This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Socially Awkward

I have been socially awkward my entire life. 
As a child, I had no idea how to make friends, and I spent most of my time alone. Even with family, I was awkward. On Sunday afternoons we would often gather with extended family at the home of my grandparents. While all of my cousins played together, I would slip away to an upstairs room and spend my time reading the World Book Encyclopedia. 
As a teen, the awkwardness only became worse. I would go into specifics here, but I spent years in therapy trying to forget.
As an adult, my social awkwardness is a regular part of my everyday life. As a pastor, I am expected to be “relational.” Yet I find myself at my most awkward, uncomfortable self when I am forced to make small talk. And this makes everyone around me uncomfortable. Preparing and presenting sermons and Bible studies are enjoyable for me - standing in the back of the sanctuary after church shaking hands is painful. I would prefer counseling someone in an extremely difficult life challenge rather than going on a nursing home visit. And there is nothing that makes me more anxious than walking up to someone’s front door, knowing that the next half hour will be spent sipping tea and trying to make conversation. However, I have learned to adjust and live with who I am. And, as long as the members of my congregation do not get too frustrated with me - and they do get frustrated with me - I can live with my social awkwardness.

But now there is Facebook, offering yet another venue for my social awkwardness. 
Everyday, I am faced with making decisions about how to act on Facebook, confident that I will regularly bring my social awkwardness into view. Some of my struggles involve:

Number of Friends: You may look at my Facebook profile and see that I have a lot of friends. Most of these are from my interactions in the Church of the Nazarene and at Eastern Nazarene College. I am happy to stay connected with them and find out what is going on in their lives. However, I am chastised by some - you know who you are - for having too many friends. “No one has that many friends in real life, so you shouldn’t have that many FB friends!” Well, of course I don’t have that many friends. But how many friends should I have? I don’t know. 
I once tried to cull my friendship list, using criteria such as: If this person saw me on the street, would they walk across it to talk to me?  and “Does this person try to pick a fight with me everytime they comment on my posts?” I used the first criteria, and cut a few names, but if I used the second criteria I would have to cut family members - again, you know who you are - so that didn’t work. 
Thus, I don’t know how many friends I should have. Am I trying to make up for my lack of friendships in the real world? I don’t know. This is awkward.

Posts: I really hate arguments. I mean, REALLY. I will leave a room if an argument breaks out, even if there are only two of us in the room. In a web discussion site where I participate, I am known to delete posts if someone disagrees with me. I REALLY HATE ARGUMENTS. 
This means that I have to avoid certain topics on Facebook. I can NEVER talk about politics, because I will certainly offend someone, no matter what I say. I have friends who are so right wing they make Attila the Hun look like a compassionate conservative, and other friends who are so liberal that ... well, I don’t have a comparison, but they are very liberal. No matter what I say, someone will be very upset. 
Now, if someone posts a Fb comment that I don’t like, I usually ignore it. Just move along. Act as if I didn’t even read it. (Okay, I don’t do that to Pittsburgh Steelers fans, because they are so much fun to annoy, and I don’t do that to Yankee fans - just because.)  But there are some folks who seem to be looking for a political fight on Fb. Once I posted a comment about health care reform, and a person I have not seen in years laid into me, calling me an idiot, unAmerican, and unChristian. So, I did what I always do, I deleted the entire discussion. They then sent me a private message wanting to know where the thread went, because they were enjoying it so much. 

Comments: Like I said, I am socially awkward. It took me awhile to realize that when 20-something moms are posting about a child care issue, they are really not interested in 50-something men offering advice. And it took a young adult telling me - you know who you are - that it is not appreciated by adult children when their parents regularly comment on their posts. The phrase they used to let me know I shouldn’t do this was - you guessed it - “It is awkward.”  Yes, I know.
And speaking of parents commenting on the Fb page of their children - Once a student of mine from many years ago posted about a humorous situation at work. I responded with what I considered a friendly jest. What followed was a nuclear attack from his mother, asking who I was and wanting to know what right I had attacking her son. 

Guess I’m not the only one who is socially awkward. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Which Script?

The following is an excerpt from my sermon for the fourth Sunday of Advent, preached December 19, 2010 at the Avon Grove Church of the Nazarene. 

On the fourth Sunday of Advent we find ourselves involved in the story of a young Jewish man caught on the horns of a dilemma. What does the dominant cultural script of his day say Joseph should do, when he finds out that his betrothed is pregnant with a child that is definitely not his? The dominant script says that Joseph should throw her away and save face. But Joseph is greater than the script. He loves Mary and wants to protect. So he prepares to back away quietly, rather than accuse her of great sin which would have left her in shame. What he is preparing to do is the best he can imagine. He is preparing to choose a different path from the dominant cultural script - it is a bold, courageous step.

But then Joseph hears from God. 

And God tells Joseph the craziest thing. “Joseph, I know this is going to make you look like a fool, and your so-called friends will simply shake their heads and walk away. And your neighbors will wag their tongues and gossip. And there will be days when you are not sure what to believe. But Joseph - your life just got simpler. Here is what I want you to do. I want you to forget about that dominant cultural script. That’s right - the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” script. Forget about it. Forget about following rules that call some people clean and others unclean - and the script that says some people will never ever be anything but unclean. 

“Joseph - I am coming into the world and I am bringing an alternative script.  My new script is simple - Love one another. That’s it. Love. And to make it happen, I am coming as a child. That’s right, not coming as a military hero, not as a conquering king. A child. 
So Joseph, do you love Mary? Yes, I thought so. Well then, don’t worry about the old script that says to get rid of her. Don’t worry about what people will say. Don’t worry that it’s just not the way we do things. Don’t worry about any of that. Just love her, and take her as your wife and raise this child. And this child - this child is going to rewrite every script.” 

When we are called to challenge the dominant cultural scripts of our time, and carry out an alternative script, it is never in the abstract. It is always real, personal and specific. The dominant script of our time says that you should avoid pain and suffering at any cost, and the alternative script says to deny yourself and welcome suffering as the way to growth. Which script do you choose to follow? The dominant script says that you are to solve every problem through your own ingenuity and make your own way in the world, and the alternative script says to pray. Which script? The dominant script says to grab, grab, grab, and seek more, more, more, and the alternative script speaks of a conspiracy of giving things away. Which script is yours? The dominant script says to protect yourself, to hit first, and not give an inch, and the alternative script says to turn the other cheek and follow a baby. Which script?

You see - scripts matter, because which script we choose to follow defines which kingdom we choose to give our allegiance. And as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, we prepare to pledge allegiance to a king and a kingdom who offers an alternative script.