On feeling awkward and why it matters

St. Mary’s Upper School Chapel Address


Hello!  Good morning!

I’m so glad to get to be here this morning.

Thanks to Rev. Bush for inviting me and to y’all for welcoming me!

As she said, my name is Jonathan and I’m an Episcopal priest

here at the Church of the Holy Communion.

I got married to my wife, Ali, in September, moved down here,

and started at Holy Communion in October.

Ali is an environmental educator and sometimes she makes cheese and

she loves to garden and farm and spent time outdoors.

We have a dog named Banks and we just got some new baby chickens

 who are growing up too fast. We’re excited about fresh eggs though.

Ali and I are still getting to know Memphis.

It can be a little awkward being new somewhere, but folks at Holy Communion,

and here at St. Mary’s, and actually pretty much everyone

we’ve met has been really nice and warm to us.

Awkwardness is actually what I thought might

be interesting to talk about today. You see, one of my main jobs as a priest,

besides leading worship services, teaching about Christianity,

or preaching, is pastoral care. That basically just means taking care of people,

helping them know they’re not alone, and being a support if they are going

through difficult times or circumstances. That can be hard work. 

Another way to think about it is being willing to feel awkward,

in the hope that it’ll help someone else feel less awkward.

Anyone here ever felt awkward? For any reason?

Embarrassed, out-of-place, uncomfortable?

No one? Everyone? I think we’re actually all kinda weird

and awkward in our own special ways. If you’ve never felt awkward,

that just might be your superpower. Then again, I also think being awkward

is a superpower. I think it’s my superpower.


Before I tell you why I think that, first let me tell you

the origin story of my superpower,

like how Wonder Woman came from the Island of Warrior Amazons.

When I was born to Val and Jim many years ago

in the early morning in the middle of a blizzard,

I was pretty much a perfect baby. Except, well,

both my feet were turned around backwards. Weird, right?

I dunno, just how it happened. Anyways, I had my first surgery

at two weeks old and more as I got older. They fixed my feet a little bit,

and I was just pigeon toed instead of backwards.

I was probably pretty cute, toddling and stumbling around,

but then I got older, you know, it was kinda like in those ’80s and ’90s movies,

to be cool as a boy, you had to be athletic. And that just wasn’t my gift.

That might be when I first began to understand awkward.

I felt different. Like I didn’t fit. But then I had some friends,

which are people you can be awkward with,

and laugh with each other instead of at each other. It was ok.

I had my last surgery in 8th grade. I had just moved to Alabama

and I had to carry a big L.L. Bean backpack with literally all my books for all my classes in it

and I was on crutches and I remember one time this kid I didn’t even really know

helped me carry it and put some of the books in my locker.

That made me feel a little less like the new kid galumphing around.

            Anyways, with all that, I think I started getting used

to feeling awkward sometimes. I mean, it still happened in all the normal ways

when I was a teenager too. One time at the mall, I made my parents walk way

in front of me so no one would know I was with them.

Another time, I wrote a note, that’s an ancient technology

sort of like snapchat or texting, but you write on a little piece of paper

and fold it up as many times as you can, and then you throw it at someone

or put it in their backpack; anyways I wrote this girl I liked a note

asking her on a date. She wrote me back, politely saying “no thank you.”

It wasn’t really actually that surprising, but I didn’t think about

that we rode the same bus home and would still have to interact. Awkward.

Now I’m going to fast forward a lot to just last year,

when I was a chaplain, like Rev. Bush, except I was at a hospital

instead of a school. It was basically my job to go around to people

in the hospital and see if I could keep them company,

or pray with them if they wanted, or just make sure they knew they weren’t alone.

Now when you’re in the hospital, you feel gross, or hurt,

and lots of times you might be scared. All that can make a person feel awkward.

And if you’re a little shy, like I am, but it’s my job to go talk to people,

that can feel uncomfortable too. Like this one time, I went into someone’s room

and introduced myself as the chaplain. The patient and family only spoke Spanish though,

which I don’t speak, and so they just looked at me.

I began to feel so awkward that I couldn’t speak their language

and communicate to them, that after not very much time

I sort of said goodbye and left their room, feeling bad.

Later on, I realized, even if I didn’t speak Spanish,

there were ways I could still have tried to help.

I could have tried to find a nurse that spoke Spanish.

I could have used an online dictionary and written some basic words,

just to say we were there to support them.

But I was so distracted by how awkward I felt,

I didn’t even think about it, even though it was my job to try to help as much as possible.

As my year as a hospital chaplain went on, I got a lot more practice

being in uncomfortable situations and helping anyways.

It still can be hard, but I’ve gotten a little better at it.

And there were lots of times where even when I felt that way,

I was able to help people feel less alone, or comforted or even hopeful…


            The superpower is this: the more practice I’ve gotten being awkward,

(and I think I’m practicing it a little bit right now,)

like I said, it just comes naturally, some of you may have to work

hard to feel awkward, but, the more I’ve been able to, well,

accept it and move forward instead of letting it overwhelm me with shame or embarrassment.

I still feel it. It’s still not my favorite feeling; but it doesn’t, as much,

keep me from doing what I want to do or

what I think is the right thing to do.

And since I think actually most people do feel awkward sometimes,

when we connect over that fact, if we can share it safely,

I believe it can make us feel less awkward and more connected

            Which is a good thing for me.

Since I’m a Christian I believe every person is a child of God

who deserves respect and dignity. Since I’m a follower of Jesus,

I try to follow his two great commandments, the second of which is to love my neighbor.

I know a lot of other religions, as well as people who aren’t religious,

believe that’s a good thing to do too, to love one another.

In the stories about him, Jesus was all the time hanging out

with people his culture judged as awkward or outcast,

which of course made them feel awkward.

Even if Jesus felt that way, he didn’t let it stop him from doing

what he thought was right, treating others with love or

speaking challenging words to unjust authorities.

And it helped those people realize they were beloved of God.

So, if that’s one thing I could share that might be worth thinking about,

it’s that it might help to get comfortable with your uncomfortable feelings.

It doesn’t mean ignore them, or don’t listen to your instincts.

It just means life can be uncomfortable sometimes,

and if you learn to roll with it, it can make things a lot easier to get through.

Because things get better. And if you ever feel out of place or embarrassed,

find someone you can laugh about it with; embrace our superpower; embrace the awkward.

Because not only will you be able to move on more easily and quickly;

you’ll even be able to be kind to another,

Then we’re just being human beings, together.

And that’s a pretty good place to be.

Thank you for listening.



Posted by Jane Roberts at 5:13 PM
Share |
Memphis Web Design by Speak