Misfits and Heathens

The Christian message is transmitted by embracing those in difficulty, by embracing the outcast, the marginalized and the sinner.– Pope Francis

As I said, every now and then I will throw a post out here. And I couldn’t sleep last night. Perfect combo for a soul-calming writing session.

The release of the new Twenty One Pilots song, Heathens, in the last two weeks made posting irresistible. But instead of offering a direct commentary on the lyrics, I will tell you a story and allow you — if you’re game — to think about the song through that story. Like entering a poem, allow the somewhat enigmatic lyrics to paint your mind with imaginative colors.

By a remarkable coincidence, this story was relayed to me shortly before the song was released, which is why I made the immediate association.

I met a young man, in his mid twenties, who shared with me his story of being, and feeling, alienated from the church. I thought it was an extremely insightful story and he graciously gave me permission to share the outlines of that story. My kids think it’s very strange when I ask people if I can write on what they tell me, so I try not to ask when they are in earshot.

We started talking outside a convenience store where he worked after I had asked him to help me get the air pump to work. He asked me what I did (I had a suit on) and I told him I worked at a seminary. After we had a brief conversation about what I do for the seminary, he asked if he could share with me an insight for priests. I told him I would be grateful to hear what he had to say and would certainly put his wisdom to good use. I’m telling you, it is amazing how people open up when you tell them you work for the church.

He was diagnosed in his early twenties with a social anxiety disorder, and had lived his late childhood and adolescent years in a fairly abusive social environment. Terribly sad. He seemed like a bright young man. After going through some very dark times in his early twenties, he was able to work out of his major issues and secure a steady job working at a convenience store in a management position. And he’s now dating a girl, his very first girlfriend. His parents were Sunday Catholics, but not especially religious. His mom tried very hard when he was fifteen to get him involved in parish youth group when she saw he was withdrawing from social interactions and losing himself in online gaming. Here’s my summary of what I recall he said to me in our hour long conversation (with details left fuzzy for anonymity):

The youth group I attended was a very cliquey group, even though they seemed like nice kids. They were all very social and outgoing. I wasn’t. And all the activities they did were for people like them. After a few times, I told my mom I would never go again. It was too painful for me. They were all happy and smiling and knew each other and could talk about Jesus and God so easily, but for me it was all so totally not me. It was like listening to someone speaking another language to you. You hear all the sounds but you don’t know what any of it means. And they talk to you without any care you don’t speak their language. When you don’t know what to say, they just are like, “oh-kay,” and awkwardly walk away. I mean, they don’t realize how different our worlds are. I’m not blaming them. It is what it is.

For me, I had found my world of acceptance online in [I forgot the name of the forums he mentioned], where social misfits gathered and shared their hatred of most pop culture and of Christians. Most of people in these forums are agnostics or atheists. Pop culture is all about everything we weren’t (cool, attractive, social), and serious Christians seemed live this facade of smiley happiness and everything’s great and Jesus loves you and there are no problems. That’s what it seemed like. And we’re all like, “My life’s shit and you don’t have room for us.”

But what totally pushed me off the edge in that youth group was when this one kid said — I’m sure he meant well — “Hey, you don’t look like you know Jesus loves you. You gotta smile, man! Cheer up! Have fun! The joy of the Lord!” I was like, screw you dude. You don’t know what my life’s like. And you don’t care. I went home really angry and went straight online and bitched about this and everybody was totally with me. They all raged on the Christians. “Love! Yeah, love each other but not the f-ing freaks!”

In that [online] world I could feel accepted and be myself and feel important. But I thought to myself, God’s still important to me. I wish there was somebody like me out there, but who doesn’t want to ditch God. Wish there was a place for people like us. And I eventually grew to hate the negativity on these forums. It was all toxic. We were unified over our hatred of the rest of the world of normal people, who ran everything. But we ran this world online. It was our kingdom.

I’ve come a long way since then. I got help, got out of that online world because it was so poison and I’m beginning to find a place for my faith now, ten years later. And I’m almost back to church every week now, because when I went to church at Christmas with my parents the priest, as we were walking out, asked me my name and shook my hand and smiled and said, “Thanks for coming” which totally amazed me. That was like the best thing I could have heard.

So here’s what I’d tell you to tell the priests. They need to make sure they look out for the kids who walk around with their heads down, who walk funny, who don’t know how to hold a conversation, who get lost in the crowd. Just let them know you care. Maybe there’s nothing you can do for them socially, like getting them involved in a group, because they’re socially awkward and they probably won’t do it. But make sure everyone at your church who’s responsible for making young people feel welcome, that they don’t forget these kids. And that when they give their sermons, they need to speak about how God can mean something to someone who feels very isolated and alone. And how Jesus is not just for attractive and happy and successful and outgoing people, but for everyone. That even a misfit can fit in.

Wow.

The video (which has scenes from the movie, Suicide Squad, which the song features in), with lyrics below:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse
All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

Welcome to the room of people
Who have rooms of people that they loved one day
Docked away
Just because we check the guns at the door
Doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades
You’re lovin’ on the psychopath sitting next to you
You’re lovin’ on the murderer sitting next to you
You’ll think, “How’d I get here, sitting next to you?”
But after all I’ve said, please don’t forget

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

We don’t deal with outsiders very well
They say newcomers have a certain smell
Yeah, I trust issues, not to mention
They say they can smell your intentions
You’re lovin’ on the freakshow sitting next to you
You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you
You’ll think “How did I get here, sitting next to you?”
But after all I’ve said, please don’t forget
(Watch it, watch it)

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know
(Watch it)
All my friends are heathens, take it slow
(Watch it)
Wait for them to ask you who you know
(Watch it)

Why’d you come, you knew you should have stayed
(It’s blasphemy)
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they’re outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us

8 comments on “Misfits and Heathens

  1. Jennifer says:

    YES!!!! Exactly!!! Did you kiss his feet? LOVE LOVE LOVE! God bless him and thanks be to God that this beautiful young man has found his true home. I will keep him in my prayer… LOVE THIS story so much!

    • Yes, Jennifer, I kissed his feet by writing this testimony. That’s how I saw this post, just as you expressed it here with caps and exclamation points and all!!
      My grandfather once said to me, “If you love me you’ll tell my stories to your children.”
      All around us are hidden treasures of wisdom and beauty, and occasionally I pause long enough to notice.
      Thanks for your joy over it with me!!! God love you.

      • Jennifer says:

        “All around us are hidden treasures….” a 7-billion times yes. Truly, what exquisite joy in the noticing! Thanks be to God! (This will be my meditation this morning…)

        I will tuck your grandfather’s words of wisdom in my heart. You were so blessed to have had such a dear man as your grandfather. Thank you for continuing to love him by sharing your memories of him here now and again. Beautiful, Tom!

  2. nos says:

    As I have loved you. + + + + + + +

  3. Hunter says:

    I just had the huge honor of attending a Twenty One Pilots concert in Orlando and was simply blown away by what I witnessed. There was a special beauty surrounding those two young men, fully engaged with the culture and the individuals that make it up, yet allowing their vocation and calling to completely permeate this relationship. They closed the concert with Trees, which in and of itself was a thing to be experienced.. But I simply cannot express the beauty of when Tyler stopped singing and allowed the crowd to take over, singing the chorus ourselves with hands lifted high! SO cool!

  4. Claude J Kenneson says:

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s so important to welcome people, people you know as well as stranger who come to church, to make them feel that this is the community they belong to. I’m reminded of a Latino woman, recently moved to here, who I met a couple of months ago. Having been raised Catholic, she decided to look for a Catholic Church. At the Church she visited not one person made her feel that they were really happy that she was there. Now she attends the Anglican Church were just the opposite occurred.

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