What MTV Taught Me About Jesus

9:12 PM Marcellino DAmbrosio 0 Comments


This blog will not pull any punches. It deals with human nature, where there’s dirt and mud and wilderness to be explored. You might want to pack a couple extra pairs of socks and another pair of pants with you because on this adventure, we're going to tromp though the swamps and the creeks and the canyons of my soul. I will (*&^ out expletives as a courtesy, but you will know they are there. I'm not going to p@#8sy foot around sex or drinking or anything else that needs to get talked about. So let us begin, shall we?

One time a couple years ago my brothers and I sat on a couch in our living room and watching a show on MTV about cliques. This school had the unfortunate problem of being normal and having a serious issue with cliquishness. The parents made a ruckus and so the principle brought in a team that specialized in breaking up cliques. It started with hundreds of these high school kids in a gymnasium, all sitting around looking disdainful and silent. They sat with their like kind, the football players and the cheerleaders, the band kids, the thugs. No one played with the basketballs, those stayed on the floor in the corner, and no one talked above the “whisper chuckle” level. There is no more awkward of a place in the world than a place where the normal daily high school culture. The discomfort is palpable. It's like catching a couple hundred deer in the headlights all at once.



“this place is SO lame, like omg."

They all seize up, stop moving and look around as if the light will just go away if they act like they don't exist. It's really funny really. Getting them to talk, much less play together takes nothing short of a miracle. But the group that was putting this little retreat on had a few miracles up their sleeve. After they introduced themselves and made a few jokes to lighten the mood, they told the kids they'd be playing a game. After some coaxing, turning on loud music, and offering few cool prizes, they had the kids jumping hopping around on one foot and trying to untie a knot of human arms locked uncomfortably close to one another. I couldn't believe it. Then after the games, they kids sat back down, read faced and smiling. The counselors then one by one got up on the stage and said the following. “Hi, I'm (insert name), and to know me you have to know (insert the most incredibly vulnerable experience of brokenness you've ever heard).” It was pretty wild. One of the guys, Jake, was kind of a hipster looking dude with a handlebar mustache and lots of tattoo’s said “Hi, I'm Jake, and to know me, you have to know that when I was a kid, my dad used to come home drunk and beat me and my mom till we were all shades of blue, green and yellow. My mom used to put makeup on me to hide the bruises.” A girl got up after him. She was really tall, like six foot, really big, but still really pretty. She said, “Hi, I'm Alyson, and to know me, you have to know that I'm a lesbian. The kids spray painted  “big fat dike” on my garage door one morning, and I started cutting when I got home that day.”  A cheerleader type got up and talked how her mom would make her stand on a scale every day before dinner, and wouldn't let her eat if she weighed any more than 100 lbs. After a while, she just stopped eating entirely.” And then Tyrel stood up and talked about starting to deal drugs so that they could pay the heating bill and his mom, little brother, and little sister wouldn't freeze to death in a Detroit blizzard. Every single one of the counselors came from completely different social groups, dressed different, talked different, but were no less broken. All of them had been really really broken.
     When I was in high school, I went on every single retreat my youth group had available. Then after high school I helped put on retreats with a few different churches, and I'd never seen anything like what I saw that day on MTV. We liked to stay at a comfortable level of detachment, where we would touch lightly on our stories of brokenness, but move off them as quickly as possible. It would usually go something like this: “I was going through a really difficult time in my life, like stuff was really bad, you know? I was depressed, and some kids said some things to me that were kind of hurtful, and then I realized that God loved me.” If you ever want to make sure that people walk away from a conversation knowing absolutely nothing more about you, the words “Stuff” and “things” are your two best friends.

“Well, I was struggling with some race stuff and one time...”
I remember being bored most of the time during those witnesses and just wanting to get to the parts where we jumped around to music or got to go play paintball. “You had to sit through these things to play paintball, its just the way it is,” I thought. And most of my fellow classmates would have agreed. They would kind of pay attention and offer lots of thoughtful cliche's in small group after, but these were just things you had to do to get to the largely unsupervised free time later. But not in this retreat. The kids were riveted. They might have felt awkward or uncomfortable at times, but their eyes were, without exception glued to the person talking. No one checked their phones, no one chuckled or punched their friends arm. They listened in a sort of palpable awe. The counselors never even did the classic turnkey  “but now I know God loves me” phrase. All they did was get vulnerable. And when they each finished telling their story, they broke all of the kids into small groups. The small groups were made up of eclectic bunch of random people who didn't really know each other or run in the same circles. The counselor opened it up, and said “we want to know your stories, so just go ahead and do like we did, just say 'hi I'm ____ and to know me you have to know ____.” By the end of the session, the cheerleader, the punk, and the math nerd were hugging and crying and telling each other how much they appreciated each other. It was incredible.       There is real power in vulnerability. Its crazy what it can do when a group of seemingly unlike people drop the facade of strength and actually encounter one anothers weakness. It's like we're actually all the same. It's like we were all on the same sports team when the coaches made us do “two a days” and we never knew it. Doing youth ministry, if nothing else, has taught me that every single person on this world has experienced tremendous suffering and brokenness, whether they live in a mansion, drive a Volvo or support the Yankees—Democrats and Republicans alike. Shared suffering somehow ties us together and inspires empathy in even the hardest of hearts. How that works is a mystery to me, but I know it's true nevertheless, and so did God. When he could have sent his Son to overthrow the Romans and set the Jews above all other worldly powers, he let his Son come and suffer betrayal, deep loneliness, and painful death. That was his plan to redeem us. It's so wild and so crazy, and so unintelligible, but at the same time so powerful!
    When I was a kid, I imagined heaven like they made it look in the cartoons. A bunch of people floating around on clouds strumming harps.

Pictured above: A place no 6 year old boy ever wants to go.
“Eternal rest,” sounded very unappealing to a 6 year old who hated the thought of bedtime even more than eating vegetables. I grew out of that pretty quickly, but I never had anything really good to replace it with. Suddenly I had a new image, that is probably still very incomplete, but much closer. I feel like heaven is going to be a lot like that gymnasium. Filled with beautiful individuals that never knew they shared so much with so many people, weeping in each others arms as they are forgiven, heard, and understood-- a place to belong.  
     Something woke up in me while I was sitting there engulfed in this mystery of human nature happening on a screen. I knew that I wanted to tell my story, because somewhere, someone is hurting the same way I was hurting, and will take comfort in sharing my suffering. We'd share it like a meal, and be healed and freed in its digestion. In that instant, I just wanted to go outside and introduce myself to the first person I saw on the street; and without any pretense or any smokescreen I wanted to say, “hi, my name is Marcellino, and to know me, you have to know that I'm really f*@#*g crazy.

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