A year or two ago, I had to attend a three day meeting led by a person I had known for many years, but never particularly liked. This person has notable skills, but unfortunately, I usually found myself having to engage with his weaknesses.
The person who summoned me to the meeting knew I was somewhat ambivalent about the session leader, and after two days said, ‘what do you think about X? Is it better than you’d hoped?’
In fact it had been, but not for the reasons my interlocutor was hoping. I said, ‘Yes. Sometimes familiarity matters more than liking’. — and heard the gasp of disbelief as my questioner recoiled from what he heard as rudeness.
The thing is, I meant it; and I wasn’t intending to be cruel. I don’t suppose I will ever really like the person in question, nor have the sort of respect for his abilities that some do. But I’ve known him half my life now, and it was good to see him.
Sometimes, though, those old animosities do fade away.
When I was doing my theology degree, I went to a church known for its breadth. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that ‘breadth’ is a nice way of saying that some of us didn’t much like or understand each other, and tolerated each other only for the sake of the community.
One of the people I ‘put up with’ was a woman about my own age who worked with the youth group. She and I came from opposite ends of the church. We got off to a bad start when I offered to help with a youth event (having come from two years of school chaplaincy), and she decided that I could pour the tea. The kids I liked were scared of her. The kids who loved her scared me. So, we co-existed for several years. There was never any conflict, but neither was there friendship or understanding. We were like two wary cats, forced to share the same garden when both were used to having their own patch.
But there she was at the youth camp last week, and I was genuinely glad to see her. More to the point — I was impressed that she was there. The SEC is not always as broad as it pretends to be, and she is right at the edge of what the church can hold. One might have forgiven her for seeking a church where she wouldn’t have to work so hard at being valued.
Now, I suspect she and I would still disagree over lots of things. But for the first time, I noticed how similar some of our reactions were. We were able to laugh together and encourage each other. And even when we talked about the things that might divide us, there was a mutual agreement that we wanted to the church to be big enough for both of us.
But I wonder: if we had stayed in the community where we first met, continually circling each other like cats, would I have ever noticed that we might get on? … that she’s quite impressive, really… that both of us had changed?