Jacob Woods. He was that kid. You know the one. The kid that everyone made fun of. He was a little weird he wasn’t the most hygienic, he was born with coke bottle glasses, and he slept on power ranger sheets long after it was no longer acceptable to do so. Jake was a bit off beat but he was my best friend. Jake lived a few houses down from me and his situation was similar to mine. His Dad worked a lot and his Mom was very sick so we seemed to understand each other.
Despite the scrutiny that would eventually come with being Jake’s friend I was too young to know the difference. Plus, he had two things that I coveted with all my 7 year old heart, a trampoline and a computer. We would jump on the trampoline for hours on end while his dog ran around underneath trying to bite our feet as they pushed through the black woven canvas. We would play games and make banners and print endless pages from his dot-matrix printer well into the morning hours. He was my partner in all our great adventures.
As a seven year old I began to realize more and more that my older siblings didn’t really want me hanging around. My sister had a friend named Sara that I had a crush on so she made it clear that I wasn’t invited to be with them. My brother was a super cool teenager so he and his friends clearly didn’t want some “kid” hanging around, so it was fortunate that I had Jake.
I guess in some ways I knew that Jake wasn’t the coolest kid. I remember drifting away from him at church because of how the other kids treated him and being embarrassed by him quitting our football team because he got hit once and cried a lot, but he thought I was cool, and he liked having me around, so I hung with him. Plus, it wasn’t really his fault that he was weird. His Dad was some kind of nuclear scientist like Bill Nye and I vaguely remember his mom wearing a broccoli stalk around her neck like Ms. Frizzle minus the magic school bus, so it was kind of genetic.
If I could choose a friend for my 7 year old self, I don’t really know that I would have chosen Jake. I picked up some bad habits from him like not brushing my teeth, sneaking around to watch Beavis and Butthead late at night, and cheating on my homework. Jake got bad grades, yelled at his parents, and could be a typical only child at times. Anyway, like I said, Jake was weird, but he was my friend, because he accepted me when others didn’t.
My point here is this. When people feel rejected or different, they will drift towards whatever makes them feel accepted and normal. The problem is that the ones who make us feel accepted, aren’t always good influences on us. I think that’s why when people are in pain they land at a bar. There isn’t a lot of judgement at the local pub. It reminds me of that old show Cheers. The opening credits would roll while they sang
“Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.”
Men sit there to flirt with the girl behind the counter, women sit there and hope to pull the men’s attention away, but nobody judges anybody. The problem is that no body really helps anybody get better either, they just commiserate and encourage each other’s bad habits in a way that keeps them all down. I’ve heard that this is what makes the influence of gangs so powerful too. People join gangs because they don’t fit in anywhere else and they just want to belong.
What if the church was more receptive? Of course it’s easy to stick it to the man by blaming the organization but what about you? What if you were more accepting of the outcasts? What if when people felt rejected or different they knew they could come hang out with Christians? What if when they did we were honest about how weird and different and broken we are so that they knew they were in good company? What if we would lovingly and intentionally help them be better? What if the realization of that dream starts with you...or me? Maybe the broken wouldn’t be cast out into the world without answers.
Do we intentionally seek to receive the broken and help them heal? I know I don’t. I hope I can find the courage.