So I was walking along the canal last night. A Broaddus family outing, complete with one of our “adopted” daughters who had never been. Indianapolis does have some neat things to offer if you give it a chance. The canal is this waterway that runs through downtown Indy. People bicycle, skateboard, rollerblade, paddleboat, get serenaded in gondolas; all with museums and gardens lining the walkway.

At one point, while the rest of the family was off checking out the outdoor steam clock (okay, every 15 minutes it chimed the melody for “there’s more than corn in Indiana”. No kidding.), this group of teenagers passed me. All Goth-ed out, eagerly reveling in their “we’re different from you” vibe.

I don’t think they got the reaction o ut of me that they were going for.

I felt sorry for them.

I know that they were trying to be dark and shocking, and maybe it was the “trying” part that I didn’t react to. The look was too calculated to give mom fits, too much a walking cliche. Their all black wardrobe, some leather accessories, piercings, tattoos, and shaved heads or spartan plaits (I don’t know what they’re called … little twisty braids?). All of 15 years old. Maybe.

They weren’t a part of some subculture, they lacks a certain real-ness about them. They struck me as spoiled suburbanites with too much money and time on their hands trying to get some attention. Adopting the trappings of another culture as their own because they don’t know how to come up with a creative way to express themselves; instead, they reveal themselves as the lemmings that they are. Posers.

[Maybe part of it was my own prejudice. People who get tattoos fall into one of two categories in my mind: people who creatively seek to express who they are or uninteresting people who say to themselves “this will make me more interesting than I am.” The true vs. the posers.]

I know better than to make judgments on another’s suffering, since suffering is always unique to the person. What you’ve gone through might not have been an issue for me, and what I’ve endured might not be that big a deal to you: neither negates the fact that the suffering, the pain, was real. However, I also know that there’s nothing new under the sun. So while these kids may see themselves as going through some things that no one else has (the hubris of youth), that no one else would understand (since that would rob them of their special-ness), theirs is an old story.

They are at the fun stage of life where they struggle with issues of self-image (many of them uncomfortable in their own skins), where they fit in the social order, wrestling with their idea of self-identity, and dealing with feelings of alienation. They’ve been burned by some community (family, a circle of friends, a church) and are tired of not fitting in, of being rejected, of not being accepted. They put up these “harsh”, abrasive fronts, of the mostly bark/little bite variety, that mask their insecurity. So they adopted this self-defense mechanism: I am going to make myself an outsider, you’re going to treat me as an outsider, then I’m going to rage against you keeping me on the outside.

At least this seems to be the common theme with the kids and young adults that I’ve talked to.

They’re half-disappointed when you don’t find them shocking. For all their steel toed boots, their excessive piercing, their countless tats, it’s little more than a cry for help (or the plaintive proclamation that they have no intention of ever having a corporate job). Like I said, it struck me as kind of sad, really. They seem more angry and confused than “dangerous”; searching for a sense of place and belonging. They want to be taken seriously, but–given their hostility and appearance–they’re like a bad commercial: their message is lost in their medium.

Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, trying to point us to a better path.
“Who exactly is my neighbor?” Us, looking for a loophole.

In other words, they are like the rest of us. Looking for authenticity, looking for acceptance, on their terms. (It’s safer that way: loving others is risky and they can’t take the thought of any more rejection.) Here’s the take home lesson for today: love all, serve all, regardless of who they are.