Normal versus common

History is a great teacher. Not just of events. You miss such a great deal if all you learn from history are events that took place, dates, names, battles, advancements, etc. When we look at history, the deeper story is about humanity, its characteristics, what has been common in terms of actions and beliefs, what people are drawn to, expectations, relationships, how people deal with not being in control (otherwise known as change), and more.

One thing I am reminded of often, and need the constant reminding of, is that humanity has been the way it is for a long, long time. How people act today is not anything new. I hear people say things like Trump caused this or that, this situation is new, I’ve never seen anything like this before, we didn’t do it like this before, etc.

Hogwash to all of that. Nothing that Trump or any politician does is new. There’s nothing unique or inventive about him or so many other politicians. Read some history. His underlying operating procedure is focused on might makes right and the ends justify the means. Is that new? No, it’s been the operating procedure of countless other people, regardless of whether we are talking about those in positions of authority or not. It’s been the common operating procedure for much of human history. That doesn’t make it normal or even right. It’s just been very common. And predictable. This isn’t a value judgement or an excuse about Trump or others who follow these operating procedures. It’s just a connection of the past with the present and what has been common in human history. Why are we shocked by it?

I would guess that we are shocked by it because we don’t really want to believe that people actually operate like this. Or maybe we fall into the common false belief that so many operate out of – that history started when we were born and it will end when we die. That seems to be a common unspoken belief. We forget that people have been around for many millennia doing all sorts of things and there there is nothing new under the sun. Sure, technology changes, so does language, and work. But the core part of humanity has not changed.

Cruelty is another thing that isn’t new at all. It’s been very common in human history – humans can be very cruel to each other and to the planet and creatures. And even to inanimate objects. This doesn’t excuse it or say that it is normal or good. It’s not a value judgement. It’s a statement of recognizing common experiences of humanity.

Human history has other common experiences – violence, ignorance, inclination towards conspiracies, fear, hatred, us vs them, and more. These could be labeled as the habits of humanity.

I think this is why Christianity, or rather discipleship, is so very…difficult? odd? unusual? counter cultural? maybe you have another label for it. I’m not talking about the branch of Christianity that focuses on who is right and who is wrong, worrying about how other people are sinning while ignoring your own, trying to impose their ethics and morals on others and calling it religious freedom. All those things and more are just more of the common human experience using the label of Christianity. But really they have nothing to do with what it means to follow Jesus.

Acting in a Christlike manner isn’t common to the human experience. It’s remarkable actually. Memorable when we encounter someone who is acting in a Christlike way, regardless of whether that person adopts the label of Christian or not. It’s remarkable because it is different from what we commonly experience.

Even Christians don’t all expect Christlikeness. Many see Christlike behavior, attitudes, and interactions as weak. Or they label it in demeaning ways. Russell Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention and now editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, expressed this recently when he was quoted as saying:

“Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching—’turn the other cheek’—[and] to have someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?'” Moore said.

“When the pastor would say, ‘I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ’ … The response would be, ‘Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak,” he added. “When we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.”

With all do respect to Russell Moore, I don’t think we are in crisis. We’re seeing what has been common in human history. We’re seeing that Christlikeness conflicts with humanity’s common experience and it needs to be explained away, or there needs to an excuse as to why someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus would reject what he calls his followers to do. It’s very human. We’re seeing that our assumptions about the church and church members and its relationship to society no longer work, or maybe they never actually did in the first place. It’s not so much a crisis as a wake up call to stop pretending that just because someone takes on the label of Christian means that have any desire to be transformed, or understand what that means, or really have any notion of what that means in a practical sense. To me, what this expresses is that our long church history of the last several hundred years, with its emphasis on who is right and who is wrong, has been disastrous and we are now finally feeling the effects of it – the right things are finally in place to stop putting off the cost. That’s a simplistic explanation of course. It’s far more complex than that.

Thinking that we can change people by presenting them with the “right” information or ways of thinking doesn’t work. We’re missing the mark. When we do that, we’re saying that faith and religion is all about the head, information, and what we know. We make religious practice into a technical project to be accomplished with an emphasis on skill and being able to pass some kind of theological, doctrinal, belief test. We turn faith into just another compartment of life. But that’s not what faith is supposed to be.

That’s not to say the brain doesn’t play a role. It does. But as Paul reminds us, we are one body and many parts. Paul is talking about the church as a whole, but I think that also applies to us individually. We aren’t just brains. We are whole bodies and whole beings. When we talk about death and resurrection, it’s not about separating the soul and spirit from the body and discarding the body as worthless. We aren’t complete without our bodies. Which is why resurrection is about bodily resurrection. It’s about wholeness – it always has been. Shalom is a huge theme throughout Scripture. Shalom is more than just a Hebrew language way of greeting someone or expressing peace. It is literally means wholeness and completeness. It is what Jesus was talking about when he talked about the reign of God. Wholeness happens in relationship.

So, while we encounter what has been common in human history, and will continue to be common, let us remember that just because something is common doesn’t mean its moral or ethical or right or normal. It’s just common – it happens a lot. We shouldn’t be surprised when these things happen. But we shouldn’t put up with them either. Because there is a different way – not a way that conflicts in opposition to these things because often the opposite uses the same methods and is just a different way of expressing the same thing – appealing to some opposing group who really just want the same thing as the other group – power and control. Rather, we have been shown an alternative way forward that doesn’t legitimize the common. That doesn’t utilize common methods of humanity. It blazes a different path. It actually shows what the path is, reminding us that the common path is the actual alternative and that this common path doesn’t actually work. It never has.

The Christlike way is the normal way, but not the common way. Be on the look out for it. You know it when you encounter it. Celebrate it when you encounter it. And follow it, regardless of how it is labeled. It’s a much better way.

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