It’s pleasant of the Internet to have given us a way of dealing with all forms of social embarrassment.
The technique isn’t wholly effective, though, partly because you wouldn’t put your deepest embarrassments all over Facebook anyway, but also because so many embarrassments are just trivial and boring.
Consider the moment when the words that happen to come out of your mouth are exactly the most unintelligent words imaginable. Or when you stay just a bit too long over coffee at someone’s house, or when you leave such a gathering too precipitately. Or when you give someone a side-hug and seem unfriendly, or a proper hug just when they want their personal space. Or when a friend pulls over to offer you a lift, and you don’t need it, but then you hover on the pavement, thinking how nice it was to offer, wondering how exactly to round off the conversation, while they look up from the car. Or when an acquaintance passes you with a cheerful grin and a wave, and you try to respond with an equally cheerful grin, but it gets twisted on your face because you were tired or thinking of something else or because they’d caught you in the act of eating a sandwich.
Hardly fascinating Facebook-status material. Still, at the time, and at the same time, kind of awkward.
Some people, of course, can ride the wave of awkward moments and skip away unflustered. The rest of us (at least, I hope it isn’t just me) are inclined to kick ourselves, cringe, and in the worst cases record the incident in a special file in our memories marked Things To Kick Myself About Again Later. This can feel like a kind of shame, though a peculiar, pointless kind of shame that can’t be dealt with by repentance-and-receiving-forgiveness, because to repent for a slight social blunder would really seem a bit melodramatic.
What’s the proper Biblical procedure? I ask myself—but those Bibles that start with an index headed ‘Where to Find Help in Times of Need’ tend not to include a section called ‘When you’ve just done something awkward’.
Can we, for example, console ourselves with the thought that God takes awkward moments in His stride, since His grace is sufficient for us, His power being made perfect in weakness? Or should I use the same verse as a reprimand to my pride, which was, perhaps, all that really got hurt in the awkward moment, the moment being no more than a failed attempt to be taken for an intelligent and capable person; perhaps one shouldn’t care that much about one’s dignity. One imagines the good apostle responding to such post-moment worries with some asperity: Oh foolish Briton! Get your priorities sorted…
I don’t think it is just pride, though, that makes such moments galling: a moment can make someone’s day, and although it would, I hope, be difficult to ruin someone’s day by smiling at them weirdly, it is disappointing to find that what could have been a moment of genuine, God-filled, love-filled (if also brief and insignificant) moment of free communication between people, wasn’t.
“Even in my worst moments I would not destroy a Greek statue or a fresco by Giotto. Why anything else then? Why, for example, a moment in the life of a human being who could have been happy for that moment.” – Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
What would Jesus say about these awkward and momentary troubles? I note that Jesus got his disciples out of a tight spot with the Pharisees in Mark 2, when the former were caught by the latter harvesting grain in a sense on the Sabbath; also, that Peter could ramble without knowing what he was saying during the Transfiguration, and no-one, transfigured or otherwise, seemed to be in any way concerned. Jesus was gentle when blunderers blundered. On the other hand, he didn’t scruple to create an awkward moment when something more important was at stake, as when he met a Samaritan woman at a well, or had to tell Satan to get behind him while Peter was standing there. Which makes me think that I should resist the temptation to pick out only the bits of Jesus that have a soothing influence on embarrassment.
The problem here, I suppose, is that of putting the horse behind the cart: having the Bible tag along behind in one’s forays into society, using it as a source of encouraging soundbites and occasional chastisement after the event: whereas the Bible might be better suited to standing in front of us demanding radical changes in the way we do life and see people before any further steps are taken—to going ahead, choosing the route.
What an unoriginal moral-of-the-story.
Here’s another: that Jesus, in his interaction with, say, Peter, must have said and done things for Peter’s sake, and for the sake of their relationship, whatever the impact of the recorded accounts on the lives of other people later; likewise, although I need to Know My Bible, as they say, I also need to know that Jesus is up to something specific in my life and the people around me—that although He is the same yesterday today and forever, He doesn’t have to do everything the exact same way all the time—and that I need to find him in each circumstance, not just find a solution for my own trivial regrets.
He’s not a tame lion. Following Him might involve abandoning the habit of feeling embarrassed about things, like leaving our boat and fishing nets behind on the beach—just forgetting about it. Or putting ourselves in his service might mean giving him a whole bundle of awkwardness and embarrassment: I’m sure he will take it all, whether, having dug ourselves into a hole, we find him reaching down a hand to pull us out, or inside the hole giving us a leg up, or levelling the ground so that there is no hole any more, or making of the hole a Useful Pot for Keeping Things In. Maybe he can help us love our neighbours so much that the love will show naturally through the awkwardness, or render the awkwardness invisible, so that it might as well not be there.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come. Maybe that does cover everything: not just the big things but the general mess of everything one wants to have fixed: the cross fixes everything.
So it seems reasonable to say of one’s life what Mike Pilavachi said of his speaking in tongues: if this is gobbledygook, let it be gobbledygook for You. Or to paraphrase Mother Teresa: we cannot all do great things, but we can do awkward things with some kind of love. Or to quote the young man in The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37¾: we want to be those antelopes for You, Lord. Amen.