Tuesday, September 21, 2010

See You After the Pole

"See You at the Pole" time is upon us once again. On Wednesday morning, students and youth pastors all over the country will gather around flag poles in front of schools to pray together.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but I'm not impressed. And it has nothing to do with the idolatry of ostensibly praying to God with the symbol of a nation at the center of your gathering. (Well, not nothing, but that is kind of ironic, isn't it?)

No, the reason I'm not impressed with "See You at the Pole" is because of the massive gap between the rhetoric that surrounds it and what actually happens there.

One morning when I was in high school, I saw a large group of people gathering around the flagpole in front of the school. I walked over and asked what was going on. Someone explained to me what "See You at the Pole" was, and they were surprised that I went to church but didn't know about it, implying that something was wrong with my church. (Later in life I realized that my church didn't feel the need to flaunt our faith, since Jesus said not to do that.)

I listened as one of the youth pastors from a nearby church told us how courageous we all were for being there that morning and taking a stand for God. I looked around and saw that all the pretty, popular people were there, and I thought that statement was strange because it didn't take a whole lot of courage to join a large group following the lead of the popular kids. That's what always happened at school. Looking back, I think it would have been much more courageous of me to speak up and challenge that guy's assertion, or even to simply walk away.

After the prayer (that I had a difficult time paying attention to because I started counting all the "Lord God/Lord Jesus"-es, and couldn't keep track somewhere after 30ish), I went up to say hi to one of the pretty, popular students, since I had heard the youth leader say that all of us there were each others' true friends and whatnot. The girl gave me a "why are you talking to me?" look of surprise/disgust and quickly walked away. As she was getting as far away from me as she could, I heard her say to one of her pretty, popular friends, "wow, did you see how (girl's name) was dressed? What a skank!"

I'd like to think that my experience at See You at the Pole was an exception, and that it really is a great, encouraging thing for students. And if that is or was your experience, that's great, and I certainly don't want to take away from it. But over the years I've met too many people who have had very similar experiences, and because of them they have given up on Christianity altogether, to simply dismiss it.

I've come to believe that it doesn't take a whole lot of courage to stand around a flag pole and hold hands with a bunch of people while listening to a religious speech with your eyes closed. It takes a lot more courage to seek out the kid who sits by himself at lunch and be friends with him, or to speak up when a group of people is laughing at some girl behind her back. It takes real courage to not only forgive someone who has done hurtful things to you, but also to treat that person with the same love and kindness that you would show to your best friend.

If someone sees you at the pole, that's great, but what's really going to make a difference is what they see after we walk away from the pole.


doodlebugmom said...

Amen. Sadly, I don't think your experience at See You at the Pole was unusual.

Jessica Miller Kelley said...

good post, sweetie. Was that popular girl the same "queen bee" we saw at your reunion?

Anonymous said...

Matt, Sad you had that experience,I know it is a reality for many...yet I have seen the other side often over the many years of SYATP. Students who genuinely care and give and receive encouragement from peers. Jesus seems to be addressing attitudes of the heart in various "religious" acts, not the acts themselves, or I dare say all "out-loud" prayer, giving etc. would be off limits. I see that it's a matter of maturity not the event that is the issue. Regarding your concern and seeing what you described I decided years ago to be proactive and help students grow "past" the event in making a difference day by day. Check out 40days.net Afterall, the disciples followed Jesus around for three years during high school and still didn't get it. Let's help em grow, not shut em down. By RealityCk in Florida