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It’s just not normal

February 6, 2014

I had an interesting letter the other day from a man who is a single dad with a pre-school daughter.  He has custody of his daughter and struggles with all sorts of single parent issues.  One lifesaver to him has been his church’s preschool program.  He has been able to drop his daughter off with people he trusts every weekday morning.

Everything was fine until the church decided to do a promotion to attract more kids.  One they came up with was “Muffins with Mom Monday” once a month.  The goal was to get a good family thing going, attract some who might want to check out their pre-school before committing, and to create a discussion/support time for the moms, particularly those without church connections.

His daughter quickly rebelled against the event, citing that she “didn’t have a Mommy.”  Sympathetic, he asked the church if he could come to the next MwM event.  Nope.  It turns out the discussion time was for the problems young moms face and the presence of a man might stifle the free-flow of the talk.

But don’t worry, he was told, they allowed people like him to send a substitute mom, say a grandmother or an aunt or some other female family member.  Not having family nearby he asked if his girlfriend could come.  That question stumped the women he spoke to so she had to get back to him.

They did, and he got his answer.  Nope.  The church was concerned about unmarried, unrelated women “sending the wrong message” to the other kids.   They weren’t worried about him, of course, but what if somebody started sending the girlfriend of the month?  Or what if someone had a live-in girlfriend?

While the story is fairly unique the message is not.  In most evangelical churches we have a picture of “normal” in our heads.  We gear our programs, our outreaches, sometimes even our sermons, to speak to the normal.  When you don’t fit that normal, life can get awkward.

There are all kinds of life situations where this comes up.  Singles know the feeling very well.  Any woman who is not a mother feels it on Mother’s Day.  Stay-at-home dads get called “man fails.”  Successful career women are looked at askance.  Divorced men and women get relegated to sub-groups of like people so frequently it is almost like a form of quarantine.

But it is not only lifestyle issues.  Try being an evangelical and a Democrat in most churches.  Or someone who doesn’t think young earth creationism or dispensational eschatology makes sense.  Most churches have a definition of evangelicalism that includes stuff that has little or nothing to do with evangelism.  I attended a church some years back that felt that home schooling was “the only Biblical” option for Christians.

When you are a little “not normal” you often learn to keep your mouth shut about these variations.  Sometimes you even have to fake enthusiasm for things you could care less about or risk getting the “not normal” tag getting stuck on you.  Frankly, I think most of us fake normal a good bit of the time in our churches.  In an era that yearns for an authentic faith how well does faking normal, or expecting people to do it, work?  But what can we do?

First, most churches have to learn to ask themselves what they do might look or feel like to someone who doesn’t fit the image?  I am amazed that my friend’s church failed to anticipate the issue he stumbled into.

Second, we need to review our “normal” list. Do we have stuff on it that really has little or nothing to do with the central issues of the faith?  Maybe we shouldn’t cater to hobby-horse views of normal.

Finally we need to school ourselves to communicate acceptance to everyone, even the not normal.  Most of the time, in situations where I don’t fit the “normal” image, I am well aware of that fact.  I don’t need to be called normal, all I need is to be called welcome; to be able to be who I am and say what I think and still feel that my showing up matters to people.

What are you not normal about and how do you cope with it?

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