Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being Christ to the Creeper, Part II

Perhaps it boils down to this: What would Christ have me do here and now?  This poor dude has fallen in my path, and I am supposed to be a good neighbor and love extravagantly.  I'm supposed to meet his needs somehow because I am, as they say, the man on the ground at this moment.  This strikes me as a tad absurd because, frankly, I would say this kid does NOT need ME to try to teach him to be SOCIAL. 

I am an introverted, lonerish, antisocial person by inclination.  I LIKE being this way.  I suppose I could teach him how to repel people less obnoxiously, but obviously, he doesn't need my help overall with that.  He needs friends his own age to help him understand what is appropriate and what is not.  But let's be serious: how many 18-year-olds  at anime clubs do you know who have the sensitivity to notice this situation and the ability to do something to improve it? 

I'm not saying they're non-existent, but when I was in college as an upperclassman leading orientation groups, I had to reach out to some of my freshman to give them people to hang out with because their own peers couldn't do so.  I tried approaching the leadership of the club to ask them to take on this responsibility (I figure it's theirs), and that . . . didn't really work.  Maybe they need someone to teach them how.  : )  But I was a completely different person back then in a different place, and I had that to offer.  Now I don't. 

So we circle back to the question again: what would Jesus have me do besides pray for someone else to intervene?  Lacking any clear messages in 30-foot letters of fire, I turn to the gallery.  Your thoughts on what it means to love my neighbor in this case?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Being Christ to the Creeper

Once upon a time when I was younger and less physically broken, one of my jobs was befriending the lonely ones, the ones left outside the circle, the ones no one wanted.  I would protect them, the pasty and overweight ones, the socially awkward, the prickly, the unattractive.  Since I did not need friends or popularity or fitting in, I was free to be friends with those who needed friends but, for whatever reason, couldn't seem to make it with the regular people.  I felt like it was some sort of gifting or calling, a way to use my comfortable introversion to love people like Christ commands us to.  Now I am older, more physically broken and exhausted, and I don't have the energy to use this freedom any more, which is unfortunate because there's a guy at the anime club this semester who is starting to really creep me out.

In the anime club, I have always been there for the anime.  I have never been there to make friends, be part of the community, or fit in.  I don't live on campus; I'm not a student.  I do not need any friends in the club to have a nice time.  This has always worked out well (once the super-friendly folks have learned to leave me alone each semester) because it's good for these kids to make friends with their peers.  I have not needed to actually reach out and show kindness to an outcast when I have pretty much nothing to give.  With one notable exception, I have made no friends there, and it has been lovely.

Many of the folks in the anime club are a bit socially awkward.  This stereotype exists because it is based in observable fact.  Many of them are bad at eye contact and reading body language and understanding personal space, but they usually figure things out by the time they graduate.  Most of them find their tribes, even the ones who are incredibly annoying and awkward.  As a sort of maiden aunt, I watch all of this at a distance and am glad things work out, even if I am sometimes mystified. 

This semester has been different.  This semester has been incredibly uncomfortable.  This semester there is a guy who hasn't found his tribe, and he seems to want me to be his tribe because all the other natives flee screaming at his approach.

I have never met anyone so terrible at understanding body language and personal space.  He seems to take me scrunching up, leaning and moving away, refusing eye contact, and reluctantly talking brusquely in short answers when absolutely necessary as amazing encouragement to sit down, move cloers, be friends and talk and talk and talk about the same things 4 over and over and over again.  (At least he hasn't used the words "scrotum" and "anus" since the first time he opened his mouth to talk to me several weeks ago.)  He talks about his anime that he will make some day and its badass, junior-high-school-boy-humor-liking female main character and what he doesn't like about X, Y, and Z anime and about why he likes the Devil May Cry anime but hates Black Lagoon, etc., ad nauseum.  (If you're an anime fan, this will seem even more annoying to you than if you aren't.)  He does this to anyone who has a pulse and doesn't actually get up and just walk away.

Recently, because no one else will even talk to him, he has taken to following me out to my car, chattering all the way, and ignoring my LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE body language and really fast pace because he is that desperate to connect.

I know that if I want him to leave me alone, I need to just completely ignore him and not respond at all.  However, he is so lonely and sad that my old reflexes kick in, and I talk sometimes, un-encouragingly and grudgingly, because I don't want him to be completely alone in silence.  He is so young and so awkward, and I think he may not ever find any friends if he doesn't come across the college student equivalent of the old me soon.

I probably don't have to tell you that the following me to my car thing makes me really nervous.  Men I don't know in general make me wary and having to be trailed by one as I walk half a mile away to my car where there might not be anyone else around does not help.  I think that I probably need to just have the creeper talk with him or ask the club admins to intervene, but maybe I've been living in Minnesota too long (land of 10,000 ways to passive-aggressively indicate things instead of just saying them) or maybe I'm trying in a sort of half-assed way to be Jesus to this poor kid.  I mean, everyone avoids him, and that's really sad (even if I totally understand why they avoid him).  I was hoping someone would take him under their wing and help him understand the basics of body language, but they haven't even this far in to the semester. 

As maybe one of the few believers who attend the club, do I have some sort of responsibility toward him?  Because I'm sure acting like I do.  And as long as I sub-consciously feel responsible, I won't be able to just tell him leave me alone or ask the folks in charge of the club to intervene.  Thus far, the best I've been able to do is drag my poor friend to the club to try to act as a buffer and escort to my car, and that's not fair to him.

So, Christians, your thoughts?  Everyone, your strategies?

Notes to a college student soliciting alumni donations

  • Do not ask the stupid questions trying to get the alumni to remember the wonders and joys of their time at Cedarville.  Our time of wonder and joy is gone, and it's been pretty well stomped on by successive administrations lacking integrity.  Can there be a button to press to forward through that part of the conversation and automatically be connected to a responsible adult, so we can be really honest about why we're not supporting the school any more?  Does the administration even care why alumni are not supporting them anymore, or do they just consider that the cost of doing (their view of) good kingdom business?  Yes, those were good old days, and I'm sad they're gone and you won't really get to experience them.  Then again, maybe you will.  For all I know the same shenanigans were happening when I was a blithely ignorant student, and I managed to have an awesome time . . . 
  • Do have glib explanations ready!  I suppose they might work on, um, timid and uninformed people who didn't think and debate and research for 50 hours before coming to the decision to stop donating to the institution.  I was a little sad that you only had a glib explanation for the destruction of the philosophy department, but, really, it's not fair for me to expect you to know/care about the other high-level institutional shenanigans, and I can't see the alumni office expecting the alumni to know about it, so why would they prepare glib explanations for those?  I know I had no idea what was going on at that level until my senior year, and I'm pretty sure you sound like, what, a sophomore?
  • Don't play the pity card.  Does it ever work?  "Just think of the poor students you are hurting (by your rigid desire to only support ministries with integrity)" kind of just makes me mad.  See the next point for a better way to handle the disappointment when I say I'm not going to give you money.
  • Do explain that the money you're soliciting only goes to students and not to the administration.  That's pretty important.  I do have to think about that a bit.  I do want to bring the incredibly high tuition you current students are paying down to something slightly less ridiculous.  I'd also give to a fund for the faculty who have to buffer you from all this crap.  Do you know if such a fund exists?  And can I separate my donations to that degree?  I might need to do more research on the financials, but the administrations shenanigans DO trickle down to the students, meaning you do get influenced in ways that are not quite, in my opinion, above-board.  But.  I didn't choose the school because it was perfect and I agreed with everything.  I chose it because it was Christian, had a good academic reputation, and was also the cheapest with the financial aid I could muster.  Maybe the students who made their decisions to attend for the same reasons do deserve my financial support.  But the administration decides how to use the funds, so . . .  Gah.  Back and forth.  It's good to make people think and start going back and forth.  Good for you.
  • Do not play the breezy, administrations change all the time card.  This has been a concerted effort to move things in a particular direction through multiple administrators, and mowing down a lot of good administrators and educators in its path, and it's been going on for over a decade.  I'm not sure that refusing to give my money will make the situation worse.  Although now I wonder if that's why the tuition has gotten so high . . .
Thanks for your time.  Have a wonderful Saturday earning minimum wage.  You poor schmuck.

P.S.  I appreciate how you didn't lie and write down that I made a pledge (which is what the guy two years ago did).

Losing your life to gain what

When she started to follow Jesus seriously, she gave up the thing she was best at and loved most: writing about music.  Recently, as we were studying Luke 9, she wondered if that counted as laying down her life to save it.  At the time, she thought it was.  She couldn't see any way that her writing about secular music could lead anyone to Jesus, so she left it behind.  (Oh, hyper-evangelicalism, you make me so sad.)  As far as I can tell, she didn't really replace it with anything.  So now she is not doing what she loves and not necessarily leading anyone to Jesus that she can see, and she is miserable (for this and many additional reasons). 

It seems like she is more miserable because a couple of people in the group ARE writers and see that as part of who they are in Christ.  And it kindles this longing inside her that she isn't sure she shouldn't smother. 

I had to resist the urge to respond right away, though several things came to mind.
  • The Bible doesn't necessarily indicate that we need to leave behind anything that isn't directly related to leading souls to the kingdom or whatever evangelical, Christianese phrase you prefer.
  • Jesus didn't tell soldiers or tax collectors to stop what they did, drop everything, and go become full-time preachers.
  • The Bible does say we should work heartily as unto the Lord, not for men or praise. 
  • The Bible doesn't really indicate that vocation and avocation must be the same and anything that is not avocation must be abandoned.
  • God loves beauty and beautiful things, and good art is beautiful.
  • God sees beauty in broken things/people other people think are worthless and dirty.
  • It's okay to work hard at a craft and create beautiful things; we serve a creator God.
  • What exactly did stopping writing about what you love do to help you gain abundant life?

I shut my mouth firmly and resisted the urge to say anything or even follow up because she was Not Making Eye Contact in that skittish way she has of offhandedly revealing truths about her life that she is deathly afraid will get her judged in some way.   Normally, I would not have the presence of mind to notice the body language and think thoughts and stop myself from saying them.  Perhaps this gluten-free thing my doctor is having me do is a good idea.  Or maybe the Holy Spirit hit the brakes for me?

I really need to ask a lot of follow-up questions to get a better understanding of the situation before I start throwing out statements that she could take as judgments.  (She can twist almost any statement into something she perceives as a judgment. : )  If I understand the situation better, maybe I can ease things slowly into a direction where she can think things through and make a different decision now.

Things I want to know
  • What did she write? 
  • Who was her audience? 
  • When did she make this decision? 
  • Why, exactly did she give it up (there had to be multiple reasons beyond the simple one she tossed out there)? 
  • Does she feel the same way about these reasons now? 
  • Can she see a way she might be able to use her writing for a purpose she feels is more redemptive? 

Any other questions you can think of that I can try to slowly and slyly trot out there so as not to scare this fragile honesty away?

Home for the Holidays: STRESS for spouses edition

So there's this person who grew up in a fairly toxic evangelical environment.  Her mother is pretty much horrible and seems to relish making her child stressed out and angry because it is a form of power she doesn't plan on giving up any time soon.  Holidays are, naturally, really awful for this person.  Her husband grew up in a happy haze of lalala and adores his family to pieces (it's really sweet and adorable).  Recently, he raised the white flag because the holidays are coming, her stress is skyrocketing, and he has absolutely no idea how to help make things better.  Spending time with his family makes him deliriously happy, and he simply has no frame of reference for a world where seeing one's parents causes rage, grief, and debilitating self-consciousness.

He is desperate for any advice from folks who may have tips and tricks about how to deal with stress-inducing family members and the holidays.  He would especially like any advice on how to cope as a spouse and help his wife cope.  Anyone out there from a FUNCTIONAL family married to a spouse from a dysfunctional family?  How do you make the holidays better (even marginally)?  How do you help your spouse cope?

I don't know how to love her and other situations that make for tragic musicals

There's this person in this church group I am nominally in charge of.  If I say she sometimes seems to be made of glass, I don't mean that she is beautiful and delicate.  I mean that it's like she got scraped raw by life and then rolled in broken glass, which stuck to the blood, and when she lets the cloak she covers herself with fall, no one can figure out how to comfort her in a way that will not damage both.  There was a really bad meeting which ended with a lot of us trying to hold back tears because how on God's green earth do you show someone that wounded and broken and jagged that she is loved and liked and wanted?  I knew things were bad when I found myself humming Nancy's song from Oliver.  It's a good thing I only really know that first line, or I likely would have had the blasted song stuck in my head whole for weeks.

I got out the only available version of the Five Love Languages from my library (The 5 Love Languages for Children), but it wasn't really much help because it's aimed at parents and is about dealing with children.  This person holds down a job she hates because it provides benefits, a paycheck, and a cushion to allow her beloved to do the less lucrative and somewhat seasonal work he loves.  She is an adult.

When it was just occasional grumblings and the beginnings of a tendency to tell the same painful stories on endless repeat and hijack the conversation, I was able to redirect things, sometimes with subtlety and panache and sometimes with inartistic but effective bluntness.  But when she said that she dreaded coming every week because it made her even more miserable and she only came because she knew her husband wouldn't want to come without her even though he adores the group, we were all at a loss.  Most of us kind of enjoy the group and the time we spend together.  We like her and her husband.  We have no idea what to say to that kind of explosion of broken glass.  We mostly just duck and cover to avoid the shrapnel. 

We want to hug her and tell her we love her except she hates and loathes begin hugged and doesn't believe anyone saying they love her (with the possible exception of her husband, though I'm not sure).  She gets even more savage when she thinks people are saying things to make her feel better, whether they are true or not.  Sometimes I'm not sure she know how to feel not-miserable.  I don't know if she ever did.

When I say I am the "leader," I mean I'm the secretary.  I report back to the church, pass out the feedback surveys (when I remember), attend meetings for small group leaders, and pass info on to the small group from the church.  Our church still isn't very good at this discipleship thing, and the role of small group leader is a voluntary one that carries no authority or spiritual responsibility.

I think probably this lady needs some really good spiritual counseling, but I think it would take a miracle for her to find someone who could be effective working with her the way she is now, trapped in negative thinking and stress and incapable of letting herself be loved.  She and her husband have a close relationship with the counseling pastor and the social pastor at our church (a married couple), which is actually not a good thing because I'm pretty sure she couldn't bear being honest with those people in case it made them think less of her.

The psychologist in our group says we're in a tough spot, because we aren't treating her (and can't because that's not our relationship), so all we can do is redirect when she starts to hijack, ignore the negative outbursts as we have been--so she doesn't get attention for them--and encourage her on the super-rare occasions when she says positive things (even though that makes her prickly).  Maybe next time she explodes, we'll have to be direct and tell her that it really hurts us when she says things like that, but we love her anyway.  We may also have to ask what we can do to make her dread the meetings less or find out what it is about them that she dreads.  I'm not sure she knows how to explain it, and I'm not convinced that scrutiny wouldn't drive her away.  It's all so very fraught.

Any suggestions?

Bully for you

Once upon a time when I worked for TSA, there weren't really any supervisors.  We were all new, and we all took turns, so they could figure out who to promote later.  Whenever I was in charge of the assignments, I ended up working at the busiest counter, the one no one wanted to work at, and I always assigned Mr. Bully to work there, too.  Mr. Bully was a big man, a veteran built like a tank.  He was gruff and mean and had a chip on his shoulder, and his method of "winning" an argument was to shout the other party down. 

I didn't really like Mr. Bully.  And I hated that in order to keep his grumbling to a minimum, I always had to work the busy airline, too.  But I just couldn't let the injustice of him never having to work the busy counter pass, so I put up with it.  When he asked me why I picked on him, I told him I wasn't picking on him; I was just trying to be fair and make sure that everyone rotated the duty we didn't like, so certain people didn't always end up getting stuck with it.  He still grumbled.

It was just another brick in my "I never want to be a manager/in charge" wall.  I do not deal well with difficult people.  They require finesse and communication skills and concentration and careful handling.  These are things I lack even more since I started to deal with chronic pain and insomnia. 

And now I have a difficult person in a group I'm in charge of, and I'm afraid it's going to be Mr. Bully all over again.  I'm the one who almost always has to step in and interrupt the story I've heard several times (she doesn't want help fixing the problem; she just wants to complain about it) or steer things back to the topic we're there to discuss.  She acts very defensively a lot of the time and makes passive aggressive comments about feeling like I'm judging her.  (I'm actually not.)  I'm sort of anticipating a "Why are you picking on me?" 

Only this time, I don't really have an answer, at least not one that is calm and logical and polite and firm and non-threatening.  I just don't have the bandwidth. 

If she asks, I will probably tell her the truth, "I'm not picking on you.  I'm just trying to redirect things, so your troubles (and they are real and significant) don't take over this group of people who hate confrontation and won't stop you.  I'm technically the leader, and this is my job."  I cringe about this confrontation and the growing passive-aggressive grumblings.  I am concerned about how these perceived clashes might hurt the group.  I do not have the bandwidth for this.  I don't want to be the "leader."

Then again, it's not like this has to end in tears.  Mr. Bully turned out to be a lot more bluster than bite.  I found that out when he surprised me by being the only one who stepped in to help when I was being sexually harassed by a female co-worker.  Not the casual friends I got along with, not the nice older ladies, but the bully I thought hated and resented me.  There's a lesson in there, I think.  I'm just not sure what it is . . .

Any suggestions?