Monday, March 10, 2014

Trapped in Normalcy

I ran across a line in one of Richard Rohr’s books that I use for a course I teach.  The book is entitled, Everything Belongs.  I have used the book a number of times in some classes.  I find it challenging, comforting, and encouraging.  It is encouraging when I read that ultimately everything belongs.  Obviously, that is pretty general.  But it is also radical.

It is general and sometimes generalities don’t mean much.  It is tempting to say, “yeah, everything belongs, but belongs to what?”  The first place in Rohr’s book where he addresses this question provides a good, beginning answer.  He says, “In God’s reign, ‘everything belongs,’ even the broken and poor parts; the imperial systems of culture, however, demand ‘in’ and ‘out’ people, victors and victims.”

When Rohr says “everything,” he means every thing.  That includes me and you.  That means all of us and all of our world (and every other world out there).  This is the radicality of his message.  It is such a radical message that many of us recoil in the face of it.  Too often, we are so much a part of what he calls “imperial systems of culture” that we can’t get our minds around a concept like, “everything belongs.”  We seem naturally to think some things belong, but surely other things don’t.  Like the systems of culture, we need victors and victims. 

This is especially true for us who are rather fortunate.  Some of us are so lucky that we are fortunate in many ways.  We are what might called multi-fortunate!  I am one of them.  I am a white male who is very well educated and nicely situated financially.  Of course, I see myself as only “slightly well-off!”  In my normal world, I do not always compare favorably to those around me. 

But all this thinking and comparing and, sometimes, complaining comes from “my reign.”  It comes from my framework of the world where there are “in” people and “out” people.  Rohr is not talking about this “reign,” this self-constructed little world of mine.  Indeed not!  Rohr’s vision that everything belongs comes from the perspective of “God’s reign.”  That is not a term used very much today.  I could substitute the idea of “God’s kingdom” for the phrase.  From God’s kingdom everything belongs.

Put that way surely will call for negative pushback from many different kinds of folks.  Put this way underscores that many of us really do work from a perspective that requires “in” people and “out” people.  “Surely,” we assert, “not everyone can be an ‘in’ person!”  Of course, I assume I am an “in” person.  I can base this claim on any number of factors.  I might religiously be an “in” person.  I belong to the right religious tradition, i.e. normally Christianity in our culture.  I can think of a number of other categories where I consider myself “in.”

That’s surely the trouble with normalcy.  Most of us define it such that we are “normal!”  I know I do.  And if I hang around with other “normal” people, then I am confirmed in my assumption that I am normal.  But that undoubtedly makes some other folks “not normal.”  Of course, they are the “out” people.  And surely, they don’t belong---everything can’t belong according to this logic.  And tragically, if I am an “in” person, I might not really care about the others---those “out” people!  I’m “in;” they’re “out;” that’s life!

This is why Rohr’s sentence so challenged me when I read it.  He says, “We are usually trapped in what we call normalcy, ‘the ways things are.’  Life becomes problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers.”   Rohr says we will never understand from this perspective that everything belongs.  Rather, he admonishes us to “be drawn into the sacred, often called liminality.”  Liminality is a fancy word meaning “threshold.”  We have to be drawn to the threshold of a different perspective---the sacred---in order to see and understand that everything belongs. 

Probably most of us don’t see things with God’s eyes---from God’s perspective. Indeed, we are trapped in normalcy.  How could we begin to see things from “God’s reign?”  Let me offer a couple small suggestions.  First, we will need a new set of eyes!  This is not a call for a transplant.  But it is a call for transformation.  We will need to begin seeing with eyes of grace and not eyes of judgment.  Of course, judgments will need to be made; it would be na├»ve to assume otherwise.  But judgments should lead to grace and not grief.

Secondly, we begin to see from “God’s reign” when we get eyes of love.  Our culture is pretty good with lust.  It is not always so good with love!  Eyes of love can see what is already good and affirm that.  Eyes of love can see the potential good which often is hidden or, perhaps, trapped.  The eyes of love lead to liberation and freedom. With the eyes of love, we will see that everything belongs.

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