What's Normal


Last week I was in California and it rained. Not a lot by some standards but it rained. If you listened to the local news though it sounded like a major weather event creating all kinds of traffic accidents. A few weeks ago in West Michigan we had a blizzard. Yep, it snowed and the roads were not passable till the plows got through the next day and yes, it was windy. But if you’ve lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba as I have where a blizzard means not being able to leave your house for 3 days what West Michigan experienced was a bad winter storm. As I was reflecting on this it occurred to me that our reaction to the weather is certainly related to what we consider normal, what we are used to and what we are prepared to deal with. The context also makes all the difference.  Rain in hilly California where mud slides are a real possibility becomes much more significant a concern then a few swollen rivers in West Michigan. Dealing with a large amount of snow at one time is more difficult in West Michigan which isn’t prepared with dump trucks that truck the snow out of the city to designated snow dumps. What we consider as normal has everything to do with our context.

So what does this have to do with worship? Just this: what we consider as normal has everything to do with our context. In conversations about worship I am increasingly trying to excise any statement that suggests a norm such as, “this song is familiar” or “everyone is doing x, y or z”. For every normative statement we try to make there will be examples where it is false. My church or community may know a certain song but your church may never have sung it. It might be normal for my church to connect with a mission team via Skype during a worship service but your church might not have access to that technology nor want such disruptions. What is normal then is somewhat subjective. It is a challenge to allow for those variations in worship, even more challenging for projects that try to meet some of the needs of a diverse group of churches which define normal differently.

Though normal is subjective it doesn’t mean that all things are subjective.  Rain is rain, snow, snow –there is a clear understanding of what each of those things are. Worship is worship. The outward form may vary. The songs we sing may be different. However, true worship is a conversation with God, initiated by God, in the name of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God-ward not human centered. It is about God’s covenant with a community of believers of all time and space and not about a tailored made individualist experience. So while the tools and mechanics of worship change from community to community its essence is unchanging from generation to generation.

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Great defintion of worship!  Thanks Joyce. 

Community Builder

The word "normal" should not be applied to worship, people, or to anything besides objects. My favorite quote about it is by Whoopi Goldberg: “Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine.”

Absolutely a good point.  We want to normalize stuff often to the point of idolizing it.   It's not about being normal, its about being worshipful, scriptural, obedient, trusting and loving.   It is possible that our normal is very good, or very bad.  

Normal is a perfectly acceptable and helpful description of worship practices in any local congregation. But "normal" should never be prescriptive. In fact, the radical nature of christianity will often prod us to go against the norm. Without, of course, destroying the real comfort of all the things that we normally do in worship.

Community Builder

The word "normal" denotes conformance to a certain standard; it comes from the Latin for carpenter's square. Therefore, I doubt that most people use the word without thinking of it as prescriptive. Also, as soon as we call a certain worship pattern "normal," we imply that any change from that pattern is abnormal. Instead of describing any pattern of worship as "normal," wouldn't it be better to talk about the "usual pattern" of worship?

I don't know. Around here if someone tells me that all this cold weather and snow we've been having is normal for this time of year I don't think it's meant in the sense of being prescriptive.

I'm a carpenter and even I didn't know that "normal" was latin for carpenter's square. Furthermore, I regularly use my squares to fit shelving to abnormal spaces. I'm quite content to go with the flow rather than insisting on the 90 degree standard.

To me "normally" and "ordinarily" are synonyms.

Try to use the opposites, antonyms in the same way?    Are abnormal and extraordinary also synonyms?  or do they carry different connotations?