I’m not going to critique the sermon (although this cat did give some GOOD points out), but at one point, the speaker uttered a phrase that stuck with me for some reason. Like it was some kind of weird itch in the back of my mind, because this phrase reminded me so much of another phrase I was familiar with.
“Normal Christianity” was the phrase he used.
The pastor was speaking on how to live a life of faith, and he kept saying, “This is just [acting out] normal Christianity” throughout the final 1/3 of his message. It wasn’t until the next morning while I was walking Maggie that it hit me exactly what I was paralleling the term “normal Christianity” with in my mind. What’s really cool is that some of my fellow academic nerds are going to have an “ah-ha” moment here, especially we who have studied the history of higher education in America. Others of you may either think: “Wow – he’s really on to something;” or: “Wow – he really needs to switch to decaf.”
I kept thinking of “normal Christianity” in the frame of a “normal school.”
For those of you in the dark and who don’t have a clue what a “normal school” is, normal schools were established to instruct individuals on how to become teachers. Instead of these days where you can enroll in pretty much any college or university and get a degree in any branch of or any level of education, normal schools were specialized, unique, single-focused institutions designed solely on how to teach norms, or standards, of education (hence the name – the administration weren’t trying to be witty by calling themselves normal, which would make all other colleges…well…you know…). They taught the teachers on how to teach.
When the pastor this past Sunday began speaking on how the advice he was giving was just “normal Christianity,” I began to wonder: maybe the goals of a normal school and normal Christianity shouldn’t be too dissimilar. Maybe that’s what “normal Christianity” is supposed to do: teach. Instruct. Provide concrete ideas, mixed with metaphors (because just like the series finale of LOST taught us: life does not always give you all the answers) to help you learn on the journey. Don’t offer formulaic “if you do X then God will Y” ideas or ways to be, because not everything always fits into a nice, neat box…and God ain’t always going to give you a Cadillac. (Sorry, purveyors of prosperity gospel; your bank account may say one thing, but you’re morally bankrupt.
Normal Christianity, the norms and standards of our faith, should help you learn how to learn. It’s not an offer-based faith we should embrace, but instead one that simply teaches us how to be. How to live. How to love.
Now, what with my rage-against-the-mainstream self, I tend to sardonically look upon anything classified as “normal” and immediately have some kind of knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction – simply because, well, that’s the way I’ve been conditioned, both by myself and by many of the circumstances of my life. What I have to remember (and allow my arrogance and “intellectual” side to die daily with) is that normal does not have to equal mainstream, or boring. Normal does not have to mean “just like everybody else.”
As a matter of fact, practicing normal Christianity and allowing oneself to be “normed” by the Spirit may be the most counter-cultural move possible – to both Christianity as well as the rest of the world.
And that's perfectly normal.