Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sometimes It's All About Presentation

Sorry about the blog silence. This past week was crazy. I was not at home at all and I did not have access to a computer. Period. I tell you, you really don't know what you got till it's gone. Here's what was going on.

The scholarship program that is paying most of my college expenses requires that all rising Sophomores take a bus tour of the great state of North Carolina. Each night the 500 scholarship recipients from fourteen NC colleges stay at dorms on a different college campus, and then they tour local school systems (it's a teaching scholarship). Over the week I was at five college campuses, located in areas ranging from the mountains to the coast. I had to wear a suit every day (it was stressed that I could possibly be meeting future employers, and I actually did tour a high school that I fell in love with an might consider once I graduate), but after I arrived at the "college of the day" I got to take off the dress clothes and mingle with the various other students.

While many of the other kids from my school stuck together, I decided to find new friends from other schools. We were encouraged to "network," after all, and if I may say I think I'm pretty good at networking. ;) I enjoy the thrill of meeting new people. I like to talk, I like to listen, I like to interact. I guess I'm a social butterfly. Sometimes I can be quite an awkward butterfly, though. I can rush into social situations and come off "too strong." But oh well, I enjoy it. Reservations never did anybody any good.

Presentation, however, is important, and that's what I want to talk about today. Now there's the standard version of presentation: combed hair, nice clothes, smile, firm handshake, proper English, etc. I can do that easily. I hate it sometimes (mostly the hair and clothes thing; I hate dressing up), but nonetheless I can do it. But then there's Godly presentation. I think it's something that a lot of Christians worry about. Namely, do we always present ourselves in a way that brings glory to God and is good in His sight?

I don't think I did this past week. The trip was like a social pressure-cooker. Out of 500 college-aged kids, I knew about 30, and I only saw about five on a regular basis. I can't tell you how many introductions, how many presentations, I made. Some were good, but some I could have done better on. For example, my usual rule of not calling myself "gay" unless I have time to explain the details went out the window, and pretty early. I had time to mention that I was a conservative and a Christian (and even a Calvinist), but I found the Side B stuff was too cumbersome and controversial to mention. After all, the kids that I usually find myself "clicking" with are of the more liberal/artistic stripe. It leads to awkwardness among friends back home, so among strangers I was less inclined to share it.

I suppose I'm just wondering how to be a better witness. Presenting yourself as a Christian is important, and sometimes it can be hard. I met a very handsome gay student over the week, and (almost instinctively) I turned on my "charm." I'll make a note that he was the one who made it a point to introduce himself to me (how he heard I was gay is still a question. Either someone else told him or his "gaydar" really is that good). But either way, until I found out he had a boyfriend back home, I presented myself as an available gay student.

I think I did it because it was a "safe" situation. He goes to another school, we were only going to see each other for a few more days, and flirting with him was fun. I mean, I just turned 19. I'm young, I'm moderately good looking (those who have seen complete pictures of me can debate the truth of that), and looking back, the extent of our "flirting" was playing Ultimate Frisbee and sitting next to each other during a group conversation in someone's dorm room. That and a hug. Maybe it wasn't even flirting at all. Maybe it was just two similar people coming together in a very random social situation.

I am proud of one way I presented myself, though. When the guy in question started talking about his opposition to religion (not uncommon among gay men), I spoke up about my beliefs. Not my Side B beliefs, mind you, but I did say that I was a Christian, that I was devout, and I think I sad something along the lines of "we're not all bad." Maybe it will amount to something. I hope it does. Anyway, he said we'd keep in touch. I doubt anything more will happen between us, but I am concerned about how I'm going to present myself to future gay men who might take an interest in me.

How far do I let the relationship go before I shut it down? How do I become friends with them when our ideologies are going to be very different? How do I witness to them without driving them away? When it comes to gay and lesbian friends, how can I be anything other than happy for them when they get boyfriends or girlfriends? I mean, I know the pain that the mere prospect of lifelong celibacy can cause. How can I rightfully ask it of anyone else? Am I even required to? I've always said that my Side B ethics are "personal." I don't ask it of anyone else, but I do ask people to examine the Bible and what they feel God is calling them to do. Because it is a calling, just as salvation is a calling. But like salvation, after you've answered the call, there are a lot of little nasty details to work out. I guess I better get started. It's not all about presentation anymore. This has to come from within me.

On a side note, I would like to ask for prayers for a friend of mine. She and her mother are going through financial difficulty. Her mother is working two low-paying jobs in order to help put her through community college. She barely has enough money to fix the car that she needs to get to class. She's not a strong Christian (she hasn't been to church in years), but she's an amazing person and I want the best for her. Pray that she'll be able to make it to school, get good grades, and forge a better life for herself. Pray that for the millions of people in similar situations.

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