“Apparently the new fad is who can take the best nude photo.” She says the word “nude” like the internet meme, “newd”
“Yeah, everyone who’s popular takes a nude photo and sends it out via social media”.
“You mean like on SnapChat or something?”
“Ha, no. No one would get to see it that way. Usually Twitter.”
I’m standing outside in the rain during South By So What!? Music Festival in Grand Prairie, Texas spending the day listening to people’s stories and this one has me confounded. I started off with a simple question to High School students I already knew the answer to: “How do you like High School?” To which everyone enthusiastically exclaimed, “It sucks.” My follow up question was always the same also:
The answers varied but if you looked at the underlying theme everyone’s response was similar, “everyone’s fake and it’s a popularity contest“. Nude photos to get popular. Eating disorders so they could take the nude photo and look better. Bullying to look cooler and tougher. Fake friends who would stab you in the back without so much as a hesitation to gain credibility.
To be straight, I hated high school too. I got beat up and picked on 6th -9th grade. But then I started playing the popularity game too and figured out the rules. And the rules were simple. Do whatever you could to get ahead and have people like you.
But that’s not why we do it.
The reason why we acted this way in high school is because all people want to be known and loved, but they want a tangible way to measure that. If you’re popular you must be loved, but if you’re not…..you must not be loved. And this is the mentality we all bought into in high school. We can all remember the tragic deaths of men and women in our high schools, but if we’re honest, it’s only the people who were popular. My high school got rocked one year by the deaths of a few teenagers due to an alcohol related incident. The school mourned, there were assemblies, tributes, and the entire campus talked about it. But there were other deaths too. Suicide. Over-doses. But no one cared the way they did about those who had been popular and thus reinforced “If you’re not popular you don’t matter.”
After leaving high school most of us breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Thank God that’s over with” but as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered we’re all still in high school.
Just meet someone for the first time and introduce yourself. After awkward silence the question always gets asked, “What do you do?”
I wonder if I started telling people I was a janitor if they would think differently of me. This weekend I went to a friend’s wedding and when you drop the “I work for a non-profit and am a pastor” it’s like a nuclear bomb went off in the room and things just get weird. So most times I say “I work for a non-profit in the metal music industry“. People think that’s cool. They want to know more. And I find myself name dropping musicians I know and have met only to later ask myself “why’d I say that?” The truth is I want them to like me. And I’m back in high school all over again.
In our jobs we can easily see this played out with the “cool” click at our jobs. They’re the people who play the pranks, make everyone laugh, and make work interesting, but there’s always the odd-guy-out no one wants to invite to the social outings after work. What would that say about us if we brought along the weird guy? Whether it’s because we like him, feel sorry for him, or want to pull him into the fold of friendship doesn’t that make us weird? And so we’ll exclude them. And for those of us who’ve tried, how fast do we get dropped from being asked out to social gatherings because our friends know we’re gonna bring the guy that doesn’t look, act, and laugh like the rest of us.
In religious circles it’s the “holier than thou” game. When our friends or people we know stumble back into destructive behavioral patterns we do that fake gossip thing where we spill their junk and use churchy language like, “we should pray for them because have you heard what they did?” but all we’re doing is pointing out how we’re better than them and asking the people in the room to take our side and reaffirm us instead of being compassionate and walking with our friends that are hurting. And gossip is just that. A false security that people love you because they agree with what you’re saying about someone else. Where you put your pride will determine an outworking of how you interact with others. And when someone nudges you out of the kingdom you’ve made for yourself you’ll head right back to those high school games to regain your throne.
The truth is we play this game because we fear what others will think of us if they truly knew the scoundrels we really are. Each of us have secrets we don’t want others knowing about us. Whether that’s sexual abuse, depression, secretive addictions, or things we’ve done that will make us look bad, we keep them buried and tell ourselves they’re not really there. We run back to our junior year of high school instead to cover it up. And social media hasn’t helped us either. Our statuses and tweets have the false pretense that we’re truly opening up, but I’ve never taken a selfie of myself weeping into a pillow case because I’m depressed. Every picture I have portrays that I’m having the time of my life and everyone else is missing out.
I know this isn’t the type of person I want to be. One that kept secrets from those I claim to love, knowing that I will instead act in ways to protect myself if anyone really finds out the truth. If they really know who I am. If they see the dark corners of my heart. But I know that in order to be fully loved we have to be fully known. And in one of the scariest moments of my life, I put this to the test and word vomited every dark thing I had ever been a part of or was even currently doing to my wife. People have often asked me why I did that. The reason is simple. Every time my wife came to me and said, “I love you” I would always doubt that. I would doubt it because internally I knew the type of person I was and would convince myself that “if she really knew this about me she wouldn’t love me” and I would continue to pretend to garner her affections all the while doubting whether her love would ever be truly genuine if she knew every dark part of me.
My wife knows every dark corner of my heart and so now when I stumble back into destructive patterns that I could easily hide, I tell her the truth. Not because I want to. But because I know that if I want to be fully loved….I have to be fully known.
The high school version of ourselves that’s grown into maturation is always going to be resistant to this. It’s going to tell us we’ll be rejected. It’ll tell us we’re not going to be loved….ever…..especially if people really know the truth. And there may be some reality in what it tells us. We may get rejected or ostracized. But the alternative to me is far worse. We will continue to live by a set of rules in which we grasp at love that is never satisfying and will burn every last one of our relationships to get there. And in the end we’ll sit on our throne all right, but it will be a throne of corpses we’ve slaughtered to get there.