Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The New Normal is No Normal

I was at the gym the other day and, per usual, one of the TVs is always tuned to HGTV. HGTV is almost always featuring their biggest stars: Chip and Joanna Gaines. I like those home shows as much as anybody, although I rarely care who's on them - whether it be carefully curated semi-celebrities or random people buying a house.

I got to thinking, though, that I seem to remember some small hubbub before Christmas, where a media outlet tried to embroil the Gaines' in controversy over their membership in a congregation where the pastor expressed very typical American Evangelical views on homosexuality. Maybe it was the timing - things getting lost in the holiday shuffle and people not wanting to be part of a witch hunt for Christmas - or maybe it was imply that people like them and their show so much, but it seemed to die off.

I went back to google to learn about what went down and found some interesting stuff. Chip and Joanna Gaines made a very specific effort NOT to make any statement about gay marriage or homosexuality. Yeah, maybe you can still infer that because they're part of a congregation with strong opinions that perhaps that's how they feel - BUT, they went out of their way not to say anything. The response was: "we love everyone," and "we'd rather be wrong than unloving." Those are great statements, as far as I'm concerned, especially given what was likely an uncomfortable and unwelcome situation with pretty big stakes for them financially.

However, I realized that this only became a story because of manufactured news. Yes, a story came out about their pastor in such a way the Gaines' were all but forced to say something. Outside of the Gaines' actual statement (to which almost no one linked), there was no coverage outside of spin. The larger public was really only aware of any of this because websites that are specifically in favor of one opinion used these statements to slyly move the conversation over to their "side."

Coverage from one "side" was typically something along the lines of "HGTV stars refuse to denounce hate-filled pastor," but the other "side," led with stuff like "HGTV Stars Show How to Stand Up For Marriage." This is the real problem. Everything is fodder for some culture war and nothing can be taken at face value. Christians are happy to cheer an honest and loving response, but, if their media is any measure, are completely unwilling to live it.

I'm reminded of Hacksaw Ridge, the Mel Gibson movie that was out recently. It's a powerful story about non-violence and one man's commitment to it in the midst of war. It's a tremendously inspiring story of lives saved in the midst of death and death-dealing, but it left me very conflicted. I'm just not sure how to reconcile a movie that celebrates violence and non-violence at the same time. It's almost as if our society says, "Non-violence is great, just don't ask me to do it." As a Christian - that feels as much like rejection as it does like acceptance.

TIME magazine just ran a cover story about how this next generation emerging doesn't understand gender as binary or even something worth using to distinguish between people. It talked about how both "traditional" and "LGBTQ" activists are thrown off by the notion that younger people don't want to be defined. The whole conversation around pinning down an identity seems foreign to the next generation. It's like looking at penicillin and trying to figure out how to weaponize it.

This is at the heart of every major societal argument we're currently having: the desire to control the narrative, to define "normal.

Don't criticize the President, respect the office. Be upset with the country, but don't protest the flag. Pick a bathroom and stick with it. Take a side. Stake a claim. Define yourself, then defend yourself. It just doesn't make sense. We've some how entered a war where the battlefield is our ability to define each other. I get that one of the core biological traits of humanity is our inherent desire to compare new things to things we've seen or experienced before - that's where notions of race and gender and definition come from - but we've risen about our base instincts in so many ways (or at least we aspire to do so), why can't we add one more?

I don't know Chip and Joanna Gaines - I like the TV show, when I've seen it - but taking what they said at face value, it seems like they're trying to say: "the normal is love." People seem to have a hard time with that, but I suspect that's pretty close to the gospel.

This isn't (or doesn't have to be; I don't know their intentions) a political strike in the midst of a battle. People seem to want to see someone play the rules of the game well, but what if they're just trying to change the rules or play a different game altogether?

I don't know where its visible or if anyone will see it, but I changed my gender on Facebook to "human" today. It's entirely inconsequential, I'm sure, but it feels good. People are people before (or in spite of) whatever else they might be. If we started there, it might save us a whole lot of anger, stress, and heartache down the line.

There is no "normal," and that is the New Normal.

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