Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Curse of Normalcy

I stopped by Imonk the other day and the discussion was on the merits or dismerits of a normal life, or day.  This got me thinking a lot.  Now I don't know what the problem with Imonk these days and I honestly suspect that the problem lies within me, but I just can't keep up. Maybe I think too slow. I visit, a provocative subject is raised. I read the posts. It is hours or days before I have the chance to revisit and presto, there has been four more posts and topics while MY mind is still on the original. Maybe if I had an hour each morning and another one in the afternoon, I could keep up.

But that's exactly what happened in this case. My mind has been going over and over this notion of normalcy for the last two days while Imonk is moved into several more venues.

First of all I know that the old evangelical Mike would say that all Christians are called to the "extra-ordinary life."  I remember arguing with my parents when I first became a Christian at age 18 about this. I was telling them that there is no way I was going to end up like them (I know a bit arrogant and snobbish), going to work at 8 AM, coming home, eating dinner, watching TV and going to bed.  "God wanted us to live lives of victory and spiritual success!" I shouted (please pass the puke bucket and may my dear father, in his grave, forgive me for not respecting what he had done for me by going to work every morning . . .  not to mention going to war).

The more I thought about it this week, the more serious the issue seems to be. I think it is fundamental.

For the first decade after leaving the heart of evangelicalism, I lived in guilt. But that wasn't new because I had lived in guilt as an evangelical so there was no sum loss. But the new guilt was different. For the previous ten years I had been either planning on being a missionary, preparing to be a missionary, raising support as a missionary or . . . actually being a missionary.  Leaving that (especially the romantic life of living in exotic places abroad) and returning to an American 8-5, raising kids, fixing broken down old houses, fixing broken down old cars . . .  I felt like one of the Kardashian girls getting a job at Wendys. I wasn't only guilt-ridden but quite depressed.

What made it even harder was that my best friends from college were all off into "extra-normal lives," as missionaries, Nav staff or getting graduate degrees in theology.

But looking back, the magic life doesn't work, at least not that well. Two of my friends who went on Nav staff went into tailspins in their lives as did two of them who became missionaries.  Those latter two have never adapted to the normal life and have become quite dysfunctional since leaving the mission field. It is sad, just like a football star that gets injured and moves to the stands . . . or the couch for the games. I had a brother-in-law who went from the NFL to the couch very quickly . . . and he has been a lost soul ever since. My evangelical, ex-missionary friends, are living in normalcy while they deeply believe that normalcy is not only inferior . . . but evil.  That creates an intense emotional tension, the same I went through.  The only difference is that I got through mine (no thanks to my own self will, but due to time) while they remain in the dysfunctional wake and I'm doubtful they will ever recover.

But to my point. As they say, "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail." While I admit that potential weakness in myself, I will add that I actually do think much of what ails evangelicalism is philosophical dualism and that is why I created this blog to counter such notions.

So the problem for the evangelical dualist is that they see a sharp division between that which is spiritual and that which is "worldly." Satan reigns in the worldly while God and His angels reign in the high places. In that mindset, the ordinary life clearly falls within the domain of the worldly, thus it can have no value (at least) and it could be pure evil (at worse).

As a Navigator trainee, we were taught that the "ordinary life" was for those who are following the devil and have no purpose . . . and the little church people who didn't love God nearly as much as we did. So, we were to get the little church people with their little, ordinary lives, going to work 8 to 5 in their little ordinary jobs . . . to give us money so we could live these extraordinary lives.

But, I see the universe as the UNI (one) Diversity of everything. Created by God with all its beauty and glory. Yes, it is tainted and broken. Yes, 8-5 jobs are part of the curse of the fall, but the ordinary life is what we are really called to. The getting up at 6, eating cereal, watching the news, pooping, taking a shower, putting on our little ordinary shirts and pants. Driving our ordinary cars to our little ordinary jobs. Coming home, eating dinner. Working on the house or the yard, watching a little TV and going to bed. In my view . . . this is all God's stuff. This is the glorious life and it doesn't have to be "blessed" with pixie dust to have meaning.

In other words, God is in the cornflakes, He's in the sitcom, He's in the songs of the bands . . . or the birds, the smells of the market, the laughter of a friend's voice, the bitterness of the coffee bean, the enchantment of the novelist, the pit of depression in my gut when I reflect on personal losses. No, I'm not a pantheist. These things are not God or a part of God, as His substance. But they are the spin-offs of His creative force. And, they are not dirty or inferior.  The extra-ordinary is a mirage. The seekers there of are taken to disenchantment or delusional thinking, or alienation from reality.

Praise God for normalcy . . . and the ordinary.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back--two weeks has been too long. --Ben.

PRS & ALS said...

Good to hear from you again.

Philip said...

Yeah, good stuff! I'm glad you're back!

I've grown to have similar thoughts myself about what it means to be successful and have a "meaningful" life according to much of American Evangelicalism.

Much of it is just a hashed up and spiritualised version of TV adds. "Become a missionary and devote yourself fully to God. Then you will find the peace, joy and meaning you have always been searching for." Nope.

I think the opposite these days - that real peace and joy come from embracing the ordinary, the hum-drum, the not-so-sexy Christian life ;). And the extraordinary stuff, that comes from years of living ordinarily, and loving it, literally - being faithful to what you're doing and the God you're doing it for. It could be eating a bowl of cornflakes to helping someone face loss. I think that's pretty extraordinary in itself.

So cheers to the ordinary!

Anonymous said...

I think the opposite these days - that real peace and joy come from embracing the ordinary, the hum-drum, the not-so-sexy Christian life ;). And the extraordinary stuff, that comes from years of living ordinarily, and loving it, literally - being faithful to what you're doing and the God you're doing it for. It could be eating a bowl of cornflakes to helping someone face loss. I think that's pretty extraordinary in itself. -- Philip

Just like Saint Therese of Lisueix, whose "Little Way" was all about experiencing God and finding Holiness in everyday routine?

Anonymous said...

As a Navigator trainee, we were taught that the "ordinary life" was for those who are following the devil and have no purpose ... and the little church people who didn't love God nearly as much as we did. So, we were to get the little church people with their little, ordinary lives, going to work 8 to 5 in their little ordinary jobs ... to give us money so we could live these extraordinary lives.

How does this differ from some Great Artiste looking down his nose and Seinfeld-sneering at "The Bourgeoisie"?

Or Leona Helmsley or Ayn Rand sneering at "the little people"?

Or (getting Biblical here), the Pharisee sneering "I Thank Thee, LORD, That I Am NOT as this Publican..."

Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

. . . and the little church people who didn't love God nearly as much as we did. So, we were to get the little church people with their little, ordinary lives, going to work 8 to 5 in their little ordinary jobs . . . to give us money so we could live these extraordinary lives.

Just struck me, CM:

Isn't the above something a PARASITE would say? I've had to fight off mooch-boys in various fandoms, and the above smacks of their "I'm Entitled, I'm So Speshul, You Gotta Gimme!" attitude. Leeching off those they despise as "mundane" and "ordinary" so they have nothing like jobs or responsibilities to interfere with their 24/7/365 fanboy obsessions.

A closely-related attitude is "We Hate Your Guts, but We Love Your Money!"

And when you've been the sucker instead of the mooch, the host instead of the parasite, you can't conceive of the resentment that breeds. And here it's ramped up to Cosmic levels as the Godly (entitled mooches) and Ungodly (mundane suckers).

Headless Unicorn Guy

jmj said...

I think this touches on a sensitive spot, but a well-deserved sensitive touch, do we have too many professional Christians? Not to say that we don't need well-funded pastors and etc. (and I don't believe that pastors should live at a lower level than those who they serve). But when I graduated from college (back in the Bronze Age) I would say that 60% of my friends went on some type of supported professional Christian role.

I still give a lot of money to support some of these folks, out of duty to my friends for lack of better cause. But if I had it to do over, and if I still can, I would rather give my money to the poor and suggest my professional Christian friends embrace the mundane along with the rest of us.

Philip said...

Hey,

This subject touches me pretty close to home as I'm a fully-funded "missionary". I guess my thought is that, while I rarely if ever (at least in my better times) think of others as being in "secular" work while I'm called to "holy" work. The fact that I'm dependent on other's generosity in the very wide range of occupations of my friends, acts as a reminder to me that people matter, that all jobs are God's and that I am to give my job the best shot I can because people are working hard so I can write and work with youth full-time.

If anything, for me, I really wrestle with being funded by others. It's a blow to my pride. It's a blow to my desire to be independent and self-sufficient. And I often feel like a loser. I think you might find this sentiment more often than you find the holier than though sentiment.

But ultimately, it makes me recognize that there is more to vocation than where your money comes from, it's about doing what you love, doing what you've made to do and doing it with passion.

I'm sure that there are plenty of people who think they deserve other peoples money to do their "holier" work because they are special or called. But I simply don't most of the time (though I can be a jerk like the best of them). If anything I struggle with the other side of pride.

Thanks for the discussion!

jmj said...

Philip, I have no doubt about what you are saying is true. I know that I hated the process of raising support. I always felt torn, when I was asking friends to come over or for me to visit them, as I knew that I would be asking them to support us.

I think the point I intended to make was the spiritual economy that, at least I was taught, said if you really loved Jesus, you will do it professionally.

The worse example I can think of was when I was a missions conference a a big church in St. Louis. During the banquet they had two missionary families at each table. One dear older church member said, "Well, we are all missionaries in our own way."

The wife of the other missionary couple chuckled and said something like, "I think not. I don't see you leaving your family, packing up your belongings and moving half way around the world."

So, like I said, there is certainly a place to be financially supported for full time ministry. But there has to be balance. In our Nav training center, there were six men and six women. All twelve of us attempted to do full time Christian work. None of us are today. But we would have felt nasty to try and be an engineer or janitor and etc.