I'm not normal, are you?
I always wanted to be mistaken for normal. I was born with several birth defects. Surgeries have allowed me to function with only occasional, minor physical discomfort. In appropriate clothing I pass for normal. Growing up it was important for me to pass because it was emotionally painful when I didn’t. My world valued normal and the parameters around that definition were tight.
There are biological reasons for our obsession with normal. The reptilian part of our brain protects us from threats by screaming through our system whenever we see something different from what we know is safe. Any little difference can raise the alarm and our fight, flight or freeze instinct kicks in. We are born believing that safety and belonging are found among people like us. Normal is what I am.
Except that I know I’m not. And neither are you.
We live in a time when we are beginning to recognize that we are not normal. My social media pages are full of folks naming their uniqueness. Each of us live at the intersection of several variables. We are becoming more aware of the incredible diversity of creation: A diversity that may mean there is no normal.
The trouble with normal is that is implies that anyone outside that definition is abnormal; less than normal, somehow broken or just wrong. There’s a sense that normal is right and the rest is wrong. Power lies with those who are (or pass for) normal. Normal is on stage, the rest of us are in the audience, some in the orchestra section, others in the cheap seats. We take our spots in the section that represents how far from normal we feel – because of what we have been told throughout our lives.
P!NK was interviewed a while back on Rapid Fire . Toward the end the interviewer asked: “If you could snap your fingers and change anything in the world what would it be?” P!NK answered: “I would make it so that people could really embrace their differences, learn from them, work with them and that that would be a good thing, and not a power struggle.”
It’s not just P!NK that feels this way. God created the incredible diversity that we continually try to minimize. My favorite vision of the fulfillment of creation is described in Revelation 7:9 when people from every nation, tribe and language gather together. There is no dominant group. There is no stage. No one has a better seat than anyone else. Instead, the light of God flows through each person and holds us all together. Diversity is a blessing from God.
But, if diversity is God’s will, then why does our reptilian brain work against it?
I suspect our ability to instinctually respond to perceived threats was a good idea when we were surrounded by wholly mammoths and saber tooth tigers. But the reality is our brains have evolved to include more than just the reptilian bit at the base of our brain stem. Our creator continues to form us! We have the ability to think beyond our prejudices – we just don’t always do it.
There’s not a name for the kind of diverse that I am, at least not one that I think fits me. I’m not L, G, B, T, Q, I or A. I’m not Neuro-Diverse. I guess I’m some minor version of physically disabled. I hope that we continue to expand our language to name all the ways each of us are unique children of God, and I hope that some day we will realize that we are either all normal, or no one is.
Here is my challenge for you: What if we, as individuals and as congregations, embraced diversity? What if we noticed when we felt threatened by someone and stopped to think about why? And what if we became curious and listened to the stories of how this person – so different from us – experiences life?
What if we worked together with God to create a world where “normal” really was just a setting on old dryers?