Friday, August 10, 2012

Oh To Be Normal

When I was a teenager I had a friend who could not stand the thought of being normal or average.  To her, normal meant to be like everyone else, a “Pleasantville” teen, undifferentiated but for a few decorations.  Average meant to be tepid, uninteresting, neither excelling nor failing, a cipher with no aspirations beyond getting by, an unthinking conformist.  In other words, she wanted to be special.  

Don’t we all want to be special, to stand out in a singular way, at least in the eyes of those to whom we turn for love, encouragement, acceptance, and support?  For her, being special meant to stand apart from others in such unusual ways that others would form their social circles around her rather than her having to find a group to enter.  I don’t think it worked very well.   
Being like everybody else has its advantages.  There is a certain comfort in being like the others with whom we live and socialize.  It helps us find our proper place in the scheme of things, knowing that we fit in.  Keeping, as it were, a low profile, is a way of avoiding unwanted attention and responsibility.  Going along to get along offers the promise of psychological and physical safety in numbers.  On the other hand, it also leads to prejudice that  justifies exclusion and oppression of others who are not like us.  It can burden us with fear that, if we don’t conform, we may find ourselves among the excluded.  Most important, it shrouds the particular gift of our uniqueness that makes each one of us someone special to be known and loved for who we are that is not like everybody else.  

My high school friend was wrong about what it meant to be normal.  The most normal thing about each one of us is that we are unique creatures, and, therefore, quite special.  As Christians, we believe with absolute certainty that God knows us each by name in all of our particularity.  It is why we are able to say that Christ died for all, and for each.  It is why we do not proclaim the forgiveness of collective sins, but of the particular sins of each.  We make our collective confessions of faith, but we make them each in our own voice, even as we speak together.  Our eternal souls are not a function of the human condition, but a gift given by God to each according to God’s grace.  Embedded in John’s proclamation that God so loved the world is the knowledge that God loves the whole of creation and each element of it individually.

I wonder why that seems to be so hard to grasp?  Even my evangelical friends who insist on a personal relationship with Jesus as their personal savior, personally, appear to have a hard time recognizing that it is not so much they who have crafted a personal relationship with God in Christ, but it is God who has crafted a personal relationship with them, a relationship grounded entirely in God’s love of them and for them.

And that brings me to the question of what it is to be average.  It should not require much explanation to note that an average is a quantitative, not qualitative, measure of some middle place.  John and Jane Q. Public, and the average Joe and Jane, are figments of pollsters’ imaginations to represent clusters of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.  It means that there is no such thing as an average person.  LIke the children of Lake Wobegon, we are all above average.  Enough said.

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