Sometimes in life, God allows you to get to know people who slowly make their way into your core circle. Aaron is one of those people.
One of my first encounters with Aaron consisted of him asking a very random question as we were hitching a ride back to our dorms at UCI. He asked a super out there question about one of Joseph’s brothers not being present when Joseph was thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery. I remember our driver being very confused about how to handle the situation as I dialogued with Aaron about how the brother was hardly mentioned.
From then on, I just admired Smatta (as he is more commonly known) from afar. Our conversations in college really just centered around “hanging out some time and trading stories,” fashion, and random Bible trivia. I remember talking about graduating a few weeks before the commencement and regretting that I didn’t get to know him better.
Change of Plans
Ironically, through the most epic curveball ever, I got a job last minute and decided to stay in Irvine after graduating in 2015. I remember getting off the phone after hearing that I had gotten the job and asking Aaron about his next year’s living situation right before we were going to have dinner at a family’s house that was hosting our small group. Just like that, we became roommates.
Trials and Memories
Over the course of the last four years, Aaron and I have bonded over countless different scenarios. From attempting to improve our Rubik’s cube solve times to memorizing mixtape Logic’s lyrics. We’ve been there to support each other in some of the roughest seasons we have ever faced: from layoffs and depression to the CPA exam. We’ve almost terminated our friendship on a handful of occasions due to “Irreconcilable differences” and yet one of the most valuable lessons Aaron has ever taught me is that no friendship comes without a fight and if what you have is truly valuable then fight for it.
Never have I experienced a friendship with so much laughter… or tears. We have fought for each other on more occasions than one and it has been so encouraging to know that I have someone in my corner. Our friendship started as one that was based upon listening to the other person in order to form a response but it transitioned into a genuine friendship that was more based on just listening in order to simply be present with the other.
Legalism and a Call to Action
Aaron and I both have backgrounds that are rooted quite heavily in Bible knowledge. If there was a game show that involved being able to list, regurgitate, or identify passages, characters, parables, or themes, we would be the most kick-ass team. Because of this background, legalism runs quite deeply through our veins. We’ve participated in numerous Bible studies, small groups, and fellowships. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As we finished college and stepped into the arena that is post-grad, we both struggled vehemently with reconciling our faith with our daily lives.
“Be the light” we heard from the pulpit.
But we struggled with what that meant in the workplace.
“Love your neighbor” we read in the Bible.
But we only loved the neighbors that were tolerable.
“Be examples to others” we were told.
While we watched our examples fail and while we ourselves cycled between being “good enough” and “far from good enough”
See over the years, Aaron and I had realized that as much as we would have liked for people to think that we were holier than thou, we were actually just as bad if not worse than everyone that we were trying to “be the light” to. We struggled just as much as the next person.
Aaron and I have a longstanding tradition/joke that whenever one of us returns home, we kick the door open and yell, “stop watching porn.” That wouldn’t be a thing if we didn’t struggle and if anyone had us under 24-hour surveillance, it would be abundantly clear that we are the furthest from perfect.
This is the context in which we defined and discussed what being “Anti-Meta” meant to us.
Generosity in Resources & Time
One day, Aaron and I talked about this concept that he had been thinking about. In gamer speech, the Meta is defined as the most effective tactic available. In laymen’s terms, it is defined as the norm or what everyone is doing or what everyone should be doing.
We began to dig into the concept of generosity in present-day American culture.
Fun Fact: Were you aware that an annual income of $32,400 puts you in the top 1% of wage earners in the entire world?
Most of us here in the States actually are very blessed and privileged to possess as much wealth as we do. While it can be hard to recognize this privilege when it seems that so much of our income goes to making rent, paying off car mortgages, paying insurance, etc. the truth of the matter is that we are indeed very very blessed in the area of finances.
In contrast to the relative plenty that we have here, anyone who has traveled can probably agree that there are many places in the world where people have so much less materially and yet they are generally happier and more generous than people here in the states.
Aaron and I began to realize that the norm here in southern California was to amass as much wealth as humanly possible for oneself with any sort of altruism usually being rooted in some sort of self-seeking ulterior motive.
For example, in general, you don’t just buy the opposite gender a meal or a drink unless you are expressing interest.
Or, you don’t give money to the homeless guy at the freeway exit because “he’ll just take the money and buy alcohol or drugs”
Or, you don’t give money to this organization because there was another organization like it that mismanaged its donations.
As uncomfortable as it was to see what the attitude towards generosity through finances was nowadays, what bothered us more was the lack of generosity in time.
We ask the question, “how are you doing” quite often, but we quite frankly don’t know how to respond when people answer with anything other than “great.” Technology has made us hyper-aware of what A-listers and our traveling friends are doing while encouraging us to neglect the day to day of those around us. We technology users have so much “more” time than most and yet we are oh so stingy with it.
When we discussed generosity in finances and time, Aaron and I made the conscious decision that we wanted to change the world’s viewpoint on generosity by moving the needle ever so slightly in our own social circles. We decided that people thinking we had ulterior motives and misjudging our generosity was not a good enough reason to stop. We also decided that people “needing hardship to grow and mature” was not an adequate enough reason to refrain from blessing those around us with time.
I mean imagine what the world would look like if we began to use our time and resources to affirm and encourage people without having some ulterior agenda. I mean… that’s definitely not the norm. One could even say it’s anti-meta.
Our hope was that those around us would not see us as self-righteous or nice, but that by seeing that unbiased intentionality they would begin to question the norm and begin to spread that generosity in their own circles.
I once heard it said that people veer towards whatever they look upon. For example, if a driver stares at the center divider on a freeway, they will eventually begin to drift towards that which they look upon. As someone who really appreciates film and its ability to communicate universal truths and inspire change, I really do appreciate the Black Mirror series. However, even though fear-based parables are great learning tools, one can not rely solely on fear to change society. Gazing upon how we might undo ourselves as a society is not how we change the world.
Choosing to model what Anti-Meta looks like and doing our best to steward what God has given us by extending generosity to those around us was a way for us to look upon something greater than our own destruction. It was to believe in and to hope in the fact that humanity is not just hell-bent on destruction. It was to believe that though we are all hurt, broken, and so screwed up, that we are still capable of loving and blessing those that we come into contact with. We choose to see the best in people and we choose to love them even when it seems like generosity is only being taken advantage of.
We love because He first loved us. And that is ultimately what Anti-Meta means to us.
One of my favorite things about Aaron is how dynamic he is as a person. The last four years have been seasons of huge growth and the greatest thing about seeing him leave is the knowledge that he is returning a stronger and better man than the one that came down here eight years ago. Whether it be his journey of discovering what he wanted to do, his challenges with the CPA exam, his efforts changing the dynamic at his workplace, or his evolution from a devil’s advocate to a true listener and empathizer, Aaron has left his signature on each social circle that he has stepped into.
Anti-Meta was only one of many conversations that we had about life, purpose, being better sons, being better brothers, being better significant others, being Christians, being excellent at work, struggles with church, falling out with friends, feeling like outcasts, and a laundry list of so many topics. Like Anti-Meta, many of these conversations resulted in challenges that changed how we saw and interacted with the world.
I’m so grateful for the time we had together Aaron, but at the same time, I am so sad to see you go.
You taught me how important it is to fight for those that you care about and that is a lesson I will never forget. I’ve been hurt too many times to remember, and my heart has become so calloused from all the people that have left me. I had decided in my mind that I wasn’t going to get hurt again and I began to distance myself from you emotionally as early as a year ago. For some reason, you noticed and you asked me why. When I told you honestly, you simply responded with, “But I haven’t left yet.”
In that moment I learned that as cliche as it sounds, life is definitely not about the destination, but it is about the journey.
All things end.
ALL things end.
And yet, that does not take away from the fact that great things have happened and that great things will continue to happen if we choose to invest time, effort, and love into those relationships that we are surrounded with.
Thanks for teaching me to be Anti-Meta, Aaron.