Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Life More Ordinary

If you are looking for a campaign update, it will be delayed a little. I feel that I need to address the hot-button political issues of the week (immigration and Medicare for this past week), but they changed the dosage of my thyroid medication on Friday, and that always makes my brain work too fast and upsets my stomach. It's hard to be political when you feel like that.

Anyhow, I have other stuff to write about.

I was driving to the store this evening when "This American Life" came on NPR. I think it must have been the first ever episode because it was called something else, and Ira Glass said something about launching a new show. But that part really isn't important to the story.

The first piece was about a photojournalist who had a conversion experience when he was in the Holy Land to photograph Passover/Easter. He said that as he stood in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and looked out over some tombs, he had this sudden belief that Jesus really did die and rise agian. Well, needless to say, a revalation like that needs some time to be processed. He said that as he lay in his bed a the hostel where he was staying, he felt...well, he didn't really have a concrete description of what it was, but he knew that he had to live his life as if he had only six months left to live.

Well, he began by spending more time with his parents. He then put all his affairs in order, wrote his will, and anonymously gave his friends all the money he had in savings. He also bicycled across country to visit his siblings. He wrote letters to people he felt he wronged apologizing for what he did.

His six months were up on Halloween. He was at his parent's house that night, and he said what he remembers is how pleasant their conversation was. It wasn't about anything in particular, it was just...pleasant to be with people he loved, to share that small initmacy. He handed out candy to trick-or-treaters, and went to bed, fully expecting it to be his last night on earth.

When he woke up the next morning...well, he was really broken up as he was relating it on the radio, but the long and the shot of it was that he felt he had his whole life given back to him.

Well, he concluded his piece by saying that as he processed this experience over the years (he was telling the story 20 years later, and he had never actually told anyone the story before), he tried to place the experience into a religious context. His first instinct was to say he was born again, but in the common usage of that term, it didn't really fit. He wasn't suddenly "on fire for Christ," as someone at an evangelical church might expect when hearing that.

Despite the common connotation of that phrase, he concluded that he truly had been born again, but he said that he had been "born again into the ordinary."

Now you may be asking yourself why I just retold this long story, when you could just go the website and listen to the podcast (and I'm too lazy to find the link). And there's a really good reason.

Today at church we had a baptism. I've written before how much I like the way that Sacrament is celebrated in the Lutheran church, so I'm not going to bore you with that (you can search through the archive if you are interested, though). There wasn't anything special about it, just an ordinary baptism (though the hymn after the rite was amazing, and if I'm ever lucky enough to have kids, I want it sung at their baptism. Heck, I want it sung at my wedding - if the Professor and I ever get that far).

There were also more people in church than usual, again for no special reason. In fact, there was nothing remarkable about the whole service.

But at the passing of the peace, which my congregation does in a big way, I felt something. I dind't have the words for it until I heard that piece on the radio. I had an experience of the joy of the ordinary. I looked around the church and watch people wish each other peace with handsakes and hugs. People walked all over the chruch just to exchange that simple symbol. And it didn't matter if the person was of a different race, or was homeless, or gay, or whatever. There was a genuine sincerity in that ordinary greeting.

I think that that is maybe why the longest season in the church year is ordinary time. When you think about it, Christ spent most of his life in the ordinary. Even in his public ministry, much of His teaching, healing, and other miracles took place in the context of the ordinary (like the wedding at Cana). The ordinary is the stuff that life is made of.

But how easy is it to overlook that? We want to see the big dramatic signs. We want to see walking on water, and water into wine, and the casting out of demons. But that isn't where Jesus is.

Jesus is in the baby who just discovered that if he pulls on his shoelace, it makes his foot move. Jesus is in that guy you stopped to help when he ran out of gas. Jesus is in the old lady slowly pushing her cart down the middle of the aisle, blocking everyone else. Jesus is even in that jerk who cut you off in traffic.

Jesus is all around us ever day, in everyday things. But so often, we are too busy to see Him. Maybe we should all live as though our time is short. Maybe then we will learn to lvoe the ordinary.

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