Prodigal Sam

Sammy Rhodes is a campus minister with RUF at the University of South Carolina. He probably tweets too much.

Prodigal Sam

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Embrace the Awkwardness

Awkward is a word that has gotten thrown around a lot these last few years, and it’s become something of a cultural obsession, driving shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Arrested Development. For some reason we are drawn to it. It’s hard to imagine our grandparents laughing their way through a season of Arrested Development, but for some reason we do. Because we love awkwardness. 

Author Adam Kotsko puts it this way: “Awkwardness is everywhere, inescapable. Awkwardness dominates entertainment to such an extent that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember laughing at anything other than cringe-inducing scenes of social discomfort.” It’s what makes shows like The Office and Parks and Rec work. It’s what makes Judd Apatow and Sacha Baron Cohen films work.

But awkwardness doesn’t just make us laugh. It also makes us extremely self-conscious. We’re haunted by visions of friends locking eyes after a party and whispering those three dreaded words: “They’re so awkward.” That’s why some have said that we have a new scarlet letter: “A” for “awkward.” And socially these days it’s actually much worse than adultery. Because we hate awkwardness. 

So why this love/hate relationship with awkwardness? Why does it, on the one hand, make us laugh and draw us in, yet, on the other hand, scare us to death to ever be associated with it? Because awkwardness is an invitation to vulnerability. It’s an open door to share our weakness, and to let others see our shame. In other words, it’s an invitation to be human.

I’m not sure if you’re pretentious enough to still watch Mad Men (I am), but there is an incredibly awkward scene in Season 6 where Don Draper is (literally) caught with his pants down. As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s by his own pre-teen daughter Sally, who happens to unexpectedly walk in on him having sex with their downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Rosen. Needless to say, it was painfully awkward to watch. 

But what was even more painful to watch was the way Don talked to Sally about it afterward. Far from admitting the truth, that Sally had caught him having an affair, he told her instead that he had been “comforting” Mrs. Rosen in a way that she had misunderstood. He lied. And the awkward moment that was an invitation for Don to be vulnerable, to admit the truth about himself, instead turned into him doing what we all do, covering himself up with lies as small and fragile as fig leaves. 

Don’s reaction is actually eerily similar to the first awkward moment in the history of mankind. Remember the scene in the garden, when Adam and Eve failed to take God seriously and all of a sudden realized they were naked and tried to cover themselves with anything they could find, all the while trying to find someone else to blame? Awkward.

But then the Lord finds them. And instead of shaming them, he covers their shame. He takes animal skins and gets them dressed. He doesn’t reject them, but embraces them. Because by His standards, all of us are awkward. And the Lord loves awkward people, because there will never be any other kind.  

Again, Adam Kotsko puts it well: “Social orders arise and perhaps evolve and eventually fall, but awkwardness will endure as long as we remain human because it is what makes us human. What Ricky Gervais and Judd Apatow point toward…is an awkwardness so awkward it becomes its own kind of grace - it is the peculiar kind of grace that allows us to break down and admit that we are finally nothing more or less than human beings who will always be stuck with each other, and, more importantly, to admit that we are glad of it.”

So whether you see yourself as an awkward person or not, the next time you find yourself in an awkward moment, enjoy it. Laugh at the situation, and at yourself, and remember that it’s an invitation to admit you’re nothing more and nothing less than a human being in need of grace. Embrace the awkwardness.

Hate the Hate, Love the Hater

Bill Cosby once said “I don’t know the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Easy to say when you’re Bill Cosby because seriously who doesn’t like Bill Cosby? Have you ever met anyone who said I hate two things: roaches and Bill Cosby? 

For most of us failure IS people being displeased with us, disappointed in us, or even worse, disliking us. That’s why you get fired from your job let’s say delivering printed goods when for some reason you drive to make a delivery an hour away then can’t find the place and instead of calling your boss to figure out exactly where it is you just drive an hour back to the office with the goods still undelivered. For example. He wasn’t my biggest fan. 

Which brings us to the idea of haters (a word that as a grown man still makes me deeply uncomfortable). What do you do with the people in your life that just plain don’t like you, think you are a stupid person, with dumb ideas, and bad character to boot? Maybe they hate you because of something you’ve really said or done. Maybe they hate you because of something they think you’ve said or done (thanks, the internet). Doesn’t matter. What are you going to do with them? Listen to them? Ignore them? Strike back with Liam Neeson in Taken like vengeance? 

The better question is what did God do with us when we hated him? The reality is that on a deep level we have all been haters: haters of the truth, haters of righteousness, haters of God. If a hater is someone who wants to see you taken down a few notches, then we are ultimate haters because since the Garden we have all wanted to see God taken down from his throne that we might sit where he sits. It’s Game of Thrones and we’re all Joffrey. 

So what do you do with haters? Listen to them? Ignore them? Strike back? No. You love them. That’s what God did with us. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” was the way the Apostle Paul put it. And Paul was like the OG of haters. Remember Jesus literally met him on his way to do some Avon Barksdale like work with Christians. Yet He loved him. 

Loving haters doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. And it doesn’t mean that you have to respond to them. It might mean admitting you’re wrong. It might mean allowing people to think wrongly of you even when you know better. But it always means treating them with humility, kindness and respect. The world says hate your haters. Jesus says love them. After all, you are one.