June 27, 2007

Everybody's Normal, Until...

2007 1518 page30 capn the fellowship my wife and I attended before joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we would periodically run into people who were, to be charitable, “just a bubble off plumb,” as a friend of ours once put it. They were not totally inappropriate, or constantly disruptive, but each had quirks that made them a bit of a tough fit in, well, “polite” society.
One fellow would get up during every testimony meeting and talk about an event he believed happened 120 years or so earlier, even if he hadn’t been there, and even if things didn’t happen just the way he imagined. His reveries would be quite fervent, and sometimes long lasting.
Another woman, in a different congregation, usually arrived on foot, but wearing a motorcycle helmet and muttering under her breath. She was friendly enough, but the helmet was worn to protect her head if she fell, and it was certainly an unusual church “hat” style. “Karen,” as I’ll call her, had a heart of gold, but you might have to take some time to discover it, and not everyone had, or took, the time.
In yet a third congregation, there were two older fellows, neither one in top physical shape, whose creaks and idiosyncrasies might manifest themselves at different, and inconvenient times. I remember the senior pastor there, perhaps through gritted teeth, loving and helping those guys, nonetheless.
2007 1518 page30That’s part of the problem, perhaps, when those who are “different” show up at our door. It can be jarring, even disturbing, to encounter individuals with mild personality quirks. Then again, as Christian author John Ortberg titled one of his books, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them. (I never thought how I might appear to them—if I came off in the wrong way, perhaps grace was being extended to me!)
Even after becoming Adventists, we’d run into people with some strange ideas and rather intense ways of expressing them. Visiting one church for the first time, a gentleman presented himself, along with some interesting concepts. I got lost when he hauled out a 20-year-old magazine cover illustrating then-president Jimmy Carter slaying a dragon, and still couldn’t tell you what his point was.
And for a multifaceted look at those with what could be called a “unique” view of the world, cast your eyes around the periphery of any world church General Conference session. There are some sincere people, to be sure, but we also draw the more-than-occasional individual who might benefit from working with a trained professional.
I was a good 20 or 25 years younger when I first encountered people in church who’d be classed as “odd” or “off balance.” In the arrogance that accompanied my youth, it was sometimes difficult to be totally charitable. Why did that fellow have to drone on and on with the same story every time? Didn’t “Karen” know her behavior was off-putting?
Indeed, it’s easy—but certainly not Christian—to make fun of such people behind their backs. I’ll confess that sometimes I was one of them.
But then it hit me one day: these are people for whom Jesus died just as much as He died for me. The difference between me and those with whom I was uncomfortable was that their imperfections were more easily seen, and they were less self-conscious of them than you or I might be.
My imperfections may not be totally hidden, but I can usually put up a respectable “front” on a bad day, or even a good one. Whatever sins or fears or quirks I’m dealing with, I can tamp them down, mostly, when I’m around other people. That presented me with a challenge: How do I act like a Christian when it isn’t necessarily comfortable?
Realizing that these were people whom Jesus loved—and who professed to loving Him—gave me another thought. Someday, perhaps soon, each of these folks will be totally healed when Christ returns. They’ll have new bodies, new minds, and new spirits. I can imagine “Karen” without her helmet, but instead a radiant smile and a gentle demeanor.
Healing, after all, is part of the Atonement: “with his stripes we are healed,” the Bible says in Isaiah 53:5 (KJV). I believe all of us who are believers but may be less-than-perfect in mind or body or both will rejoice in that day, fully whole, and finally free.
Mark A. Kellner is news editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World.