What Does Missional Mean?, Week 3
by Adam White
“It’s not normal!”
I usually hear this phrase when I confide to people that growing up I not only liked to dip french fries into a Wendy’s chocolate frosty…but also proceeded to let chicken nuggets join the party. I know, you are probably thinking,
“It’s not normal!”
This phrase can also surface when we observe other people breaking “social norms” that we may have deemed as something that should not be done. Whether that is watching someone dipping chicken nuggets into a frosty, seeing the consecration of a Gay Bishop in a mainline protestant denomination, or hearing that people who identify as transgender should be afforded the right to use public facilities that align with their personal gender identity.
I know it is a quite a stretch from chicken nuggets to ordaining protestant Gay Bishops and transgender equality rights, but in the public sphere inevitably these issues will be met with the utterance of some proclaiming:
“It is not normal!”
All of this really begs the questions, “What is normal?” and “Who gets to define normal?”
The topics of chicken nuggets bathing in chocolate frosties, human sexuality, and transgender rights, are not the “It’s not normal” topics we find in the Gospels. Rather, equality with the marginalized: those sinful impoverished people who couldn’t help themselves, the useless children who can’t help but get in the way, the physically deficient dregs with leprosy and blindness, the inferior and corrupt non-Jewish migrants, and the women who had isolated roles and limited voices—these were the “It’s not normal” issues that Jesus was confronting and reordering for the purpose of widening a divine social circle that was more far reaching than most people were ready for.
A good example of this reordering can found in the woman anointing Jesus before the Passion occurs (Mt. 26:6-13, Mk. 14:3-9, Lk. 7:36-50, Jn. 12:1-8). Whether it is because the woman has a reputation as a sinner (Luke) or comes with costly perfume to anoint Jesus’s head (Mark/Matthew) or feet (John/Luke) in preparation for the Passion, the disciples and hosts inevitably respond to what she is doing by saying,
“It’s not normal!”
She is a sinner. She is a woman coming into a home unaccompanied by a man, which was a societal norm of the time. She is intimately using costly perfume, like really costly—think Chanel No. 5, to pour and wipe on Jesus’s head and feet, which again is another social taboo, as women touching men in public was a huge issue, especially touching Jesus’s feet—a part of the body that was considered incredibly vulnerable.
And yet this is a reordering of what was “normal.” Jesus was not worried about how “not normal” the actions of this woman were, but rather was concerned with the new reality that came with the presence of God-with-us. Really, Jesus is expressing that it should not be our responsibility to name people or issues as being “not normal,” but that we should be more preoccupied with widening—reordering—our worldview to build deeper relationships with people who are unfairly categorized and marginalized by society and culture.
The woman’s legacy is not isolated to just being forgiven and remembered wherever the Gospel is preached. Her legacy is our present invitation to welcome a divine reordering of our current restrictive norms that ultimately limit our marginalized sisters and brothers. This is a missional, Gospel oriented, reordering of our world. This kind of reordering may shock us, challenge us, and leave us yelling, “It’s not normal!”
However, as we see with Jesus in the Gospels, we must counter-narrate society screaming “It’s not normal” by being open to God’s redefinition of what is divinely normal. And what is divinely normal is the embodiment of compassion shown towards others that reaches far beyond nuggets dipped in chocolate and human sexuality. This kind of compassion reaches into the core of each of our human identities with God constantly reminding us that we all are forgiven, loved, and will be remembered by divine norms. Thanks be to God for such divine norms, for we need them now more than ever.
Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:
How have you experienced the phrase: “It’s not normal!”?
In what ways has God’s divine norms of inclusivity, compassion, and forgiveness played a role in shaping your faith?
What kind of divine reordering might God be calling you and your community to this week?
We asked what Missional meant to you. If you would like to share your definition of Missional, please take our survey. Here is one respondent's answer.
Missional means sent.