There’s no such thing as normal

I’m currently reading “The Myth of Normal” by Gabor Mate, MD. It’s a book that explores trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture according to the subtitle. It looks at mental, physical, and emotional health. I think there’s a spiritual element to this as well, even though the good doctor doesn’t name it specifically because you can’t measure spirituality. But given what he’s writing, I don’t think it’s difficult to throw that into the mix.

This is not a quick read (around 500 pages). There’s lots of science, but it’s not over my head thankfully. Throughout this the theme that keeps coming up is how many people have suffered some kind of trauma or abuse in their life. It’s a large enough percentage that makes it significant. And depending on how you define those terms, that could include everyone – that’s not an exaggeration. The author puts in statistics that there are large percentages of people who suffer ongoing trauma and abuse – meaning a significant portion of the population continue to suffer every day. This is their normal.

This raises the question – what is normal?

I don’t think normal is what most people go around thinking it is. Normal is what most people are experiencing – trauma and abuse. But we aren’t calling it normal. We can call it common though.

This isn’t even talking about the people who cause trauma or abuse. Throw them into the mix and this gets even murkier and messier. There’s a whole lot more people now that we are talking about. These folks are very common in fact. And how many of them cause trauma or abuse because they themselves are victims of trauma or abuse? Who knows. It just keeps getting messier doesn’t it?

And when I think about all of this in relation to our churches and how so many of them are often toxic cultures – well, I’m not surprised any longer. How could they not be? Why would we expect people to go into churches who are suffering due to trauma or abuse, or who are the cause of trauma or abuse, and have them act any other way? Frankly, it’s a miracle that they function in a healthy manner at all when you think about it in regards to this.

Rather, we should assume people don’t know what healthy is, or rather that they aren’t experiencing it on a regular basis. We should assume that people don’t have the opportunity to experience a healthy community in their life, or a healthy family – or at least not on a regular, consistent basis. This isn’t about judging people or looking down on people. It’s about looking at the reality of the world which is pretty traumatic and broken.

I don’t think this is a stretch to claim. Just look at the last few years. Every person on the planet has suffered through traumatic events in the form of the pandemic. Everyone. No one has the privilege of being normal at this point. No one. We’re all dealing with a trauma response. And that’s saying nothing about other things in life. That’s not counting abuse that people suffer from – whatever percentage of people that might be. Or other traumas that people are responding from.

As a church, we have opportunities in light of this. The church isn’t perfect of course. It’s got challenges. And it’s made up of people – people who have suffered trauma and abuse. People who have caused trauma and abuse too. But the church has something to offer – the Gospel. There’s grace and mercy. There’s forgiveness. There’s liberation and being set free. There’s life, death, and resurrection. There’s discipleship and service. There’s the image of God. There’s community.

These aren’t just concepts to talk about. These aren’t nice things to just dream about. If that’s all they are, then we’re wasting our time. These are things to be lived into. And this is the time for all of these. This is the time for us to roll our sleeves up and dig in like our lives and our communities depend on it – because they do.

Because I know of no other time in which we need to live into these ideas with authenticity like we do right now. Not just talking about them, but actually living into them. Trying to live into them as best we can. We’re not going to get them perfect – we’re broken and suffering and all those things like we talked about earlier. So what. That’s not an excuse to do nothing. That’s just a recognition of where we are starting from.

This is the time for the church to be something it hasn’t been in a long time – a beacon. Something that people can look at and see as matching what it talks about with what it is trying to do. Let the days of the words and actions that are mismatched be gone. Let this be the days in which people can look and see the church not as perfect, but as honest and congruent. Let people see the church not as something that you have to have it all together to be a part of, but rather as something that is open to all who need to hear a message of hope. Let people see the church not as normal, but as something that people who experience common things can fit right in and be a part of, so they can set free, be made whole, and experience healing.

This is a time for the church to shine. This is the time for the church to step up. This is the time for the church to do what it is probably scared out of its mind to do and be – to be abnormal. Let the church be abnormal! Let normal die. I imagine that’s really hard for some people to hear. But if you’ve read this far, I have good new for you – no one fits the definition of normal anyway. We’re all abnormal, going through a bunch of abnormal crap. We don’t need a “normal” church. We need Jesus. Jesus hung out with abnormal people and had a message that was not normal. Thanks be to God!

Who wants to be normal? Not me! Normal never had grace actually offered and lived. Normal doesn’t need grace. Abnormal certainly does though.

Normal never had resurrection actually done! It doesn’t need it. But abnormal – oh yeah. It needs resurrection and resurrection is about as abnormal as it gets. Sign me up!

Normal just likes to talk about these things. Abnormal wants more than talk – talk isn’t good enough for abnormal. Abnormal need to encounter it. Abnormal’s heard it all before.

Normal doesn’t actually see what’s going on around it and acknowledges it for what it is. Normal doesn’t do any of that. Normal puts blinders on and somehow is able to ignore what is common because all the trauma and abuse is really uncomfortable and normal doesn’t know what to do about it. So it won’t talk about it and it won’t do anything about it. That’s normal.

It’s time for the age of normal in the church to end. It’s time for normal in the church to die. So that the church can experience resurrection – abnormal life. Awesome abnormal life in community. Where the church can offer Gospel – where people can encounter healthy community and relationship. Not perfect. But healthy. Where people can encounter forgiveness and compassion. Where people can learn what healthy looks like and sound like. And learn how to start over when they fall and when others fall. Because they will. Because that’s what happens. That’s life. But we have an opportunity for abnormal life and abnormal community.

Let the age of abnormal in the church commence! What a great time to be alive and be abnormal.

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