling’ another employee who felt awkward about saying “Please stop inviting me to your church — I don’t want to go.” She stated that everybody involved was feeling bruised and now she had to address the situation.
Ms. Ryan stated to the HR manager, “In the best case, we can empower our employees to speak for themselves rather than relying on HR to do that for them. It’s not that hard to say ‘Thanks so much, but I’m good—I don’t want to be saved and I don’t want to go to your church.’ You’re not going to write a policy, but you need a way to communicate with your employees how the company feels about work and religion.” She continued by stating, “You have an obligation to make a reasonable effort to accommodate your team members’ faith traditions in the workplace. That accommodation doesn’t mean that your employees have the right to push their religious views on their teammates.” (Quote source here.)
Back to the issue of making assumptions, there are plenty of Christian stereotypes in our culture, and what the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud is not an atypical response. In an article titled, “How Valid Are Christian Stereotypes?“ by Dargan Thompson, a former RELEVANT editor turned freelancer, published October 15, 2013 in RELEVANT Magazine, she tackles five of the most common stereotypes. These five stereotypes are (1) Christians are Republicans; (2) Christianity is mainly an American thing; (3) Christians think they are better than anyone else/are hypocritical; (4) Christians don’t care about science; and (5) Christians have the same divorce rate and those outside of the Church. Ms. Thompson states some facts for each of these stereotypes in her article, and she ends the article with the following statement:
Just like with any group, stereotypes of Christians often exist for a reason, and while we as individuals may not be able to change perceptions of the whole, we can certainly seek to live a life that defies stereotypes—a life given wholly to a God who defies every stereotype. (Quote source here.)
Assumptions (and stereotypes) are easy to make and hard to get rid of when we make assumptions about others we don’t really know, or even when making assumptions about those we do know. And Christians are just as capable of making false assumptions about other Christians that can often be more damaging than the false assumptions made by folks who don’t consider themselves to be Christian or who aren’t particularly “religious.” It is one of those unfortunate dilemmas that has always been around. Some have even tagged it in Christian circles as “shooting our wounded.” For a concise explanation of that phrase, an article titled, “Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded,” by Randy Elrod is available at this link.
The lesson for all of us is simple but very difficult to do. It is to stop making assumptions and stereotyping others. Instead, if the opportunity presents itself, ask the person we are making an assumption about what they believe, just like what happened in the conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive. We too often assume too much, and talk too little or not at all to the person to whom we are making the assumptions about. And I’m as guilty of doing that as anyone else is, too . . . .
So, let’s remember to ask when we can . . .
And not assume when we can’t ask . . .
And instead speak life . . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac: