Spirit Alive: Have You Become Too Normal for Your Own Good?

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and beyond.
February 28, 2017

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Have You Become Too Normal for Your Own Good?

"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
Maya Angelou
On March 1st, we will come together in our congregations for Ash Wednesday. It is an annual time for those of us who are Christian to gather and reflect on our lives as we begin the journey toward Easter...some 40 days ahead. This is a season of repentance and fasting. It is also a time to contemplate one's own life and become re-grounded in the essence of our faith. In the process, it gives us all the opportunity to consider what has become "normal" and "acceptable" in our lives....and to seek forgiveness for those "normal" things that are simply not pleasing in God's sight.
This raises the question: What has become "normal" to you? What are you simply willing to go along with in order to be a part of the "crowd" or feel comfortable in the dominate culture of our day? These are good questions to consider as Lent begins, especially in these turbulent days. What has become acceptable to us, and how does it relate to our Christian teachings...and what it means to follow Jesus? After all, as we approach Holy Week and Easter, there is a "new normal" that is awaiting us just beyond the horizon.

Recently, my wife, Susan, gave me a gift certificate for an appointment with a massage therapist. Wow, what a great gift! After the massage was over, I not only felt relaxed, but a lot of aches and pains that I had just assumed were "normal" were no longer there. It's funny how easy it is to simply get used to things without questioning them, even if they have to do with our own bodies! Of course, some of the aches and pains have returned, but at least I know now that they aren't just "normal." Instead, what had happened was that I got used to them. But things can actually be different.

In the fall of 1989, I was watching a remarkable National Council of Churches television program related to the Central American Wars taking place, which the United States was heavily involved in at the time. I was listening to an interview with Fr. Ignacio Martin-Baro, from the Universidad Centroamericana located in El Salvador, as he spoke about the deteriorating situation in his country. By 1989, tens of thousands of people had already been killed in that tragically war torn nation in which a few wealthy families controlled the economy and government.
During this interview, Fr. Martin-Baro, who had done a great deal of study on what he called "normal abnormality," said something that forever changed my understanding of "normal." He said that aside from the fact that the murder of so many people in his country was a devastating reality, what disturbed him nearly as much was that this reality had become "normal." In other words, it was not uncommon for people in El Salvador to be walking to school or work and see the body of someone who had been murdered lying on the streets as they passed by. He was deeply concerned that this reality had simply become "normal" to so many people. The great irony and tragedy of this is that on November 16, 1989, just a short time after this interview was aired on TV, Fr. Martin-Baro and 7 others from the university were themselves murdered by the Salvadoran military.

Now while this is a rather extreme example, it raises an important question for all of us: What has become "normal" for us that in most situations would be considered odd or abnormal? Think about it for a moment....in your life, in your community, and in the world.

Perhaps some of you saw the January Oxfam Report that said that the eight wealthiest men in the world had the same material wealth as the 3.6 billion poorest individuals. This has disturbingly become a reality that we live with as "normal," but by most ethical standards would seem abnormal. Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam International, says, "It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when one in ten people survive on less than $2 a day." This is a deeply troubling reality, but it has become a "normal" fact of life.

In recent times, we have seen a variety of so-called "normals" develop in our country that are also equally disturbing...as young African-American men continue to be shot and killed across the nation, one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, and tents with homeless individuals increasingly become a part of our landscape. In addition, maintaining civil discourse among people with different points of view seems to remain something that is difficult to attain...and we struggle, as a country, to determine what it means to be welcoming to those who are fleeing violence and devastation in their own countries. On both personal and social levels, what we accept as "normal" says a lot about who we are and how we treat others.

So perhaps this raises something for all of us to consider as the Lenten Season begins: Maybe being a bit  maladjusted, when "normal" isn't such a good thing, is the best place to be.
 Consider what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in the midst of racial discrimination and segregation in the 1950s and 60s: "There are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence."
To become "maladjusted" may be the best antidote to the injustice and suffering we see around us and a sign that we have not simply been absorbed into a "normal abnormality." At the same time, perhaps being a bit "maladjusted" is what moves us closer to the to the new "normal" that Jesus calls the Good News and that creates a new kind of Kin-dom among us that is based not on worldly standards of normality, but instead on the spirit of God.

How maladjusted have you become to those things that appear to be "normal" in our world? It's worth struggling bit with this question as people of faith in order to draw nearer to God.

Lent is a season in the Christian life to step back and analyze what is "normal" in the world...and in our lives. It is also a time to consider the fact that Jesus invites us into a life that points to a new normal. It is a life full of mystery and hope and possibility that transcends the realities that can too easily seem to be "normal." Indeed, as Lent begins, let us remember that we can choose a different path by following the One who sees the Kingdom of God in our midst and that the fruit that comes from this journey is marked by love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5: 22-23) In fact, Paul goes on to say that "if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Sounds like a good "normal" to me!

Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.




Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org