A hot button topic.

The hot-button mentioned in the title isn’t like abortion or immigration of the presidential election.  It’s an actual button: you know what I mean.  A round disk with a pin through it designed for being displayed on your collar or shirt or whatever.  This button I wore last night carried this lesson with it.  Let me explain.

There’s this series of books out.  They are vampire novels.  They have this tremendous following among teen aged girls and suburban moms… They seem to appeal to the quirky members of both these groups, those with a penchant for the macarbe. 

The final book was released Saturday.  I have this second job at Barnes and Noble.  I was scheduled to work last night.  We stayed open until 1 AM, and we had this big release party thing for the final book in the series.

And so one of the things those wacky managers did was arrange this tremendous scavenger hunt.  You know how it works: objects were strewn across the store.  These were listed on a page.  Hunters had to find where these objects were and mark them down.

So far, so good.  Except some of the objects were people.

About half of the staff were given these buttons that identified them as figures from the novels.  I had this one that had some made-up fantasy word at the top, and then the words “Vampire Mafia” at the bottom.  The idea was that people would put my name next to the slot on their page with the made-up fantasy word on their page.

It was a fascinating experience.  What it did was turn  me into an object, a means to an end for hundreds of people.  It’s not so much that I was no longer Jeff.  Let’s be real.  When I’m at Barnes and Noble, the use I have to people is not in my personality, experience, or insight.  The use I have is that I ring people up or help them find C.D.’s.

But atleast those things take some little tiny amount of ability or effort on my part.

I stood around and wore a button.  That was my value.

And though it certainly wasn’t a traumatic expereince, I had these insights.  There’s this whole symbolic thing.

First off, it’s hard to deny that it’s fun when people are happy to see you.  People would see the button on my collar and they would light up.  They would want to know my name, and if they didn’t read it off my my name tag lanyard thing I would tell them.  I realized it was absurd to feel so popular.  But this realization didn’t do much to water down the feeling.

Worse than the occasional realization that it was all about the button were the people who’d lost track of the fact that they’d already recorded me on their page.  People would get annoyed.  (Generally, half-jokingly annoyed, but still…) “I already found you.”  “I already have you.”  “I don’t need you.”  “What good are you.”

And so I have these realizations.

The first is that words are so powerful.  Even when they are rooted in nonsense, a fabrication, meaningless, sometimes we grab on to the words that people say so much more than what is behind those words.  Part of me really enjoyed hearing people so excited to see me, people wanting to know my name.  This part of me didn’t at all care why these people wanted to.

That stupid little button and the scavenger hunt as a whole seem like a pretty good metaphor.  There are all sorts of ridiculousness that people want to know us for.  There are all kinds of meaningless reasons  that people act like they’re excited about us, when in fact they are just using us.

Conforming to society’s expectations to what counts as attractive, that’s one of the most obvious buttons.  Having some form of power, status, or wealth.  We want to be seen with these people, or we want to use them for what they can do or what they can get us.

As stupid and meaningless as it was, if somebody had asked me if they could wear my button, I would have given it up rather grudgingly.  I don’t believe I’m alone in this, the idea that I’d rather feel important for foolish reasons than feel unimportant for the right ones.  I count it a blessing that I was able to take the button off and leave the scavenger hunt.  There are some buttons that don’t come off, some scavenger hunts that don’t end.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “A hot button topic.”

  1. We (society) have put buttons on all sorts of people and things. Through sin, we are allowing the diversion of our focus from the real issues, into a realm of looks or status that determine wealth. I think this would be a good time to take a look at the buttons that drive all of us. What do we find most appealing about other? Would we cherish another’s company with out there perfectly located beach house? Or that attractive smile? Do we spend that extra 15 minutes in the bank waiting just to see a pretty teller? To subsequently withdraw 20 dollars. Do we simply pretend to like who, our bosses like and hate who they hate? Do we foolishly ally ourselves with a political party, for the sake of some misguided belief system?

    Well I think you get the picture… So how do I as a Christian restrain from such views? I have my own thoughts on how to live a perfect Christian life, how to grow a community, and how to support new believers. But with those thoughts comes a whole host of buttons that I can not avoid. How then do you suggest avoiding such buttons? Growing a community of believers? Supporting those new believers? While enabling yourself to remove the glasses of favoritism and self-preservation?

    Thanks Kyle

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  2. Thanks Kyle, I think you raise some amazing questions and make some great points.
    I wish I had more answers than I do.
    One of the things I think I learned after wearing the button, that night, is that part of the problem is that it’s fun to wear the button, for a while.
    We put a lot of energy into telling people “Don’t use other people for their beach house, or money, or looks or whatever.” And that’s all well and good… We should be spurring each other on not to use people.

    But I’m wondering if we spend enough energy saying “If you’re the one with the money, or the looks, or the appearance, or the beach house, you owe it to yourself and to others to build relationships that run deeper than these things.”
    It’s hard because I don’t want to get into a blame game, clearly those who are used are the victim and we shouldn’t blame the victim.
    Perhaps we ought to be trying to teach each other to see each other the way that God sees all of us. If we realize that we’re not simply means to some end, that we are wonderfully made quite apart from our possessions or appearances, perhaps people won’t settle for shallowness.


  3. I would agree Jeff, “that we are wonderfully made quite apart from our possessions or appearances. perhaps people won’t settle for shallowness.” Unfortunately the reality is that people are coincided and we like being used. “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” Proverbs 21:21. If we keep our minds focused on what it is to be righteous, I believe we will no longer feel that need to be used.

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