I remember at age sixteen, hitchhiking and confidently telling the man who gave me a lift, that I was going to be a famous musician one day who would have hit songs on the radio. He chuckled and asked my name so that when the day arrived, he could say he met me. It must have been a long wait.
Truth be known, my life has been a long road of sometime successes, some high points, some low points of spectacular failure, and a lot of work in-between. When my guitar comes out these days, I usually get a pointed comment from my wife to the tune of, “I think the grass needs cutting”. It is not that I am a terrible guitar player. I am much better than many out there, but in the big picture, decidedly regular. Much more regular than my teen-age naïveté would allow me to admit way back when. What my wife really means, is that I have more important practical things required of me, like most other people living and breathing in the world. Special does not come that cheaply.
It puts me in mind of the wishful thinking surrounding purported reincarnation experiences. Across the board, people seem to dream up past lives that were very compelling. This, despite the overwhelming data that most of history would actually land you as a poor serf living in oblivion than Napoleon Bonaparte.
I think about this sometimes when I see athletes on a podium. The second and third place winners have more in common with that big sea of humanity out there than the guy with the winner’s laurel. Most people would be happy with second or third place because it might be the best they could ever manage given their own skills and resources. They are alas, very regular.
You can compute these numbers about luck, skill and chance when you see the data stacked up about riches and control of the world’s power and resources. Usually the numbers show that the richest guy has as much under his command as millions or even billions of others put together. Now that is what I would call quite a spread in the experience of what is means to be human.
Oddly, the Bible does not veer away from this kind of reality but instead switches things around. It makes the unfortunate the one who is most important in God’s kingdom. We see this in the parable of the lost sheep. Conventional tellings of this story have the shepherd leave the other ninety nine sheep safe in the fold while he looks for the lost sheep, but that is not what the Bible says. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:3). It’s the reverse dynamic. God leaves the ninety-nine exposed in the open, risking it all to save the one.
We don’t find a place for regular people in the Christian message we most see. TV churches run by the likes of Joel Osteen or Steve Furtick, offer up Christianity as the ultimate winning formula for worldly success. If you do it just right, have just enough faith, your life will be one of peace, power and plenty. You will have the edge for your side hustle. God absolutely loves you. Why? Because you are so darned wonderful. Their churches are always in overflow mode like a Tony Robbins motivational rally. They are selling a message, but it is not the Christian message.
Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Messiah in chapter 53 spells out a picture more people might actually relate to. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Now that is an overlay that resonates with the lowest common denominator of human experience, the kind that might elicit an involuntary wince.
This blog post is for every person who ever felt the sting of being unspectacular. The one who did not get the promotion despite working harder, the spouse who was cheated on, the one standing at the end of the lineup wanting to be invisible when high school sports teams are picked, the man who is sitting parked in the driveway drowning his marriage in a bottle, the kid picked out for bullying because he had no way to defend himself. There are many of them in the world, people who have been cornered by bad luck or even wounded by malice, for someone else’s amusement.
In my humble opinion, that is why the Gospel has prevailed though the gates of Hell stand against it, not because it was ever championed by power, but because it is the message that the world most needs despite its unpopularity with the popular crowd. They don’t want to hear a message about the last being first and the first being last. But you might. I sure do.
I was chatting after hours with the quiet little lady who bustles by with her cleaning cart in the place where I am currently freelancing. She has a tattoo written in Spanish on her wrist, which I asked about. She looked a little abashed, then smiled and said, “God is my friend. That is what my tattoo says”.
I think that is why it is called the Good News. There are times when I wake up feeling wounded and fragile. My spirit is striving within me, and I am not even sure why. It is the pain of the world peeking through the shadows... the pain of regular. I ache for my life, and for the whole world around me, and at the same time I offer up a prayer of thanks and am deeply glad, and comforted.