You are not abnormal. You are having a normal response to abnormal circumstances. I’ve said this sentence a hundred times in my care with and for congregants who were dealing with difficult times. It is normal that you are struggling – it is the normal, regular response. It’s the situation you are in that is tragic and traumatic- not you. That you are having this response is a sign of your health and resilience.
Since the election, and also, since the 18 months leading up to the election, and then over these days since the election with all the hatred and misinformation given new levels of power and legitimacy – since all of it, I’ve been in a series of conversations about the question of a “new normal,” because – survival, sustainability, getting out of bed….but mostly I’ve been resistant – there’s a difference between living with a new normal and retaining a double-awareness about how the new normal is anything but – to relentlessly claim our normal response to an abnormal reality.
MLK called this being “maladjusted.” In his 1957 speech at UC Berkeley, King said,
“there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, ‘All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daylight of freedom and justice.”
Our church theme this month is “presence” – as in, how are we present? To what or to whom are we present? Is there a greater presence within and among us? Thinking about this theme, I’ve been wondering what it would mean to be both present to life as it is – and also to the ways it is not as it should be, and to hold faith with that vision of life as it could and still must be. Like Langston Hughes, “America will be!”
King had an incredible faith in this righteous vision – what he called the Beloved Community, the long and larger hope of something far beyond our view. It was a vision of joy and founded on love – a vision of all people being profoundly wrapped up in a single garment of destiny, interconnected and connected by love and sustained by justice. Only by grounding ourselves in such a vision, in being profoundly present to its possibility and its deeper reality – by holding fast to this vision of the really real behind the abnormally real – might we sustain ourselves and our lives together in these abnormal times. This is presence as imagination, presence as faith, presence as resistance- and presence as steadfast partnership as we labor together in service of this life we are meant for, still, always.