Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Everybody’s Weird

“Community is the place where the person
you least want to live with always lives.”
Henri Nouwen[i]

We all have an idea and concept of how things are and are suppose to be. Sociologists call these paradigms or worldviews. We all have one and they govern much, if not all of our life. Dietrick Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together said people enter relationships with their own preconceived ideals and dreams of what community should look like. His words are no less than penetrating:

But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community… the sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both… those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.[ii]

“We try to separate the world into normal, healthy people (like us) and difficult people” writes John Ortberg. He continues, “Sometime ago the title of a magazine article caught my eye: Totally Normal Women Who Stalk Their Ex-Boyfriends.’

The phrase that struck me was ‘totally normal women.’ What would one of these look like (or a totally normal man, for that matter)? And if the obsessive stalking of a past lover is not just normal but totally normal, how far would you have to go to be a little strange?”[iii]

We all want to look normal, to think of ourselves as normal, but the writers of Scripture insist that no one is “totally normal” – at least not as God defines normal. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” they tell us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Isaiah 53:6 and Romans 3:23)

This explains a very important aspect of the opening pages of Scripture.

One of the most ironic remarks about the Bible I hear from time to time is when someone ways that it’s a book about pious, stained-glass characters who do not reflect the real world.

I always know that means they haven’t read it. Have you ever noticed how many messed-up families there are in Genesis?

Here’s a quick summary:

Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him.
Lamech introduces polygamy to the world.
Noah – the most righteous man of his generation – gets drunk and curses his own grandson.
Lot, when his home is surrounded by residents of Sodom who want to violate his visitors, offers instead that they can have sex with his daughters. Later on, his daughters get him drunk and get impregnated by him – and Lot is the most righteous man in Sodom!
Abraham plays favorites between his sons Isaac and Ishmael; they’re estranged.
Isaac plays favorites between his sons Jacob and Esau; they’re bitter enemies for twenty years.
Jacob plays favorites between Joseph and his other eleven sons; the brothers want to kill Joseph and end up selling him into slavery.

Their marriages are disasters:

Abraham has sex with his wife’s servant, then sends her and her and their son off to the wilderness at his wife’s request.
Isaac and Rebekah fight over which boy gets the blessing.
Jacob marries two wives and ends up with both of their maids as his concubines as well when they get into a fertility contest.
Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben, sleeps with his father’s concubine.
Another son, Judah, sleeps with his daughter-in-law when she disguises herself as a prostitute. She does this because she is childless since her first two husbands – both sons of Judah – were so wicked that God killed them both; and Judah reneged on his obligations to her.

These people need a therapist.

These are not the Waltons or the Beavers. They’re not even the Brady Bunch. They need Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss – the need somebody. (And, you thought your family had issues).

Why does the writer of Genesis include all this stuff?

There’s a very important reason. The writer of Scripture is trying to establish a deep theological truth: Everybody’s weird.

Every one of us – all we like sheep – have habits we can’t control, past deeds we can’t undo, flaws we can’t correct. This is the case of characters God has to work with. In the way that glass is predisposed to shatter and nitroglycerin is predisposed to explode, we are predisposed to do wrong when conditions are right. That predisposition is what theologians call “depravity.” We lie and sacrifice integrity for the sake of a few dollars (“I don’t understand, Officer – my speedometer must be broken”). We gossip for the sake of a few moments’ feeling of superiority. We try to create false impressions of productivity at work to advance more rapidly. (A new software package allows you to surf the net at work, then with one click switch to a fake screen that makes it look as if you’re working on a project; it’s called “boss screen,”) We seek to intimidate employees or children to gain control, or simply to enjoy the feeling of power.

Everybody’s weird.
Because we know in our hearts that this is not the way we’re supposed to be, we try to hid our weirdness. Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called “depravity management.”[iv]

Meditate on the following: Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called “depravity management

Prayer: God, show me how I engage in “depravity management.”
Action: Spend some time journaling about what stuck out to your in today’s entry.

Theory of Relativity

If you think your family has problems, consider the marriage mayhem created when 76-year-old Bill Baker of London recently wed Edna Harvey. She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother. That’s where the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter, Lynn.
“My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.”
From this experience, Lynn should gain profound insight into the theory of relativity.[v]

[i] Henri Nouwen, “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Leadership Journal, Spring 1995, 83.
[ii] Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Trans. Daniel Bloesch and James Burtness. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 9.
[iii] John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 14-15.
[iv] Ibid., 15-17.
[v] Campus Life, March, 1981, p. 31.

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