Awkwardness is the inevitable fate of those who are curious. Awkwardness is what we resign to when we walk into a room of people of which we are not the expert nor could we even pretend to be if we wanted.
Typically, when folks seek to be charitable, we will walk in with the belief that we carry the needed assets to an environment and a people who are marked by their obvious deficiencies. What would happen if we courageously risked flipping that script? When we dare to imagine that perhaps it's the marginalized and forgotten people that actually possess what it is that leads our souls toward salvation, well that's just... awkward.
Considering a spirituality of awkwardness will inevitably draw you into territory that you are unequipped for. But following that intrigue into unfamiliarity is what I believe my soul needs most.
Last week, while sharing a drink with my friend, Johnny, who comes down to the Network Coffee House with me every Wednesday night, boldly acknowledged that, “For three long hours out of my week I feel totally uncomfortable and embarrassingly awkward... and then at the end of the evening I can't wait to come back next week.” In the time that I've known Johnny my guess is that he would be much more at home sipping a scotch and soda discussing Kierkegaard with friend's who are philosophy enthusiasts like himself. But for the last 6 months his willingness to step into an environment in which he is incompetent, under qualified, and out right scared at times has changed him in important ways he hardly has words for.
Stepping into environments such as that is nothing less than awkward. Our entire lives haven't we been taught to avoid those type of situations? Before we actively invest in something first we need to consider things like... Is it an efficient use of my time and money? Can I really consider this activity productive? Not exactly questions that encourage revolutionary curiosity. But if security is what you long for...
How much of our education whether at school or church or wherever has produced genuine curiosity? (See this clip of Seth Godin for good thoughts about curiosity)
I've heard my friend Scott (who's life-work happens to be with those on the margins), on several occasions now, point out the wisdom within Hebrews 13. In light of the questions in the above paragraph, consider this bit of the Hebrews 13 narrative,
“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore." (v.11-13)
What might it mean for me to go outside the camp? And to bear disgrace in the way of Jesus?
I don't mean to be misleading here in regard to going outside the camp. This post isn't necessarily about the urban poor or Haiti or anywhere that would necessitate you traveling a distance to get there. Although we could all stand to be changed by the deep spiritual assets of the urban poor, this is more about an inner attitude than it is the inner city. This is about a curiosity that risks awkwardness, one that intentionally asks, What might it mean for me to go outside the camp with my own suburban or rural neighbors? Am I willing to radically investigate what it might mean for me to share in the disgrace that he bore?
For some, like me, who feel a natural tendency toward Napoleon Dynamite-like awkwardness anyway, maybe this perspective on spirituality offers some hope. For others, who anxiously rehearse being ninja-like cool (also a tendency of mine) maybe this offers a bit of needed challenge.
So, together let's accept the fact that we are a people that are asked to go beyond the comforts of the camp and as a result at some point today we should expect to feel the spiritual experience of awkwardness.