Have you ever had a mundane conversation that left you unsettled, in a good way? I’ve just had one of those.
It was about a friend coming to stay at our house, and the planned days happened to coincide with the same days of the week we regularly have three or four others staying. I was naturally reluctant as I didn’t want the house to be too full.
Thing is, the house wouldn’t be too full. It’s not a mansion but we do have airbeds, a sofa bed and enough food, it’s just that I’d got used to a certain level of space and comfort.
Without saying “no” I expressed my reluctance then settled down to read a chapter of The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. In it he describes his journey into an authentic faith. He tells how as students they moved into a derelict church building with a bunch of homeless families to join them in campaigning for them to be housed. They threw themselves into a not-so-ideal living environment with neither heating nor decent privacy and only one toilet. In the shell of a deserted church building they discovered real church again: living, messy, vibrant, challenging, wholehearted, joyful and full of love.
I remembered some of the crazier ideas we had for our missional community house way back when we were starting out and wondered to myself where I’d got my automatic reluctance from. Heck, once we seriously thought about giving up living in a house and buying a school bus, decking it out with bunks and just hitting the road. Why have I become so automatically uncomfortable with having someone sleep on my bedroom floor? Why do I expect a certain level of control and orderliness? Why that specific level?
I felt the Holy Spirit’s whisper to me, over and over, “where do you get your normal from?” It kept going round in my head. Where do I get my sense of what’s normal from, and should it be normal?
What’s normal for me? My englishness? Middle class expectations? Is it set by my fellow young Christian students? Is it molded by the advertisers? The people at work? People I read about in the news? My Facebook feed? By the norms of Jesus Fellowship Church? Or is my sense of normal God’s normal?
Jesus wasn’t normal. Or perhaps, he lived with a new normal.
“Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ ”
These guys knew how the lake worked, some of them being professional fishermen right in their zone. Winds would rush down from the surrounding hills quickly pounding up a storm. These squalls were violent and didn’t normally just exhaust their fury in a few seconds.
Jesus’ idea of normal was different to theirs. Why was he sleeping? Silly carpenter. But where he was there was no storm. Sure, the outside circumstances needed a little telling off before they caught up with his reality, but the will of God dictated his norm, faith set his expectations.
Perhaps this is part of what “on earth as it is in heaven” means. Maybe praying for God’s kingdom to come on earth is about wanting what’s normal in heaven to become normal on earth too?
“They dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…’ ”
These guys were accused of turning the world upside down, but perhaps they were putting it the right way up again. When God’s kingdom comes the normal reign of heaven overrules the rebellious, twisted reign of earth, righting it back to God’s originally intended and wholly good norm. Everyone who belongs to the kingdom of heaven has their normality set by what’s normal in heaven.
An analogy: I used to live in the countryside where it was normal to greet strangers as we passed, and normal for drivers to give a thankful flash or wave when you let them by on a narrow lane. Since I’ve moved to town I’ve found that isn’t normal here, but I’ve decided I don’t care. I prefer the normal of the countryside and so I say a “g’mornin” when I pass that chap walking his dog. I wave at drivers as they let me through. Not that I’m a hero, I’m just abnormal. I’ve just decided to live as a citizen of another culture.
So, back to our lives. I don’t think we should try to be different just because it’s cool to be “radical.” There are some very good normals in normal society that guard against social wonkiness. We need to be very thoughtful about how the culture we seek to create, the “new normal,” imposes on other people, especially the more vulnerable among us.
But what would it mean if we got our sense of what’s normal from God? Well, what was normal to Jesus?
It was normal for him to be gut-moved with compassion. When I see a need I like to meet it, but normally weigh up how much I can afford. I give from what I can spare, not my firstfruits.
He expected power to heal. I sometimes pray for people.
It was not normal for him to have a proper place to put his head at night, I normally use two pillows.
He defended the poor, the accused, ate with those society looked down on as sinners. I don’t know the names of many poor people, much less often eat dinner with them.
Why shouldn’t I go out every now and then and bring back a few homeless people for a hot shower and supper, maybe even let them stay a night, or thirty?
Why shouldn’t I offer to heal the guy limping down the road outside? That would be normal for Jesus.
Why shouldn’t it be normal for me to aim to spend only £10 a week on food so I have more to give away?
Why should I have two coats when some people don’t have any? Same goes when I have more than enough t-shirts, cutlery, sofas, teabags…
Is it because it’s not normal to act like that?
Perhaps the first step to becoming people who turn the world upside down will be for us to allow God to turn our worlds upside down. Perhaps He wants to flip our perspective, to harmonise our expectations with His.