I saw my first Oregonian when I was a freshman in college. Actually, I saw an entire flock of Oregonians out in front of Zeta Chi during my first week at Biola College. It was January of 1978 and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. Despite the fact that Albert Hammond had assured us on the radio that “It Never Rains in Southern California,” it does rain. It did rain. For days and days it rained. It poured. Man, it poured. Winds whipped the water sideways flooding the roadways and cutting all power on campus.
My California roommates and I donned our raincoats and boots, and grabbed our umbrellas to venture out into the storm. Since we couldn’t see anything in our room, we thought we’d better make our way to the College Union Building to ride out the terrifying storm with others. We didn’t want to be alone. Isometric winds howled and resisted as we tried to slam our exterior door shut.
The drainage ditch below our dorm quickly filled to capacity. Water crested over the banks of the ravine and immediately inundated the lower parking lot with mud and debris. Ginormous swirling pools of water collected in the uneven graveled lot, threatening to wash away chunks of asphalt and whole cars in their wake. It was a ferocious storm full of catastrophe and destruction, but there; there in the midst of the mud was a band of barefoot Oregonians. They weren’t worried at all about a little breeze and a puddle of rain. They loved it! In fact, they were out puddle jumping with no coats, no shoes, no umbrellas, and no worries. In the middle of a monsoon, those crazy Oregonians gleefully stomped in the puddles like a raft of ducks.
I knew instantly; Oregonians were weird, totally and completely weird. They certainly were odd ducks – different than all the rest of us.
Years later, after having lived in Oregon for twenty years, it was just as easy for me to spot a Californian. They were the only ones running in the rain. The rest of us didn’t care a whit about getting wet. I had succumbed. Somewhere along the way, I had given into the Northwest culture and become a duck myself. I was a “we” now, and no longer a “they.” Without intention, I had become one of those same odd ducks my friends and I used to laugh about.
Whether we know it or not, we all have things that call us out from the crowd and distinguish us as unique. That uniqueness is a gift, but like the raft of Oregonians playing in the puddles, we don’t like to be unique alone. Instead, we seek out others of similar character and/or interest so we don’t stand out. We want the comfort of others around us so we can run together, fly together, or puddle jump together.
Identity is born.
A sub-culture emerges.
I have a preoccupation with identifying sub-cultures. They are interesting. How people find each other, collect themselves into groups, and develop a corporate identity is fascinating.
Since I recently moved to a new city, I am in the throes of sorting through the people I am meeting. Will I find an identifiable sub-culture and choose my friends from there, or will I find a friend and build a sub-culture around the friendship? I’m not sure yet; I’m still working on it. Why do I even think I need a sub-culture? Our American society is teeming with identifiable sub-cultures.
You might recognize some of them. There are geeks, gamers, hippies, Trekkies, bikers, rockers, teenyboppers, sci-fi fanatics, jocks, cowboys, and thousands more. Sub-cultures abound.
So, certainly there are lots of places for me to fit in. I can run with women, mothers, empty-nesters, military Brats, Christians, writers, teachers, or kaleidoscope lovers. It’s still early, but so far, I have yet to find my niche. I’m still searching for my “tribe” here, my place to belong.
Between the lines of my longing for new friendships, I’ve stumbled headlong into a conundrum. While I’ve been looking for others like me, God has been whispering something else.
“There is enormous value in distinction, in being different,” He said this morning when I was praying about it. “I’ve chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” He added.
Odd is good?
Yes, odd is good. The very qualities that make us stand out, may be exactly what God wants to use to impact and influence others. Surprisingly, He may want us to be the “odd duck” in a herd of birds, or the proverbial “fish out of water” to accomplish something greater than our social conformity ever could.
I will never forget an encounter I had years ago with a young woman at a church nearby. She was a member of a women’s retreat committee that had invited me to speak at their spring retreat. During the meeting, my spirit instantly connected to this young woman in such a powerful way that I couldn’t shake it. Afterwards, I pulled her aside and said, “I don’t want to leave this world without knowing you.” I think she was as surprised as I was by the words that flew out of my mouth, but she agreed to meet me for chai.
What was it that made her stand out?
The Apostle Paul knows. Paul had the exact same experience when he met Timothy in Acts 16. Instantly, Paul’s heart joined to Timothy’s and they served as close companions throughout the remainder of Paul’s ministry. Paul often referred to Timothy as his own son, or child in the faith. There was close kinship and camaraderie in their relationship. In Philippians 2:20-21, Paul called Timothy a kindred spirit. “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (NASB)
So, what distinguished Timothy from other Believers and made him a kindred spirit with Paul? It was Timothy’s commitment to the welfare of others. Timothy did not seek after his own interests, but put others first. Selflessness was the core value that ignited Paul’s heart making Timothy his kindred spirit.
In fact, selflessness is the theme of Philippians, chapter 2. Look at this interesting thread of continuity from the beginning of the chapter:
Philippians 2:2-4 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (NASB)
When it came time for Paul to send someone to encourage the Believers at Philippi in Philippians 2:19, Paul reached back to the beginning of the chapter for inspiration. Paul wanted to send someone who would stand out. He wanted someone who would personify Philippians 2:2-4. Paul wanted to send Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy would not demand his own way because Timothy had already distinguished himself by faithfully devoting himself to the needs of others.
How did I know the young woman was a kindred spirit? Her uniqueness distinguished her as a selfless person who acted for the good of others instead of the advancement of herself. It was her distinctions, her differences, which instantly connected my spirit with hers.
All of us want to belong. We want to find people who are similar to us and journey with them throughout our lives. That’s a good thing; it’s a great thing. I have to be honest with you, however, and tell you that some of the most meaningful friendships I’ve had in my life have been with people that were totally unlike me. If I had only looked to a homogenous “sub-culture” for friendship, I would have missed out on the most important relationships of my life…and I would never have rubbed shoulders with the friends from which I’ve learned the most.
2012 is just two days away and I have been thinking a lot about kindred spirits. I want my life to be full of them, but the truth is; kindred spirits don’t come along every day. We must wait for them. My “resolution” for the New Year is to be intentional about selflessly serving others and looking out for their interests. I’m sure that as I give myself away in friendship, new friendships will eventually arise and I will be the richer for it.
Until then, I have work to do. When I arrived in Oregon my first order of business was to learn how to pronounce the name of my state. I said, Or-ee-gone, but quickly learned it is pronounced Or-y-gun.
You say Col-o-rod-o, I now say Co-lo-rad-o.
Oh, awful thought – If I became a duck when I moved to Oregon, will I have to become a buffalo now that I’ve moved to Colorado?
So not cute…
©Copyright, 2011 by Donna Tallman.