The Overlooked

All names have been changed to protect the identities of those herein.

It was always an odd time for me: when summer nears its end, and the impending school year was to start anew.  Looking back, I can see that my affinity for office supplies (and the smell of the stores) has been a part of me for a long time, because I always had a ping of excitement when my mom would take me shopping for new school supplies for the new grade.  Then there were the few new items of clothing that I’d get, and that was cool, too.  And the last sign that the beloved days of lazing around, probably annoying the mess out of my parents, and little to no scheduled anything were over: school open house.  I suppose open house was always bittersweet for me.  Summer was ending, and something new was starting.  It was exciting, kinda.

I remember going to open house for 3rd grade.  I think that might have been a special year because my teacher had actually been my brother’s 5th grade teacher a few years prior.  Her name was Mrs. Blake.  From what my brother said, she was cool.  She had a good relationship with the kids, joked around with them, liked The Simpsons…cool.

Her classroom was walled off by these bizarre partitions that looked like they could’ve come down with enough force, and the door was extra big, with a slot machine-like arm for a handle.  I walked up to the door and pulled down the handle and opened it into the classroom.

I saw Elizabeth at about the same time she gasped and said “TERENCE!”  Smiling, she ran over to me and greeted me with a hug.  My 3rd grade self felt both a little awkward and flattered.  I can’t quite remember exactly where my history with her began – it was obviously prior to this event – but this moment stands out as a marker in my relationship with her.  So we were in the same class in 3rd grade.

Later in life, when I became old enough to put two and two together, I figured out (not with complete assuredness) that Elizabeth and I weren’t in the same class by chance.  I’ll never know if others were placed there specifically as well, though it wouldn’t surprise me, but she was the only child in our class – our school, I think – with Down’s Syndrome, and I had befriended her previously.  And I would become her ally.

[Pause: It’s important to note that there were others who certainly could’ve found themselves in my class under the same circumstances.  I had somehow built a reputation in my elementary school; I was smart, accomplished, and well-behaved.  I guess I was a teacher’s pet, but I know I was well-known by staff and well-liked.  I know this is horribly boastful, and I really don’t mean to brag, but there’s no reason to sugar coat.  I think my reputation might’ve had something to do with why we were placed in the same class.  That is absolutely not to say that Elizabeth was lowly and I was there to rescue or protect her – I was not her savior, but maybe she needed a support system.  Lastly, I don’t wear my elementary school amazingness like a crown of laurels.  That was 20+ years ago.  My amazingness these days measures around “poor to average” on the amazingness scale at best.]

 

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…”  Proverbs 31:8a

I’m not sure why I had a soft spot for her.  Kids can be cruel, too cruel, and I suppose I took great issue with people mistreating her because of a genetic disorder.  How unfair.  We sat next to each other for a good part of the school year, if not all of it.  I can remember how she would play with her pencils, tapping them across her desk on their erasers.  One time I tried to join her.  I hadn’t the slightest idea of what exactly she was doing, but I thought I’d give it a shot.  WHAM!  It took a half of a second before she swatted my hand away.  Apparently I was way off in my interpretation of the pencil-dancing.  It still makes me chuckle.

I can remember how she liked cowgirls, or at least I think she did due to the gusto with which she would say “RIDE ‘EM COWGIRL!” as she galloped around the room.  It made us all laugh.  I’m pretty sure most of the kids were laughing at her expense, and to be honest I think I did, too, the first one or two times I saw her do it.  Eventually I laughed with her.  How couldn’t I, feeling such joy coming from her?

Perhaps what I remember most was a sad moment during PE class one day.  The challenge of the day was to run towards the two posts with a jump rope stretched between them and jump over the rope.  There were only two posts and one jump rope, so that meant that each of us gave it a go by ourselves with everyone watching.  One by one we went, cleared the rope, then sat down in the grass to watch everyone else.  We were getting down to the end of the line, and Elizabeth was up next.  Off she went running, then she jumped, and down she went.  She pancaked face first into the mat.  Can you imagine the sound of roaring laughter from a class full of 3rd graders?  That’s what it sounded like.  But it wasn’t funny.  It wasn’t funny at all.  During the uproar I remember shouting “At least she tried, y’all!!!”  And again, “AT LEAST SHE TRIED!”  Thankfully my voice was heard by the teacher, who thanked me then addressed the class in the same manner.  I remember seeing her pick herself up and walk back to sit with the rest of us.  I wish I had been old enough to think to walk over to her to help somehow, or at least offer…or even just walk with her.  My heart still hurts when I replay that defining moment of my childhood.

Eventually middle school came, and Elizabeth wasn’t there, or at least I don’t remember seeing her there.  I’m not sure if she stayed behind in elementary school or if she went to a different school for 6th grade.  I still thought of her, though, and to this day she still holds a place in my heart.  I think she went to my high school, but it had been so long since I had seen her that I wasn’t completely sure if it was her or not.  I think I said “Hi, Elizabeth” to her once, but she must not have recognized or remembered me, if it was even her to begin with.

But middle school had it’s own memorable moments that bore similarity to the ones with Elizabeth.  Middle school is hell for almost everyone in some way or another.  If you aren’t part of the elite that seem to separate themselves and become elite for no tangible reason, you’re going to have some problems at some point.  I know I did.  I was obviously picked on in elementary school because of dance, but when boys start becoming “men” (in quotations because a lot of them still haven’t earned that title in the past 18 years) in middle school, differences are magnified and far less accepted.  Not to mention, I made the unfortunate choice to have longer hair when I started middle school.  Why on earth I thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know.  I guess I was naive still, and saw people as mostly good, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.  It shouldn’t have been.

 

“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 82:4

At some point in the 6th grade, I started hearing about a boy who was supposedly a big loser.  Sickeningly enough, I found solace in that.  Somebody was actually more despised than I was, and he made them forget about me for a minute.  If I remember correctly, he was a “baby”.  “John Glass is such a baby.”  I had no idea who he was as he had come from a different elementary school than mine.  It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

One day we were spilling out of the gym after an assembly.  I don’t know why hundreds of 6th graders were allowed to rush the halls like a herd of buffalo, but we weren’t in any sort of lines.  I remember the crowd turned down a certain hallway near the cafeteria, and I heard a bunch of commotion, shouting, and loud laughter.  In my memory this whole occasion is a flash, but I think I remember seeing teachers trying to pull kids away and push through the crowd, and I couldn’t see why.  Then before I knew it, there he was.  John was at my feet, crying in the fetal position, face red, eyes squeezed shut, and tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stopped dead in my tracks.  My jaw hit the floor.  I felt the crowd sweep past me on either side as I bore against the force of people who kept coming behind me.  It was like when a wave crashes on your back, or when you stand at the shore while the undertow pulls at your feet.  I felt like I stood there for an eternity, but it must’ve only been a few seconds, because I eventually walked past him as the crowd was coming to an end and the teachers managed to get to him.  I kept looking back at him and seeing myself.  There he was, on the ground, crying out for it all to stop.  I can’t really bear to think of what might’ve happen to him as he was there, defenseless on the ground while hundreds of kids surrounded him.

I never actually met him, but I tried to defend John after that incident when I had the opportunity.  Sure, I had once taken delight that I wasn’t alone down at the bottom, but even then I couldn’t just let people continue to trash him.  I’m not sure what happened to him, either, other than the few times I saw him in high school.  He seemed to be hard and shut off from the world.  Why wouldn’t he be?  When you’re forced to a place of such vulnerability – humility – it’s no wonder that walls go up.  Who knows how high or wide or strong his were…or probably still are.

 

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  Hebrews 13:16

Fast forward to about 5 years ago.  (I don’t mean to skip my high school and early 20s years, as I’m sure those years held enough lessons to be learned and pivotal moments.  If I’m being totally honest, I might’ve turned a little more selfish then in order to re-establish myself as somebody important, as well as focus on my career.  The lessons I learned during those times are different from the ones that came from the first two situations I’ve mentioned.)  If I remember correctly, 2010 was a pretty cold winter for us.  I remember one particular January morning walking outside to my car in 18 degree weather.  As a North Carolinian, these kinds of temperatures don’t work for me.  It is beyond frigid, and borders on unbearable.  I went to the gym anyway.

On my way back, I saw someone on the side of the road, begging.  It was 18 degrees outside, and he was standing there in a sweatshirt.  A sweatshirt.  His sleeves were pulled over his hands, clenched in his fists, and the drawstring in his hood was pulled tightly around his face.  Thankfully, the gym, Target, and the apartment I lived in at the time were all within 5 minutes of each other.  I made a quick decision to take a detour to Target to pick up a few things to help this guy in even the smallest way.  I got some granola bars, and made my way over to the outerwear section to get some gloves and a hat.  As I was trying to make an educated guess on what size gloves I should buy, I felt myself getting choked up, so I moved over to the underwear aisle to hide my mini breakdown.  Here I was, using my money to buy something to help make somebody more comfortable as he stood in the freezing cold, asking for help.  I didn’t really think what I was going to give him could do much help, and even if I shouldn’t have, in that moment I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for having the luxury to walk into a store and spend money on something (that I wouldn’t even use), then return to my warm home.

Thankfully he was still there when I returned to give him the bag of stuff I had gotten.  I stopped at the light at the intersection he was standing near.  By the time he walked over to me, the light was turning green, so I quickly rolled down my window to hand him the bag, so I wasn’t able to have any sort of conversation with him.  I quickly rolled the window back up, shutting out the obnoxious cold, and drove away.  I hadn’t gotten very far through the intersection when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that he already had the hat on and was putting on the gloves.  It really was so bitterly cold.

 

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2

Every now and then, one of these three moments runs through my head, and I’m sure they will for the rest of my life.  It seems as if there is a definite reason why I can’t escape the memory of these; why I’m immediately taken back to how I felt as I experienced them.  Those are feelings that I can’t shake.  They are ingrained in me.  But how can these three all be connected?  Obviously the first two can be easily linked together, but the third?

The truth is, I wasn’t completely sure until I was well into writing this.  After re-living these moments from years passed, shedding tears for the downtrodden, and for the times that I was the same, I got it.

In order to help those in need, we have to become like them.

No, I can’t literally become somebody with Down’s Syndrome, I most likely won’t ever be in a situation where I’m on the floor while surrounded by a taunting mass of people who don’t like me, and at this point in life (hopefully never) I can’t be without what I have and beg on the street.

But I CAN gain try to gain understanding, empathize, and sacrifice.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to understand Elizabeth.  I tried to get into her world and play with my pencils like I would have several years earlier in my life.  At an age where imagination begins to fade away, I could join her in the exhilaration of riding a pretend horse.  When things came easily to me, I could see and appreciate the full-hearted effort she put into trying to jump over the jumprope.  Thankfully I get that now, so hopefully in the future I can bring myself back to that place so I can be giving of myself to somebody I don’t quite get.  Or that maybe my first reaction to somebody who is a mystery or makes me uncomfortable is one of acceptance instead of shunning.  I pray for that.

I’ve never been even close to being at risk of being trampled or kicked by a group of people, or at least not physically, anyway.  But I felt what John was feeling on the floor that day.  My heart broke for him, and felt real empathy for the first time in my life.  Empathy is what drove me to defend him, even when I was viewed as the same as him.  Given my position in life at that point, I wouldn’t have naturally spoken up on his behalf, but for the same reason, I did speak up, because even if I was someone who was shunned, John needed somebody to support him.

When I gave the beggar those few items, I only felt the smallest amount of sacrifice.  I was out $20.  I have no idea what it’s like to be without to a degree that would put me on the side of the street and hope that somebody would look upon me kindly, but isn’t the first step to making a difference in the life of someone who is, a small step towards sacrificing something?

Becoming like the ones who are in need, the overlooked, is to take their yoke upon ourselves.  We ought to be bearing their burdens.  Sure, we could write a check to our favorite charity or smile at strangers, but to make a difference in someone’s life, don’t we have to walk with them?  Share in their journey somehow?  Connect ourselves to them in a real way?  It might mean an uncomfortable conversation, acting in opposition to our reputation, or bringing ourselves to a place of humility, but we have to.  We have to identify with the overlooked lest we become the overlooked.

 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

As a Christian, shouldn’t the gospel compel me to act in this way?  Christ, who knew no sin, became sin so that I could be His righteousness.  Christ became what I was in order to bring me righteousness.  His perfect act of becoming is the perfect display of understanding, empathizing, and sacrificing.  Can’t it be that those who are forgotten or overlooked are brought to a higher place in a similar way to how Christ has made me His righteousness through His sacrifice?

Modeling this behavior is difficult, and God help me, definitely something I need to work on.  It is the ultimate act of love; one which contains immeasurable power.  It’s an act that can reach much farther than the three examples I have mentioned.  Perhaps you are already doing it and don’t realize it, so keep an eye out.  Just what would happen if we all became servants to those who are “beneath” us?  It’s  a concept that seems counterintuitive, right?  But just as we should have a desire to deeply affect the lives of the overlooked, that same generosity will probably be given to us.  And I think Somebody already has.

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Journey to Authenticity – Pt. 1

Guys, if you tire of reading about the same dang thing, let me know and I’ll stop.

By now we all know that about five and a half years ago I made a huge life change.  I left a career path that had been in my bones until about a year before I decided to abandon it.  My wife and I moved to a different part of the state, she started a new job, and I went boldly into the unknown.  With the fresh start I had, I set out on a journey towards authenticity.  As I take account of the last 5 years (Jason Robert Brown, anyone?), I’m beginning to be able to name all of the things that I’ve felt for a while that had been innominate.  It’s interesting, really, because all of this is basically happening in retrospect.  I guess hindsight really is 20/20.

I’ve learned that I’m somewhat introverted (and I don’t mean that in the “It’s cool and different and trendy to be introverted” thing that’s been happening lately.  And I don’t possess ALL the qualities of an introvert; just a few, and at varying degrees.)  I’ve attained the ability to identify my emotions (which is weird, sometimes).  My mind almost always goes too deep for normal conversation, and most of what I think is veiled when spoken…mainly because the thought of explaining myself is too exhausting to even take a stab at it.  My eyes have been opened to how human we all really are.  I’ve seen how selfless I am capable of being, and that even when it shows sometimes in my actions, my heart still has a long way to go.  I’m still learning to be satisfied, to aspire to greatness, but moreover, to keep sight of reality.  I’m realizing how important the things that I delight in actually are in my life, even if they’ve caused me great angst and pain in the past.  But probably most of all, my confidence in being who I am is ever increasing.

I realize that the preceding paragraph might have sounded entirely boastful.  I hope that’s not what you take away from it – be sure that the lessons that I’ve learned during these past 5 years typically came from a place of being humbled in some sort of way.  I considered adding “pride swallowing” to the list above, but that’ll be a lifelong battle, and the fight against that nasty beast is a constant struggle for me.

There are three things that seem to stick out in my head as avenues by which I came to these beginning phases of authenticity.  My goal in sharing these things with you is to hopefully inspire you to turn inward and get a better grip at what actually happens on your insides.  I still think that if we were all completely authentic, the world would actually be a better place.  I’m finding that true authenticity is a journey that will last a long time, and quite the difficult one at that.  In the very least, maybe something I say will resonate with you that may challenge how you think, or allow you to see somebody in a different light.  Or maybe none of that, and if you read the rest of this, I think you’re awesome.

Consider this part 1 of a 3 part series.

 

I’m an anomaly.

An anomaly is something that deviates from what is standard or expected.

I don’t know, guys, what is actually expected of me?  Just because something is standard, is that what our expectations are?  I don’t know.  All I know is, for my entire life there has seemed to be a standard to meet as a man, and for most of my life I haven’t met it.  As it turns out, I was never actually “less than,” and “not meeting the standard” doesn’t mean I fell short.  I’m just different, I guess.

I mean, I’m a ballet dancer.  I know I know, you all know that bla bla bla, shut your mouth, Terence, we get it – but let that sink in your brain a little bit.  I would imagine that some of you might find it quite odd, even though I keep beating you over the head with it.  And I know this because that perception makes up a vast majority of the response I have gotten to my art form for basically my entire life.  It’s not normal.  The art form itself is not normal (even though it ranks right up there with singing/using your voice – we are all given the tools to dance, so it seems quite primitive to me) – you’ve got girls and guys dancing around in tights, the girls standing (and turning and moving) in deathboxes of shoes on the tip of their big toe, guys carrying girls over their heads (sometimes with one arm), girls with their legs up by their ears, guys soaring through the air – sometimes with a 720° added to it – THIS IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR.  Even less normal, speaking in terms of the dance world, are male dancers.  Women are a dime a dozen, and it would seem that men are somewhat of a precious commodity.  Even still, in our culture, being a male dancer is an EXTREME deviation from what is normal or expected.

This bleeds into other areas of my life.  Music, TV, fashion, hobbies, interests, social life, relationships, jobs, and on and on.  Even though I like Mario Kart from time to time, you’re not gonna find me “hangin’ with my buddies playin’ video games” or “catchin’ the football game.”  Is that how you say it?  Catchin’?  Speaking of which, I don’t even know how to speak “typical male.”  Do I call you guys “bro” or “man” or “buddy”?  “Sport”?  Forgive me if I don’t address you specifically beyond a “hey” next time I see you.  I don’t wind down with a beer, I don’t have a desire to play 9 holes (nor could I, really), and don’t ever, EVER, ask me to play basketball.  I’m tall, yes, and mega coordinated, but I’m gonna save myself the embarrassment and just stay away from that whole thing altogether.  (Unless my son wants to play basketball, in which case I will absolutely take necessary interest in it and go to as many games as I possibly can.)

I know it sounds like I’m bashing all these things.  I’m not, and truly speaking in jest.  While these things don’t reflect much of my personality, I don’t think they are bad in any way.  Actually, I think it’s kinda cool that there are certain characteristics that mark the male gender as a whole.  For example, when I look at the sports that most guys take great interest in, what I really see is passion that is almost unrivaled.  I see it in the players, the coaches, and the fans.  I can identify with that.  I also see a great sense of community.  Sports have a way of drawing people together (men and women, and men and men) in a world where most everything else divides.  I can identify with that, too.  Obviously, this passion can be taken WAY too far and crossover into something stupid and nauseating, but I love that it exists.

I’ve known these things about myself for a long time, but being able to have peace about my anomalistic nature has been a struggle.  Imagine if the things that you love, that feel most natural to you, were under constant scrutiny.  Imagine if that scrutiny made you feel separate from the rest of the world.  Imagine if the constant destruction of the things you hold dear, that you take great delight in, that you pour your heart into, were used to make you feel not good enough, sub par, not worthy, less than, vapid, and of little value.  The hardest fight I had was in middle school.  So much changes in our young lives during those years, and I had to fight for my own legitimacy at 13 years old all by myself.  My family was most definitely supportive, but during those years the opinion of your peers is more important, even if it shouldn’t be.  Still, there is some importance to feeling like you have a specific role in the community around you.  I am still not sure I ever did back then.  I wonder if that season of life cemented who I was to become.  Most directions I turned were dead ends and I was only left to turn inward – to my own heart, my own brain, my own emotions…to this day I am incredibly independent and internal.

It’s interesting, though.  The things that make me an anomaly are the very things that were despised about me; the things that made me retreat.  Yet those exact things are what should’ve been turned outward, shared, and appreciated.  Right?  Forget all that, I was rarely even respected for them.  Somehow when I was open with myself, I must’ve been “gay” or “girly” or “weak.”  Nope.  The things we love don’t actually define us.  This isn’t a “gay or straight” issue, but as an example, there are gay and straight male ballet dancers.  “Male ballet dancer” isn’t enough to draw any concrete conclusions about a person’s identity, and I certainly felt that being labeled because of it (or anything else I’m interested in) was unjust.  And you might, too.

Side note: I have realized that I am probably more tender, soft, and emotional that a lot of men.  I’ve also realized that this actually serves to highlight my masculinity.  Thanks, wife, for changing my mindset about that.

Look, y’all.  There is a perceived standard for a reason, and it’s because most people fit it – and it isn’t bad in ANY WAY.  However, I know that EVERYONE has something kept in the corners of their mind, the darkest chambers of their heart, that makes them deviate.  And that is AWESOME.  It’s time to bring those to the surface.  You know that thing I’m talking about.  The thing that, when you think about exposing it, makes you feel that slight tug of fear.  The thing that, when you are full engrossed in it, YOU COME ALIVE.  You don’t have anything to lose, really.  And as I am finding, as you grow in the peace that comes from accepting that this thing MAKES YOU “YOU,” you’ll find authenticity in so many aspects of your life it’ll make your head spin.

Then we’ll be a world full of anomalies.  (I know, then we wouldn’t actually be anomalies since that would be what is standard.  Just go with it.)

I hope that made sense, guys.

And I promise I tried to remove any tone of self-absorption or pompousness, so if any of it remained, please excuse.  This is my diary out loud.  Isn’t that a song lyric?

My poor brain is gonna explode one day.  I just know it.

 

it’s time to stop this train

he didn’t say it to my face.

“he’s queer as a football bat.”

i remember feeling like my skin was turning clear, exposing all of the places deep inside me that this most recent dose of venom sunk into.  i sat a few seats ahead of him in algebra class and was used to his daggers, but this one was particularly painful.  i’ll never know if i was able to maintain my composure in that moment.  at that point, i was very familiar with how difficult it was to keep cool and pretend that the sting i felt wasn’t visible to everyone around me, but i’m not sure if i was ever proficient in my ability to appear unfazed.  i’m fairly certain that my teacher heard the comment, probably because he managed to say it in a split-second moment of silence, and she managed to come to my defense without further embarrassing me.  while i’m thankful for her stepping in, looking back i don’t feel as if her normal teacher discipline was enough for such a hateful remark – even if i was grateful for someone coming to my defense at the time.

this is the same guy who called me “faggy” every time i happened to be in his presence, and probably not surprisingly, never to my face.  you’d think that in a relatively large high school with several thousand students, my path wouldn’t have to cross with his more than once each day.  no such luck, of course.  i can remember everyday walking towards him on the way to what was probably one of my last classes of the day.  i’m not sure if i was dejected or exhausted enough to not pay any attention to him, or if i was just so angry that i literally couldn’t look at him.  either way, i stared straight ahead, as if he didn’t exist, waiting to hear that 5 letter word, knowing full well it was coming.  “faggy” this, “faggy” that…i can’t even tell you anything specific he said, probably because it was all nonsense used for the purpose of calling me “faggy.”  regardless, it was never as i was looking at him.  always beside, far off, or behind.  i wish i had had the guts to square up to him and demand him to say it to me.  to say it TO me.  i think i was too fragile at that point, even as a sophomore in high school, from enduring the years from middle school until that point of being talked AT.  not to mention, he was a senior.  that would have worked against me.

naturally, i have no clue what exactly he had against me.  i had never spoken to him before he narrowed his sights on me.  did he know i “did ballet”?  big deal, by the way.  was it because i didn’t have the typical persona that high school boys think they need to have in order to be relevant?  was it because i didn’t have a problem being myself in front of people who accepted me?  is it because i was willing, at times, to bare my soul a little bit?  do i even do that anymore?  i can’t even remember if i was someone who wore his heart on his sleeve because i was too busy guarding it.  or trying to, anyways.

still, for the purpose of what i’m trying to convey, that’s not the point.

i’m worried about us.  more specifically, i’m worried about the way we address each other.  more specifically still, i’m worried about the way we address each other on facebook.  i feel dumb for even typing that sentence, but i think most would agree that it’s becoming a huge problem.

i decided about 4 years ago to consciously change the way i use facebook.  i had become too arrogant in my opinions and as it was pointed out to me, quite negative.  even now, if i look back on my timeline to that time, i seem like someone who spent his life annoyed and cynical.  it’s certainly not something i’m proud of.  even worse, my willingness to be openly negative and annoyed spilled over into what i said to people in the trusty ‘comments’ section.  yes, even as a victim of verbal attacks, i dished it out (even to the point of delight at times, admittedly) from behind the protection of my computer screen.  hopefully i’ve improved in these areas.

over the past several years (and since trying to change myself as i pertain to and use facebook), i’ve noticed that facebook as a whole has been becoming increasingly vitriolic, probably at the same rate that facebook has been becoming increasingly more of a platform for many things.  this medium of social connection has now become an arena of self-bolstering for our quest to be superior in knowledge and right in opinion.

here’s why i’m worried: because we have turned facebook into a medium for our self-centerdness, we have turned ourselves into the guy that sat behind me in algebra class.

i challenge you to take a scroll through your facebook news feed and find an opinion based post.  we all have those friends who relentlessly stir the pot, so finding something like this shouldn’t be difficult.  once you find it, read the 37 comments.  it won’t be long before you find someone insulting someone else or a group of people.  some of the things people are willing to say to and about someone that they may or may not know actually blow my mind.  i’ve seen, and some sense been victim to, some pretty awful attacks.  i almost don’t feel as if i need to explain what happens, because you’ve all seen it, but the comments section gets out of control because somebody gets mad, then makes someone else mad, then someone else, and still someone else, and before you know it, everybody is mad and trying to outdo each other.  the once debate is now an argument, and the subject matter is now far from that of the original post.  i’ve seen it most when it deals with politics, religion, sports, or the mommy wars.  i’m starting to wonder if some people actually thrive off of these kinds of arguments, which is an entirely different problem.

the more i would read these arguments with waxing frustration, the more i realized that i would ask myself repeatedly “would he/she say this to his/her face?”  because of the nature of facebook commenting, people are indulging in the luxury of being able to take a good amount of time to formulate the best possible argument they can, to make it sound perfect and infallible, all while adding the perfect amount of insult and sarcasm.  they are literally taking time to write the perfect putdown, knowing full well they won’t have to deal with actually saying it TO someone.  i can hardly think of any greater cowardice.  what if these arguments WERE face to face?  would we be fine with saying the exact same things that we so easily say on facebook to the face of the person we are saying them to?  sadly, i’m not always sure the answer is ‘no.’  think about it…it’s way easier to let your fingers loose to just type away as they please than it is to say something from a few desks behind someone in math class, right?  this is getting scary.

the problem is that we are getting so comfortable saying whatever comes to mind on facebook, that it won’t be long before this keyboard confidence spills over into daily life, and we’re ignoring the respect we should have for each other, social cues, tension, or accountability.  we’re going to be ok with openly and freely insulting, tearing down, and attacking someone to their face…more ok.  probably the most painful thing about the insults that i got hit with from the kid from high school was that he must’ve known how hurtful the things he said to me were.  so hurtful that he couldn’t bring himself to say it directly to me and hold himself accountable.  he knew what he was saying was hurtful but said it anyways.  and safely from a distance.  we’re doing the same thing on facebook.

facebook isn’t all bad.  i have no problem with well thought out, respectful opinions and/or debates, and sometimes people truly feel they are shedding light on some things/opinions that may be misunderstood.  this is not in and of itself bad.  but facebook has given voice to the voiceless, and has given most of us an audience bigger than we have had or will have access to, so we need to remember that with great power comes great responsibility.  those aren’t just names and avatars you’re seeing, they’re people.  people with real feelings and struggles.  people who are sensitive, people who hurt, people who feel. and they can hear you, whether virtually or physically.  be careful with them.  know when to speak and not…you don’t have to say something about everything.  it’s a great skill to hold your tongue and be wise about weighing in.  holding our tongues doesn’t make us wrong or defeated, it actually breaks the cycle.  “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  (prov 10:19)

i’m not sure if i even brought my point home here.  basically, next time you start to get “turnt up” by somebody on facebook, picture yourself sitting with them over coffee before you respond.  it’s time to stop this train.

$6.06

do you ever get annoyed with the issue of giving to beggars?  it should be a lot easier than it is.  really.  why should i ever have to calculate in my head if/what/how much i should give?  should i ever have to try to dig into why somebody is asking me for the $.24 they need to catch the bus to the other side of town?  should i then question why they are sitting at starbucks with clean clothes and sunglasses that look brand new?  or how they got to starbucks in the first place?  or how many bus trips they have taken in the past few days to get to wherever they are going?  or why they need to be taking so many bus trips, because clearly if they didn’t, they wouldn’t need to be asking for money?  i shouldn’t be asking these questions.  period.

let me tell you a little story.

last night after work, i had to stop to get gas before going home (because there are basically ZERO gas stations within a few mile radius of my neighborhood…SERIOUSLY.  help a brother out.  the other day i happened to be on “e” and i could either drive 7 minutes to get gas, or 10 minutes to get gas at the station next door to work.  there is something wrong with this.  i get it, cary, nc, you want to stay pretty and everything, which i totally appreciate, but a dang gas station remotely close to where i live would be nice.  i mean, not that i feel that somebody should spend tons of money just because i sometimes forget to use my brain and make sure i have adequate gas in the tank, God forbid there is an emergency, but for the rest of the huge community i live in.  it would be quite a successful business venture.  maybe i’ll be an investor).  as i was pumping le gas, i hear the dreaded “sir…sir?  sir!”  (ugh, reminds me of the time when i was in detroit for a summer dance intensive.  this particular instance occurred at yet another gas station.  we had stopped to fill up and get snacks and i happened to be the last one back to the van.  my chaperones and peers thought it would be just hilarious to lock me out to deal with the homeless person that was approaching.  [detroit is obviously known for the amount of homeless people there].  i started frantically yanking the door handle and giving what i found out years later to be my “parent face” to the hysterically laughing people in the van, hoping they would unlock the door.  in the middle of my rant, i heard those same words: “sir…sir?  sir!”  and they were getting closer and closer, so of course, to unintentionally make it more awkward than it already was, i waited until she was almost at my back, then turned around and said “hiiiiiii.”  a scene straight out of a movie).  once i realized this guy was talking to me, i turned and looked at him as he dove into his shpiel.  i couldn’t understand most of it because he was talking at 90 mpm (miles per minute), but what i got from the whole thing was that he is from greensboro, just dropped somebody off at the airport, and his 2.5 months pregnant wife left their debit card somewhere.  whether she left it at the hotel, sheetz, or food lion i’m not sure.  oh, and that he needed food and gas and that airport people are mean.  he threw that in there, too.  he kept on with the whole “i don’t ask for much, i’m an honest person, you know, baptist person” thing and told me he would send whatever money i gave him back in the mail.  because i’m going to give a begging stranger my home address.

as annoyed as i was, i remembered a conversation that i was a part of one night at small group about giving and our motive for it, so i decided to help him out.  really, what is $10?  so i told him i’d put some gas in his car.  i think he was both baffled and caught off guard at my offer, because his hesitation and acceptance of my offer was shrouded with disapproval.  really, dude?  you’re asking a stranger for help and you are going to be choosey?  i didn’t have cash on me, but i could tell that’s what he really wanted.  “even just 2.5 gallons would be helpful,” he says.  anyways, i walked over to the pump where his car was parked and started to, very discretely, put my debit card in the card reader and get this process started.  when i turned around ready to pump gas into his car, he hands me a gas jug.  “this thing holds 2.5 gallons.”  i was like…???  “i just realized my wife took the keys to the car when she walked over to chick-fil-a to try to find food.”  (chick-fil-a is probably 50 feet from this gas station).  again, i was like…???  “i need the key in order to get to my gas tank.”  at the time, i was too flustered to remember that some people buy locks for their gas caps, so i questioned him.  not once did he open the fuel door to prove to me that he needed a key.  upon pressing the issue, and him sensing my doubt of the legitimacy of his request, he started saying things like “it’s ok, you don’t have to help.  it’s not your problem.”  but these little statements were DRIPPING with guilt directed at me.  at that time i was so mad.  i was mad that, up until that point, i had swallowed my pride and agreed to help this man, but i was more mad that i had been taken advantage of.  so i kept hitting “cancel” on the card keypad so i could put the pump back and go home to eat dinner.  tell me the dang thing wouldn’t cancel.  REALLY?  over and over i pushed that little yellow button, and with so much fervor.  i tried everything more than once.  finally i turned to him and, probably somewhat begrudgingly asked, “all right, how much will that thing take?”  “2.5 gallons or so.”  i proceed to pump gas into this jug.  i had been looking at how many gallons i was pumping as opposed to dollars, and at just below 2 gallons, the gas neared the top of the jug, so i stopped.  the total came to $6.06.

at this time, i decided to calm down just a little, because what’s done is done.  i thought it would be best to actually connect with this man in some kind of way.  i’ll admit, there was a hint of a spiteful motive in taking time to talk to him a little bit.  a very small part of me wanted to hold him accountable for scheming to get money.  was he telling the truth about needing a key to open his gas cap?  i’ll never know, but i did have half a mind to fling the fuel door wide open.  i should’ve.  it doesn’t matter, though.  i proceeded to ask about his wife and their baby on the way.  was this potentially another lie?  i don’t know.  he said they’ve been married 20 years and didn’t have any children.  dude was pushin’ 50, although he looked aged, so maybe he was younger than i thought.  so i gave him all the parent advice i could for somebody who is about to enter that cramazeful (crazy, amazing, stressful) journey.  he told me they waited so long to have kids so he could learn maturity and responsibility.  -_-

so what do i do with all of this going forward?  ultimately, we should give whenever we can.  it isn’t my responsibility to determine somebody’s life decisions with the $5 i throw their way, and i shouldn’t give based upon whether i think they will be responsible with it or not.  heck, i shouldn’t even give because i’ve been helped out before.  i should give because of the love that i should have for people.  that’s the only reason.  i shouldn’t put anyone’s motives for asking through any sort of qualifiers to deem them worthy of my resources or not.  after all, my resources did not start out as mine, and when i use them, they definitely won’t be mine, wherever the end up.  yes, people tricking others into giving them money/food/whatever is definitely an issue, but as a giver, that’s not my problem.  my responsibility is to meet a need, not to give only when the beggar’s circumstances meet my perception of when something is deserved.

these types of situations aren’t the major issue, but they certainly point to some.  it wouldn’t take much reflection to figure out what they are, whether you’re the beggar or the giver.  so next time you’re approached with “sir/ma’am…sir/ma’am?  sir/ma’am!” (which by the way would be HILARIOUS if they said “sir/ma’am”!  well maybe not too funny, because that would suggest that your gender cannot be determined.  unless you’re going for that, then it would be hilarious), i would challenge you to try to give and connect.  it might not do much for somebody who’s looking for spare change to get a buzz somewhere, but maybe it would for somebody who’s asking in earnest.  i can only hope that genuine giving would start to hold a mirror to beggars, but it will DEFINITELY change you.