What’s Normal?

I often find myself thinking of serious things while I’m doing something that’s not very serious. I’m sure you find yourself in that situation occasionally, too. I was listening to a program on NPR recently, while driving home from the dentist. Terry Gross was interviewing the actor Gaby Hoffman, known for roles in Field of Dreams and childhood parts in other films. She was talking about her growing up as a child and the kinds of people she was exposed to. I found it fascinating when she compared her life style, growing up, to that of people in the suburbs. Suburbanites living in homes with a father and a mother, eating dinner together every night, mother and father going to work each day, were not her normal fare. Hoffman grew up in a residential hotel, surrounded by creative types such as actors, artist and other far-right brain types. When Hoffman speaks of suburbanites, she characterizes their daily activities as being far from her corner of normality.

Most of us have some concept of what normal is. As far back as I can remember, the quintessential picture of normal for a family was a father, mother and children, living under one roof. The father was the bread winner and the mother was caretaker and curator of the family abode. Although I was dirt poor as a child, both my maternal and paternal grandparents operated within that model. My family did too, until my mother became a young widow at the age of 26. This was due to a farming accident that took the life of my dad. There were other markers along the journey of life that reinforced my sense of normality of the family unit: the church; television programs, containing all-white casts; school, and a host of other cultural and social institutions that made clear what a normal family was to look like. In retrospect, I find it awkward that there were countless other models-never accepted as normal- all around me of families that didn’t fit the Judeo-Christian model introduced early in Old Testament scriptures. Ironically, we didn’t fit that model after my father died.

It’s funny how society has for generations made dysfunctionality a pejorative term to be applied appropriately to some families. For some reason, we’ve all been led to believe that the dysfunctional family is the square peg that just won’t fit the round hole in which the so-called normal family rests comfortably. Being a person of faith, I’ve come to accept the “normal” fact that family dysfunctionality goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Let’s be honest, what’s more dysfunctional than one brother killing the other over jealousy of his offering being more acceptable in the eyes of God.

In our current times, we find ourselves challenged to extend the love of God to certain types people who have been around for centuries, but have been under cover because they don’t fit the picture of what normal looks like. These folks include transgender, gay, bi-sexual, etc. The life styles of such individuals are discussed with heated terms across the table. Some camps are convinced their life styles are the result of choice, others (often medical professionals) are convinced they are programmed that way, and that choice has little to do with it. When all is said, and done, isn’t the duty of us good folks, brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition to love the person despite the sin. After all, isn’t “a sinful state” normal for all of us?

As I think more on the question of what’s normal, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion, that normal is a state of being dictated by God. It’s a state of being in which few of us has the privilege of existing in on this plain. The normal thing we should be demonstrating in our existence, during our promised three score and ten is to show the love of God all. You can’t get more normal than that, don’t you think?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

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