Awkward is the new normal, or even the new cool. Over the past several years, a young, self-deprecating generation has declared everything awkward: their favorite TV characters, family photos, uncomfortable interactions, themselves. “Socially awkward,” “that’s so awkward,” and “that awkward moment when…” have surged in Google trends as common (and overused) catchphrases.
But for Sammy Rhodes, awkward isn’t merely a buzzword to claim. The college minister knows awkwardness at its deepest and darkest. He’s lived it personally—including when a 2013 controversy over his popular Twitter presence as @prodigalsam pushed him offline and into an identity crisis.
Rhodes, the dad and seminary grad who leads Reformed University Fellowship at the University of South Carolina, returned to Twitter the following year with a new sense of self. He went on to write about God’s power in unbearable times in This Is Awkward (Thomas Nelson, 2016).
“Awkwardness is an invitation to be found. It’s an invitation to vulnerability, and vulnerability is where intimacy and connection are born. It’s also an invitation to throw yourself on the grace that makes vulnerability possible at all,” he writes. “At the end of the day, awkward people are the only kind of people God loves; because awkward people are the only kind of people there are.”
Last month, Rhodes spoke with another Christian humorist who knows the trials of Twitter pressure and the struggle of starting again, Jon Acuff—author of the book Do Over. A condensed version of their conversation appears below.
Jon Acuff: First question: Why didn’t your publishers send me a copy of your book?
Sammy Rhodes: Is that true? Man. That’s an oversight.
I just want to start with awkwardness.
When we hang up I’m going to send you a majorly awkwardly autographed copy your way.
Good. I love what you say about awkwardness. I know this is something you’ve been thinking about for a long time, working on for a long time. What’s the heart of the book and the heart of your belief about what awkwardness can really do?
The way I say it in the book is awkwardness is this invitation to vulnerability, and that vulnerability, as I believe, is where connection and intimacy with God and other people are found.
In my own life, those things that I feel like I’m most afraid of or I feel most awkward talking about are usually, if not always, those very things I need to be talking about. When I do have the courage or dare to go there I find not only does the Lord meet me there but people do too, in this really gracious and beautiful way.
You went through a crazy, loud Internet hate cycle. Everybody online thinks, Oh, I have somebody who doesn’t like me. It usually means one person sent one mildly disappointing tweet where they were like, “I don’t like your shoes,” now they’re all “These haters ain’t going to keep me down!” But you actually turned on the Internet hate machine. You took six months off from Twitter. What did you learn during that time? And it doesn’t have to be like, “God opened the heavens…”
Only after the Lord declared his glory as was with Moses and the rock and he passed by… No, it was such a good moment for me. I learned how to be more myself. I am a pastor, and I do love humor. I deeply believe in both of those things. How can I put them together and not try to escape one world for the other?