One of the things you discover about your “normal” is that it’s not everyone’s normal. From the way you celebrate Thanksgiving to the way you unwrap gifts on Christmas to your idea of a ‘date night’, normal is relative. Even if most relatives aren’t normal.
My goal isn’t to be like everyone else. Besides being boring, uniformity can be as crazy as nonconformity. My struggle is that I’m bombarded with definitions and descriptions from media, blogs, news, entertainment and books on ministry and the church that feel almost like a foreign language to me when they say, “this is church” or “this is Christianity”. The complication of this is that when I get into a conversation with someone and they talk about pastors, churches, Christianity or even Jesus, I’m conscious of the fact that they’re probably working from an entirely different experience and/or definition than I am.
It’s like talking to a friend who has grown up with an abusive father. You talk about your own dad and the way he was there for you, helped you grow up soft but strong, showed you how mercy and justice can live together, lived imperfectly but honestly and you almost feel guilty for having your experience. But certainly it’s like talking apples and oranges with the other person. Their caricature of “father” is harsh, ugly, hurtful, void of nurture and love. Or at least mostly so. Where do you begin a common discussion on family?
On top of that, unless I live with my eyes and ears closed I have to own the fact that the experiences of the other are real experiences, true experiences.
A couple decades ago I was connecting with a family who had just left a church they had been part of for over 10 years. And they were lost. Not “lost” as in “once was…but now I’m found” but lost in that they didn’t know how to make a decision for themselves, constantly fought with each other over what to do with their kids, their marriage, their careers. All this because for the previous ten years they had a pastor telling them how many kids to have, which jobs to take, where to spend their vacations, how and when to discipline their children. The pastor told everyone in that church how to do all those things. Without his influence, that they both agreed was hurtful in the end, this couple couldn’t figure out how to live. Like the prisoner in “Shawshank Redemption” that kills himself after being released from prison because he couldn’t figure out how to live on the outside, this couple was self-destructing quickly.
We’ve created the confusion that I and others feel about what normal is. Fair enough. But I also know of many exceptions to the rule and I wonder why we can’t hear more of those stories? Why is it that Ted Haggard gets another 15 minutes and men and women, who lay their lives down, like my friend in the U.K., don’t get 15 seconds? What is it about us that wants to make the dysfunction “normal” and the “normal” comfortably described as the unusual, the abnormal, the “exception”?