Lent 2013 entry, Day 4

I could tell the kid was drinking in the moments moreso than the rest of the team. She was deep in thought, conversation, and experiencing the moment.

I knew three weeks in Holland would be tough on the high school students so I built in one day a week where we went sightseeing. This particular outing was a walking tour of The Hague we’d read about in some tourist guide where you could see all the major spots in like a 6-mile round trip hike. After seeing some cool architecture we found ourselves on a trail through the Royal Forest headed toward the Queen’s Palace. The majority of the team saw this as some sort of time trial and we were having a great conversation as we lagged behind. She was taking photographs as we chatted about what the spiritual life looked like for each of us.

She took advantage of the time with me to ask me if I was disappointed with her.

I was floored. She was one of my favorite students who always seemed to teach me more than I was giving her. I told her so and asked her why she’d even think I might be disappointed.

“Well, you’re so drawn to the idea of Jesus being this revolutionary. How he flipped over tables and had little tolerance for the status quo of the way religion looked in his day. And you value the fringe kids in the group…especially the artists. You like tattoos and long hair and you dress in a way most pastors can’t get away with. You like music nobody’s ever heard of. You think we should redesign our church’s main worship services, or at least provide an alternative. You have no problem with saying things you don’t even believe just to get people thinking when you teach. You like indie films. Sometimes I don’t think I can be following Christ the right way.”

Wait. What? I mean…how…

“I like romantic comedies,” she continued. “And top-40 hits. My favorite stories of Jesus don’t involve near-riots. I like the ones where he did miracles for the large crowds to draw them in. I like my athlete friends. I think tattoos are kind of played out and I think it’s okay to vote Republican and most of my friends are pretty much clean cut and would only color their hair on Halloween or something. They don’t really ‘get’ art. I mean, can’t I follow Christ and be and do all those things?”

I never forgot that conversation, largely because she didn’t either. When she graduated a year later, she gave me one of the photographs she took that afternoon we spent together even though we were within eyesight of the group. It was an extremely convicting afternoon that I’m still reminded of an awful lot.

Every now and again, when I tell my story to folks in church circles, a parent will come up and tell me they have a kid who shows a lot of characteristics that are a part of my story. The parts that the teen pointed out nearly 13 years ago. The parents are usually good parents who want to figure out a way to serve their child even if they don’t “get” their child. They love them and so they ask me questions that let me know they’re trying to understand how they think.

So, I fill them in on a few things I’ve discovered are common to certain types of kids who find themselves on the fringe…

…and then I tell the parents something that surprises them:

That kids like that are kind of prideful and arrogant…fleshly behavior that needs to be dealt with. See, what my former student highlighted is that when you feel like you’re on the fringe, you tend to view yourself as somehow “getting it” while the rest of the world somehow is missing out. That they don’t see the world the right way. That your group of friends is in the know while the mainstream is more shallow and mindless and missing the boat. I know first-hand they think that. As I’ve said before the old Southern saying is true: You don’t look under the bed unless you’ve hidden there before.

When you’re hipster and think that way, well, you tend to avoid showing others grace…so what I tell the “fringe kid” parents is to start having conversations with their kid about finding ways to love and appreciate all God’s children. I mean, if you’re in the Tribe, we’re all God’s children or we’re all just living a lie. And I tell them to help their kid see the “save the cat” moments in other people.

“Saving the Cat” is a movie-maker’s term for a part in the screenplay that it designed to make the audience like the protagonist…and that moment needs to happen early in the film. For example, in the Disney movie Aladdin, the protagonist is not only a homeless “street rat,” but also a thief. We should dislike him, but after a theft & run from the authorities, we see him “save the cat” by giving the food he stole to needy “street rat” children. Julia Roberts played a prostitute in Pretty Woman but we see her giving money to other prostitutes. The idea behind “saving the cat” is that no matter how reprehensible a character might be, there’s something we can see in them that causes us to like them. We even like assassins in movies, right?

That’s a lesson that our Tribe can learn in spades…to find “save the cat” moments in those that are different than we are.

Maybe they’re in a different age demographic…or social one…or racial.
Maybe they like different music…or films…or TV or books.
Maybe they prefer a different style of worship or teaching.
Maybe they thrive in the mainstream…or on the fringes.
Maybe they are good students or they focus on other things outside of academic pursuits.
Maybe they are a soccer mom with a minivan or a tattooed artist barista hipster mom living in Williamsburg.
Maybe they are a CPA that votes Republican or a Bay Area liberal waiting tables.
Maybe they are type-A driven or a “world’s round, right? we’ll get there” kind of person.

I could go on.

But if Ephesians 2:10 is true that we’re all God’s works of art, maybe we need to have the grace to find “save the cat” moments and learn to love and appreciate them in others…

…because being a Hipster Doofus who wants to quit listening to their favorite band when they make it big is really just pride and arrogance under the guise of being deep and cool, no? There’s room for all of us in the Tribe, just was we are, no?