I don’t like Normal. It is not a surprise. For the past two weeks, I have kept a journal to understand the source of my slightly oppositional nature. Guess that’s good, therapy got me thinking. I think it grew out of my antipathy to my own “normality”. It has been defined by others. As a youngest child, normalcy in our home was sort of defined even before I arrived. The standard I received may have been modified by me, it may have made room for me, but it was mainly me who had to adapt to it.

Do not mistake yourself. I had a good childhood in a loving family. But, nevertheless, I am a maverick.

Normal does not have to adapt

We have to squeeze into the normal draw spaces for us. The normal does not adapt to us, we have to adapt to it. Or we can change it. But if that sounds too difficult, we can just tell ourselves a fable about the past that gave birth to Normal. Normal doesn’t have to adapt, as we are ready to commemorate past atrocities. Socially, psychologically, it’s a strange dynamic. Rather than taking a painful look at how we were shaped by subtle (or not-so-subtle) injustice, we simply deny the injustice.

Build monuments to the atrocity

My wife was telling me about the motivations behind the secession of the southern states that led to the American Civil War. The fifth-grade textbook she is to teach lists two reasons why the south sought independence. One of the reasons was states’ rights. Another reason cited was to “protect the southern way of life.” My wife is quick to tell me what she may not be allowed to tell her students, that “the southern way of life” is just code for the enslavement and torture of human beings for profit. In this current era where telling the truth in history has been excessively undermined, we can just deny “normal” and just call it something less offensive.

In, Bias in history textbooks, American University, the authors note that “According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, only 8% of high school students surveyed knew slavery was the root cause.” Furthermore,

“As recently as 2018, a school in Texas assigned Prentice Hall Classics: A History of the United Stateswhich postulates that “many [slaves] perhaps weren’t even very unhappy with their lot, because they didn’t know any other. Another College Board-approved textbook that “meets AP US history curriculum requirements” includes a map that refers to Africans forcibly imported in 1775 as “immigrants.”

Nostalgia and normality

Preaching through the new revised lectionary, Year C provides an opportunity to walk through the Gospel of Luke with a new awareness. The wonder of Scripture is the ability of the Holy Spirit to continue to breathe new life into old words. I see things because of how the world has changed since I last preached through Luke. I am no longer the same. My community is not the same. The world is no longer the same. And it’s no surprise that Luke isn’t the same either. The Holy Spirit continues to renew it.

Luke brings up this memory bias, where a set of horrible past actions are considered in a way that makes them more acceptable. Just whitewash the story. Redo the result. It seems the lawyers Jesus was talking to had never heard the saying, “you can’t make shit shine”. But hey, they tried.

Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets that your ancestors killed. Thus you are witnesses and approve of the acts of your ancestors; for they have killed them, and you are building their graves. (Luke 11:47-48).

Matthew’s version makes the statement more pointed:

” Misfortune to you, scribes and hypocrites pharisees ! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the tombs of the righteous (Matthew 23:29).

Matthew goes on to involve the scribes and Pharisees trying to distance themselves from the past. But without undoing its excesses, they simply try to dodge its consequences.

The past is not a prologue

Or, even more, the past is a mandate. Normal carries an unrepentant perspective on the past. Certainly, there have been great and beautiful things in the past. But when Normal becomes a selective form of memory and denial, Normal prolongs the problems. Somehow, I regularly turned my upsetting nature into a testimony of hope. Nostalgia can be relentless in its proclamation that it was better in the past. Nostalgia is not just good memories and gratitude for past events, people, relationships and experiences. Nostalgia can pollute our gratitude with an oppressive demand to replay, repeat, idolize, and pay homage to what was. It is despair.

Deal with the past without feeling an obligation to highlight it. By finding gratitude in delights and trials, the future can remain hopeful. Normal’s stringent demands are not hope. Maybe hope isn’t normal (at least not in what was Normal), and that’s ok.

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