What (or Who) is Normal?

I’ve never been considered “normal.”

I am an only child.  Whereas, about 80% of Americans have at least one sibling.  And, everyone knows what only children are like!

I’m 6’4″ tall (I actually used to be 6’5″ – but time has taken its toll).  Whereas, the average American male is a mere, shrimpish, vertically-challenged 5’9″.  I’m also WAY above average in weight… but, I’d rather not talk about that.  Let’s just say there’s more of me to love.  Being “big” and “tall,” I don’t get to buy clothes where “normal”-sized men do.

I – and about thirty percent of the population – have flat feet.  It’s surprisingly painful!

As a pastor, my work life is anything BUT normal!  And, becoming a pastor required WAY more education and continuing education than the “normal,” comparably lucrative profession.

I’ve never had “normal” interests for a dude… whatever those are.  I”m a vegetarian.  I’m not into sports.  I ride a Harley and grow bonsai trees.  I enjoy reading. I like antique shops and garage sales.  I’m artsy/creative.  I have a black belt, but I’ve never been in a real fight – I’m a lover, not a fighter!

I’ve traveled internationally, as many do, but I’ve spent most of my time in locales most tourists avoid.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Guatemala, where restaurants offer “typical” breakfasts of scrambled eggs, plantains, white crumbly cheese, black bean paste and corn tortillas.  That’s a typical breakfast for a Guatemalan – but, not for this guy!

So, what is normal?  To call something “normal” usually just means that it’s typical; to be expected; common; like most others; comparable.  “Normal” implies a majority.  Being “normal” doesn’t make a person or thing or situation better or worse.  “Normal” is simply what we’ve come to expect.

I “normally” expect hot water to come out of the “hot” water faucet.

I “normally” expect my car to start when I press the ignition button.

I “normally” expect to receive what I order at a restaurant.

I “normally” expect to receive a paycheck on payday.

I “normally” expect to find my wife in bed with me… And NOT someone else!

I say “normally,” because “normally” is what usually happens.  But, my “normal” experience of life, and my passive assumptions about “normality,” don’t always align with other’s reality.

For instance, most people – the majority – are heterosexual.  Depending on who you ask, it’s commonly believed that about 5% of the population is LGBTQ+, meaning 95% of the population is cisgender and heterosexual.  Some estimate the actual percentage of LGBTQ+ is closer to 10%.  Either way, the majority of the population is NOT LGBTQ+.  So, based on my definition of “normal,” cisgender, heterosexuality is “normal.”  And, LGBTQ+ is not normal; as in, it is not the common orientation of the majority.

But – LET ME BE VERY CLEAR – being a statistical minority does make an LGBTQ+ person “abnormal.”  Statistically, different from the majority, yes.  Abnormal, absolutely NO!

Similarly, the US Census estimates about 20% of the US population lives with some form of disability or special need.  That means 80% don’t.  Apparently it is the normative, majority experience not to manage the unique challenges of a disability.  But, that reality does not make a disabled person “abnormal,” does it?  In fact, a person who must overcome a disability may very well develop greater mastery in areas they are “able’ to function.  Just look at what paralympians accomplish!

In some cases, “abnormal” becomes heroically exceptional!

I recall a conversation, a number of years ago, with the leader of a drug rehab ministry, in the heart of a ver poor, crime-infested community.  One of the challenges he faced was that selling drugs, getting arrested, and going to jail was so common, everyone simply expected it.  When everyone you know has spent time in jail, why wouldn’t you?  If there aren’t other opportunities to make a living wage in your community, why not sell drugs?  If everyone you know uses drugs to cope with the challenges of living in poverty, why wouldn’t you?  When drug-use, criminal activity, and eventual arrest and imprisonment is the “norm,” the idea of sobriety and lawful employment likely seems absurdly “abnormal.”  And, cycles of poverty and the lingering impact of addiction and a criminal record is a vortex that’s nearly impossible to escape.  Yet, who of us would describe drug use and criminal activity as “normal?”

The reality is, all of us share far more in common than we likely realize.  We all share the basic needs for survival – food, water, shelter, clothing.  We all have the same safety needs, and share the same vulnerabilities.   We all have hopes and dreams.  We all yearn for relationships.  We all seek, in some way, meaning from life.  We have all been hurt, or broken, from time to time.  We all carry heavy burdens, of one kind or another.

And, theologically speaking, we all have sacred worth.  All humans are made in the image and likeness of God, and are inherently valuable.  And, we are all loved, by God, with a love that knows no bounds and has no limits.

And, yet, we are all individually unique.  There’s not another you, or me, in the entire world.  We have different DNA.  We have different finger prints.  We have different personalities, dispositions, temperaments, capabilities, tastes, struggles and varying strengths and weaknesses. We certainly have different life experiences.  There’s never been another you or me in the history of the world, nor will there ever be.  With all you may or may not share in common with the “normal” majority, there is only one of you, and there’s only one of me.

I suppose that makes all of us a bit “abnormal” doesn’t it!?!

Maybe, just maybe, “normal” is boring.  Maybe, just maybe, “abnormal” is interesting, unique, special.  Maybe, just maybe, diversity was part of God’s plan.  Maybe, just maybe, none of us are as “normal” or as “abnormal” as we think.

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