Not Normal, Just Common

How do we talk about race or gender in 2019/20 in the United States? There was a time when neither of these constructed ways of looking at other human beings seemed to be flexible. Race was defined by skin color—we even sang about it at church: “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world. Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight . . .” Newer versions take out one of the “ands” and add the word “brown.” It’s good to remind us that Jesus loves us all; the song also divides us up by skin color.

I remember watching Star Trek with my family on TV in the 1960s. You might remember that there were actors with different ethnicities who played the human roles on the show. My mom commented that she thought by the time in which Star Trek was supposed to take place that there would not be such distinct racial differences. She thought that people would marry and bear children across racial and ethnic lines in a way that was not very common in Peoria, Illinois in 1967.

Then there is the issue of gender. I was at an apple orchard very early this fall with part of my family. This is the kind of place where you can pick apples, feed the goats, ride the ponies, make yourself sick on apple cider donuts, and so on. Most of the people there were with various kinds of family groups.

There was a young person standing in front of me at the goat pen who was pretty tall. I noticed that the person was wearing a dress. As I looked up toward the person’s face I saw broad shoulders and then the face of a teen-ager with a beard. Later, I was commenting to my daughter whose doctoral dissertation was about bringing diversity into the preschool classroom about this. I noted that I thought it was a bold choice to appear in this setting so attired. I was trying to say that I thought the person was brave.

But then I tried to use pronouns. I was stumbling around and my daughter was just rolling her eyes. I was confused. Should I assign a pronoun based on the way the person’s face looked or the way the person was dressed? I guess I should have adopted the convention that is becoming more normative and called the person “they.”

I heard someone quote Dorothy Parker the other day. Her direct quote is “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.” It seems to me that we could apply this to many aspects of our life together.

Being a man in ministry is not normal, it’s just common. Being sighted is not normal, it’s just common. Being a native of the digital age (knowing how to use everything on your IPhone) is not normal, it’s just common. Being of a particular racial background in a particular neighborhood in Chicago is not normal, it’s just common. Having a particular body size and shape and no facial hair while wearing a dress is not normal, it’s just common.

How generous is this way of thinking about other human beings! Might it bring hope into their lives and ours if we gave up the notion of “normal” and remembered that Jesus loves us all? This is another way of bringing hope into our lives so that we can bring hope to all those whom we meet.
Rev. Sue Krummel, Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago