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The Parable of the Painted Miniatures

April 6, 2012

It is no secret that I am a huge nerd. I have become very OK with this, and I think that makes my life easier in many ways. In fact, embracing my nerdity is perhaps one of the reasons that people even give me the modicum of respect that they do. Allow me to elaborate, using an example from Real LIfe:

I am a big fan of board games. I even wrote a whole post about them and considered making the theme of this blog about them. I decided not to, since I am probably the only person that I know who is quite so keenly interested in board games (or, bored games, if you are my sisters. Ba-dum ching!). One of the problems with being a board game fan is that, being a niche hobby, there aren’t that many game stores around for you to browse in. By contrast, if you’re a sports fan, you can consume content about sports any time you want. There are many sports-only TV channels. There are sporting goods stores, There are rec leagues and pickup games and pro teams and college teams and etc. etc. etc. Also, there’s not really a social stigma attached to being a sports fan–it’s pretty main stream. For board games, on the other hand, there’s usually a few small stores and maybe one or two websites for you to check out. That’s it. If you don’t happen to like the store or the website, too bad for you, because that’s all that there is. Oh—and board games = nerd, in many people’s minds.

These facts hit close to home, recently. You see, many of my friends in town really enjoy playing board games with me at my home. Stepping out into a game store, however, seems to be quite the task. I did have two intrepid friends make this journey recently. They forayed into a local purveyor to pick up a gift for a missionary friend of ours. Unfortunately, this particular game store is dark, creepy, and full of kids who want to play Magic the Gathering. It could quite easily be characterized as “wizard-y,” which is for sure the kiss of death to all coolness factor that board games could have had. My friends went in, got the game, and headed out as quickly as they could, afraid to talk to anyone or to attract to much attention to themselves.

When talking to one of them later about their experience, I was told that one of the major reasons for not enjoying the store is that my friends had “way more in common with those guys than they were comfortable with.” I found this to be quite hilarious, actually. He was admitting to being a gamer on the inside, but he was unwilling to let the gamer seep through to the outside, certainly not to the point where people could perceive this gamery sense about him.

Well, a few weeks later I heard about a new store opening in town. This newer one was operated by a friend of a friend, so we decided to head over and check out the grand opening. It was laid out quite differently. There was no “dungeony feel,” quite by design. However, the games themselves were extra wizardy. One of the employees was very excited about showing us a certain game in which you purchase small army men (which are fantasy themed, of course–trolls and elves and such; I couldn’t really tell through the glazed-over look in my eyes) and, not only do you purchase fantasy armies, but they come white and you paint them to your liking. Then, these custom-painted trolls battle it out on your tabletop against your friend’s hordes. After we left, I told my friend that everyone draws their line, and I draw the line firmly at painted miniatures.

But I’m not sure why either he or I was so put off by our experiences. In fact, we were associating with people who share largely the same interests recreationally that we do. We should have been excited to hang out there and spend time. The mere fact that the first game store felt wizardy and that the second game store featured people excited about painted miniatures shouldn’t have obscured that we actually really enjoy and appreciate about 90% of their product line. Why were we so ashamed to be seen in there, as though we were going to get some sort of uncoolness fungus that we would later have to wash off?

Unfortunately, I think that people act this way all the time. People are largely unwilling to act the way that God built them to act and prefer to blend in to the culture of the people around them. Fundamentally, this grows out of the need (or perceived need) to be liked, and we fear that if we are different from those around us, we will be rejected by them. Therefore, when your friends watch the NBA, you decide to give it a try. When they get into the Hunger Games, you whip out your Kindle to download them. If they listen to hipster rock, you check out a new Pandora station. Forget what you actually like–make sure that what you like is acceptable.

It’s even worse with behaviors. When your friends gossip, you gossip. When they make decisions about who is cool or not, you make your associations along these same lines. If they skip church, you do the same. And so on, and so forth. All of these behaviors arise from a need to be liked.

What’s funny about this is that it always backfires, and we know it. Studies have been done to determine what makes a certain person popular, and it almost always boils down to a few distinct factors: 1. Self-confidence 2. The ability to talk to anyone.

Isn’t that ironic? By segmenting ourselves off from certain folks to seek popularity, we actually make ourselves more unattractive to people. By being unwilling to actually own who we are, we reduce our own capacity to be appreciated by others.

So what’s the point of this whole discussion? Well, insofar as a point exists, I guess it’s that you should just be who you are. If you paint miniatures, go do that. Own that. Tell others about that. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t be ashamed about it. If you like American Idol, go for it. Use up all 12 text votes available. Put those Idol-themed blogs in your RSS. Just be honest about it. If you like to dance, dance! If you like to sing, do it! If you like sports, go play! Buy season tickets! Go whole hog. When you go all in, your friends and people around you will respect you for it. You’re finally being honest with yourself, and, by extension, with the world.

As discussed above, I love games. I draw the line at painted miniatures. I’m OK with that. Who are you? What do you do? Where do you draw your lines? In determining this, there is freedom. I encourage you to go out and be yourself. Be who God made you. And if you end up being lumped in with the wizardy kids, or with the dweebs, or the dorks, or the geeks, or the jocks, that’s OK. You’ll know the truth about yourself. Everyone else who matters will too. And God, who is the only one who truly matters knows already. LIke the Bible says, people look at your outward appearance; God looks at your heart. And you can’t fake your heart.

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