Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fitting In

The other night at Bible study a conversation arose about the many cliques and social groups of middle and high school. Some people remembered those days fondly, while others (like myself) didn't find the nostalgia all that pleasing. All of us, however, saw fault in our younger selves for placing too much emphasis on "fitting in" back in those days. That got me thinking about how little fitting in means to me now, and then I realized that it actually doesn't mean that little. Quite to my surprise, it still means quite a lot. Sure, college might have gotten rid of such rigid groupings as The Jocks, The Popular Kids, The Nerds, The Preps, and The Rebels. But those are just surface definitions, anyway. The point is, the drive to fit in still does matter. It still influences college students...and if I'm not mistaken, probably adults as well.

I suppose it's just a natural human drive to want to fit in. Of course, it's a little hard sometimes to know exactly what one means when they say they want to fit in, or that they don't fit in at all. I would say that fitting in is just a sense of commonality or belonging, but I've found that even when I have those things I don't always get the sense that I'm "fitting in" with a particular group of people. Something about me always makes me feel a little bit like an outsider.

The clearest example is my inability to "fit in" with modern Christians. Everyone knows that I'm a Christian. I try to wear my faith on my sleeve as much as possible (heck, I wear everything there nowadays). But I've found that doing so does little good, for my faith is very modest, reserved, and quiet. It's very non-emotional at times: a friend described it as "businesslike." I'm not one for contemporary Christian music and I prefer philosophical/rational language to traditional religious language any day. I'm uncomfortable with the phrases "I got saved," "he/she got saved," "we win souls for Christ," etc. etc. I mean, I know people do get saved, and I know that evangelism plays an essential role in that, but for some reason putting it that way makes it too simple, too ready-to-be-mocked.

I'm not one for religious billboards or movies or those little kitsch paintings showing Jesus in the clouds watching over truckers below (I've seen one, I kid you not). I don't wave my arms in the air when I worship. I don't put Bible verses on my Facebook profile. You get the picture. In short, I just don't fit in with mainstream Christians. I don't feel the need to do all the things that many of them do. Don't get me wrong: I love my Christian friends. They're probably my closest friends, for having a relationship with Christ is probably one of the most essential points of commanality, surpassing any and all trivial differences.

Yet even with a lot of them I just feel like an outsider sometimes. I don't think it's my homo-ness that does it (though it could contribute a little, at least with the guys). I think it's just my nature. My personality has a tendency to be aloof and not altogether warm (remember my results for that personality test?) I guess that just sets me apart sometimes. Maybe it doesn't matter, though. I know I'm filled with Christ's love. I just think I express it in a different way than most, and I'm grateful that "fitting in" is not a requirement for salvation. Peace out, everyone.


grace said...

I also "cringe" a bit at hearing phrases like "get saved" or "win souls". It all makes it sound like it a destination or a one-time sort of event. It goes against the whole concept of our spiritual life being a least it does for me. And yet, now I find myself sort of despising how very "emergent" I've become! haha!
I guess I just don't care for labels, but I DO want to be labeled as someone who loves, who cares, and who serves. It's a lose/lose situation isn't it...because of our humanness. At least we're AWARE of it...that's got to speak for something...well..until I become really proud of how humble I am! LOL

love you!

Pomoprophet said...

But Jay... you've just got to give it all to Jesus. He's got the whole world in His hands...

hehe. Bro when I had great male friendships, one thing I learned was that most people feel like they dont fit in completely. And the ones that do, are usually oblivious. Its us thinker types that realize we're odd. As cliche as it is, sometimes its nice to fit in more with Jesus than with modern Christian culture.

kurt_t said...

What an odd coincidence, Jay. Just yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine who has a lot of gay friends but who isn't gay about what it feels like to be a gay teenager.

I said "It's like one day you find out everybody's been invited to this big party. And they get new clothes for the party, and they talk about the party, and people give them presents at the party, and their parents say 'Oh boy, we're so proud of you for going to the party. When we were your age, we went to the party, and now it's your turn.'"

And everybody goes off to the party, and there you are all by yourself, and you say to yourself "Why didn't I get invited to the party? What's wrong with me?"

And then you spend some time growing up, and you meet some other people who didn't get invited to the party. And you say "Hey, what do you know?! I wasn't the only one. I'm not as alone as I thought I was." And you and your new friends start having your own parties.

And then maybe you meet some people who went to the party that you weren't invited to. And they tell you "Oh man, the party. We hated the party. My date threw up on me. The music was terrible. There was nothing to eat but Swedish meatballs and cocktail weiners."

And more and more people join in and become part of your life, and you don't feel so bad about that party you missed out on. In fact, you're kind of glad you missed the party.

But, if you're like most people who didn't get invited to the party, those feelings of being alone and ashamed and sad and left out, they never completely go away. They resurface sometimes, like the pain from an old injury.

But pain isn't always such a bad thing. I believe that pain teaches us compassion, because without pain how could you ever empathize with somebody else's pain? And without empathy, how can you ever be truly compassionate?

And compassion is what really makes us fit in. Compassion is what brings us together and holds us together, not going to some stupid party.

Norm! said...

Some of my most embarrassing moments (which my sister has great joy in reminding of) have been from trying to fit-in with evangelical/pentecostal Christianity. Waving my arms during worship, listening to (mediocre) Christian music, and even trying to speak in tongues, were all attempts to have a deeper faith and fit-in with people I thought were more authentic Christians. Now I tend to think being a follower of Christ's teachings is less about lifestyle and more about sincerity and conviction.

That having been said, I understand how difficult it is fit-in to any group -- especially religious groups in which everyone is suppose to be siblings in Christ. I hate mingling at church -- it seems so artificial. My natural tendency is to be the last one in and first one out on Sunday mornings. It was only by some miracle I was able to meet my best friends and boyfriend at church. I know that I need to make a greater effort to interact and be part of the church community I'm now in. Since I feel my current church is closer to my faith and is mostly diverse (well, diverse on the progressive/liberal end of the Christianity spectrum), I don't feel the need to fit-in.