Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Spectacular and the Ordinary

A few years ago, I found out that MSG has a decidedly negative effect on the way I function. This ubiquitous food additive brings nothing to the flavor party, but it intensifies how existing flavors taste. It is often used to give inferior foods superior flavor --to blitz our buds with intense flavor satisfaction. And, I can tell when I eat something laden with it, unawares. My brain doesn't work well. My face flushes. I get exhausted but can't rest. It is like having too much caffeine, but far more unpleasant.

It's not hard to figure out why the food industry loves the stuff. If I can make my product taste more intense than the other guys, then he will prefer my food. Everyone tries to one-up the other guy, and that's how you go from Coke in a reasonable 8-ounce bottle to the gigantic Mega Big Gulp with a billion calories.

Blitzed senses. That pretty much sums up our world. Everything needs to be bigger, better, faster, brighter, louder, sexier, "now with more pizzazz." We want everything to be extraordinary, to stand out. By definition, however, not everything can be extraordinary. If it is, the extraordinary becomes ordinary. If everyone lives in Versailles, then nobody is wowed by Versailles any more. We become de-sensitized --we only have, it seems, so much capacity to be wowed and awed. Then, we become jaded. Our senses are blitzed. Nothing seems extraordinary; nothing can wow me anymore. We are tired and yet can't rest: like me on MSG.

We see this in human lives too. From our earliest days we are told to "Be extraordinary." The gospel preached to us from the tacky, ubiquitous motivational posters that adorn the industrial-chic hallways of the average high school urge everyone to stand out, to soar above the crowd, to seek notice and acclaim. Don't settle for the ordinary. But again, not everyone can be extraordinary. IF everyone gets the 4.0, the 4.0 loses its meaning. If everyone is the star quarterback, who is left to play third clarinet in the half-time show?

I am facing 40. This is hard for me. I was the youngest in my class in school, one of the youngest at the seminary, pretty young for a pastor (a game in which you are, sadly, either too young or too old for most of your career, except for a brief shining moment from 38-45). Now, I am staring down the traditionally-feared birthday. I am realizing how ordinary I am. I live in an ordinary house. In a suburb. On one of a maze of identical streets. I pastor a wonderful but very ordinary church in an ordinary city. I am ordinary. And I'm okay with this.

That is a bald-faced lie. I have an Ego and too often he runs the show. That self-seeking beast wants to stand out. He wants to be something, to make his mark, to break into some elite inner ring, to be the "go-to guy," to be significant, to be noticed. When Ego doesn't get his way, he sulks. He does what he does half-heartedly. He envies the significance of others and grumbles about how undeserved it is and if people just knew what a jerk that guy was, well, things would be different. Ego hates ordinary faithfulness --it bores him to death.

I need to realize how ordinary I am, and to be okay with that. I'm not there yet, but I preach most effectively when I preach to myself. Here goes:

God can do big things with ordinary. It is not "settling for ordinary," but working hard at ordinary --that is faithfulness. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." Paul faced defections, failures, opposition, imprisonment and beatings. Perhaps most painfully, he faced people who mocked him and questioned his message because of his failures and how ordinary he was. There were far more spectacular speakers than him. There were self-seeking superstars, wanna-be superstars and those whom God raised up to be of particular wide-ranging blessing in the church not twenty years after Christ. And then there were foot soldiers. Faithful men, faithfully plodding, on places like Crete! Hardly a place for monumental world impact, among the lazy sluggards and gluttons of that rocky isle. Yet, God had people there and they needed to be fed.

Is it really better to be a doorkeeper in God's house? My Ego screams, "No!" God, kill my ego, and help me to work hard at being ordinary.


  1. I think of Luke 17:7-9, the ordinary servant who does not expect anything in return, but just to serve. It stands out to me that in our culture, we so often give and seek rewards for things that should be done anyway. I think this feeds what is already a basic desire to think that the world is our oyster. I give no extra credit in my English class. If the basics cannot be grasped, why give extra credit? You do not get a bonus for grasping the basics either. Sometimes, MOST of the time, I think, we all have to settle for "good enough". Even the most extraordinary person has a threshold they will not cross, and therein lies their "good enough". It may look different from mine, because I am perfectly average too, but we all have to grapple with it at some point...

  2. Wow, what a great post. I can't add anything to it to make it better. One thing you ain't is an ordinary writer. This is very good stuff.

  3. "Cricket" RennerSeptember 1, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    And, how many modern evangelicals seek not just to BE extraordinary but to EXPERIENCE the extraordinary, meaning the "ordinary" means of grace (preaching of the Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper) aren't good enough ... they seek a personal experience, feel-good worship service, or the charismatic gifts as proof God's working. Instead, praise God for the miracle of every regenerated soul in our 'little' congregations!

    In His service in Alaska,

  4. Read "The Inner Circle" by C.S. Lewis recently. Good read if you have time!

  5. You mean to tell me, Pastor, that all of those Chinese Buffets I enjoy aren't naturally that delicious?!