I don’t remember the first time in life I learned about what was cool and what was not.
THE HISTORY OF THE FOOD CHAIN
Adam and Eve were part of the original food chain, so I think it’s worth taking a closer look at them.
They got to sit there at the beginning of time in this peaceful national park kind-of-place, and kick back in their canoes with banana stalks, and study Split Leaf Philodendron and butterflies. They had the world at their fingertips, and they didn’t have to clock in. They didn’t even have to put pants on in the morning.
They never had to stick up to a bully at school either, or give a speech in class about how America was built, and nobody laughed at them if they mixed up words and couldn't match their socks. If there was anyone in the whole world free to live in a fearless culture that wasn’t shaped by what people think of you, it was Adam and Eve. I’m a little jealous of that to tell you the truth.
It didn't stop them from trying out that off-limits fruit though. This snake showed up and told them that trying it would make them smart and people would like them more, and they believed it.
There was this girl Allison who lived right next door to me when I was five. When my birthday got close, I didn’t invite her to my party though because she cried a lot. Like the time me and all these five year olds stirred dandelions into a frisbee full of water and called it soup. She cried because the soup was fake, and I didn’t want to invite her to my birthday after that.
I’m only telling you this to explain that not inviting Allison to my party was the cruelest thing I knew how to do as a five year old. I’m really ashamed of that corner of my heart. The bit that would not invite people in because it didn’t make me feel good about myself.
WE’LL DO ANYTHING IT TAKES TO GET TO THE TOP
I believe the world is shaped by things like sitcoms and Instagram stories. I believe in the power of likes and good opinions. That people will sacrifice almost anything for them. I know because I've watched it happen. I know because I’ve tried it.
Here’s what I’m saying. I never took a class on being cool and neither did Adam and Eve.
I think there’s this invisible set of rules we all learn to follow, maybe as early as five. There’s this unspoken list of stuff that people do and don’t do, and those things push us up against a brick wall and rank us–like choosing teams for dodge ball.
I don't think we're monsters for it. I just think we're a little like Adam and Eve. We like to be smart and feel cool, and what we really mean by that is that we want to be near the top of the food chain. At least we'd give anything not to be at the bottom of it.
One of the most hilarious things I ever heard of was this African commercial they air over here. It shows this husband watching TV on the couch, and suddenly he smells something and heads for the kitchen. Sure enough, there's this portly woman in there making him dinner. She smiles knowingly and holds up this tomato can and says, "this sauce always brings my husband to the kitchen". I about died laughing when I heard of it. In America, everyone's getting their shirt in a knot about gender equality and strong women in the workplace. If that commercial aired on USA television, there'd be a protest. In Africa, it's presenting an ideal.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Husbands here aren't forcing women to spend all day cutting vegetables and boiling fish. These women are proud of what they do. Some of them make incomes with it. But at the end of the day, they're just really excited to pull off a great meal for their families.
The American dream can't understand that simplicity. It might even seem animalistic to some of us. But Africa is entitled to its own culture, and the culture here says that the coolest women are the gentle, motherly ones who can cook up a mean batch of rice.
If you tried being something else here, you'd be less cool because of the invisible rules everyone follows.
WE’LL SPEND OUR WHOLE LIVES TRYING TO STAY THIS WAY
Some of the most haunted souls I've met are people who used to feel cool. Maybe they felt cool because a lot of people knew their name in college, or complimented their hair, or laughed at their jokes or said they were smart. Here's what that should tell us. Cool is what we need something outside of us to say we are.
The real question isn't, why would Adam and Eve listen to that snake way back in Eden? The question is, what taught them that they needed something outside of themselves to say they were cool at all, even in their perfect, Split-Leaf-Philodendron world?
I heard one time that we all get a 'Self' when we’re born. Then with time, we surround that Self with a layer of things that define us to the world. Those things make us feel more accepted. Without realizing it, we might even feel worthless without them. And then–once in a while–we do lose one of those things, and we go through something called an 'identity crisis'. And the thing is, the whole reason we call it that is because we were using those things–that layer of outside meaning–to tell the world what we were. At least what we wanted to be.
It shouldn't take an identity crisis to tell us to throw out the food chain.
Nursing homes are one of the best places on earth, I think. No one feels too cool there. I had this friend in college who would go sit in nursing homes with me, and we'd listen to the people there talk about their lives. A lot of them had lost stuff, like their teeth and their identities, but they were so rich. It was the first time that it really hit me how knowing a lot makes you wealthy. I still think back on those people as some of the most top-notch humans I've met.
Cool is such a culturally-charged word.
People don't say 'cool' in Africa, they say other stuff. But whatever we call it, we're all talking about the same thing. The food chain. That invisible thing telling everyone who's on top and who isn't.
If Adam and Eve ever made it to a nursing home, I would've gone and sat with them for hours on end. Those two were brilliant. They'd lost more than anyone because they actually got to walk and talk with God, until they couldn't because of a choice they made. But then they learned. At least enough so that God still blessed them and used their lives. I'd like to think they learned about how God fills the ache in our souls for something outside to accept us. That 'cool' is a great word, but it shouldn't have to be a lifestyle. That a life in Christ isn't about being on top of the food chain–it's being free from it.
Hopefully it doesn't take an identity crisis or a nursing home to get our minds around that.