On Being Ordinary: Confessions of a Recovering Missionary Hipster
We had just moved from a place far, far away. Our life was anything but ordinary, or at least, so it seemed. Temperatures didn't get above the 0 degree mark in the winter, and most people in America (particularly people in American churches) that we talked with thought we were either crazy or some sort of modern day super hero. The accolades were nice, honestly. I was pretty good with the humble response.
"It's a calling"
"We're just being obedient"
But the fact remained, it was an unusual life and I more or less liked it.
The word "hipster" has been rebirthed in the past few years. "Hipster" used to refer to someone who was into jazz music. Now (at least from what can I gather from today's kids), a hipster is someone who is intentionally unconventional and aloof from the popular and the ordinary. I think the modern idea mostly involves odd beards and indie music. I'm not 100% on that though. It does seem that the term still has a a lot to do with music. Apparently, a hipster (as defined by this generation) can't listen to the same music everyone else does. As soon as a band gets too popular, they're finished in the hipster community. Sell-outs. Mumford and Sons used to be a hipster band, until they won a Grammy. I used to boast to my kids that I was listening to U2 in the early 80's when they were still an underground, post-punk band from Ireland that no one had ever heard of. Unimpressed, I was promptly dubbed a U2-hipster and we moved on. The things we learn from the kids these days.
Hear what I'm saying. I loved my work in Ulaanbaatar. College students crammed into my living room every week, sharing the Kingdom of Jesus with young people who had never heard about Jesus in that way before, late night discussions with young men about life, family, girls and the future: I lived for this. I still miss the work, and deeply, deeply miss the Mongolian people who had become such a part of my unconventional life in Central Asia.
Unconventional. That's an American living someplace other than America. There's something strangely appealing about unconventional. To me, the original U2 hipster, anyway. Dealing with time zones and talking about travel plans and concerning one's self with language and culture and lamenting the lack of peanut butter. There's something appealing to the human ego about that. Any expatriated person would admit it, in an honest moment. There's an embraced identity. We're not the norm or the ordinary. We're the missionary hipsters.
Last year was the year our life as Americans abroad ceased. We are no longer recognized as "Missionaries". It was a tough year at many levels, and the culmination of difficulty and displacement hit me one morning last summer. We had moved back to America and were house-sitting for a friend. I was taking my coffee on the front porch early, before the South Carolina summer sun could gain too much heat and intensity. I watched home after home come to life that day. Little white sedans leaving cookie cutter houses going to 9-5 jobs somewhere in Greenville. I had this sinking feeling that this was now my life. Normal. Ordinary. American.
I didn't want that. I liked my life before.
Wait ... I take that sentence back. I liked my identity before.
That moment of sinking into a sea of ordinariness was over six months ago. I've learned something really important since then. Grace is the water that makes up this sea. In reality, Grace is demonstrated in the ordinary much more than it ever is in what we call extraordinary. I'm finding it astounding, really.
I shouldn't be surprised. The Bible gives illustrious examples of grace in the everyday. From an ordinary man like Abraham and an ordinary public speaker like Moses to an ordinary young lady like Mary and an ordinary fisherman like Peter. There is remarkable beauty in the things we see every day, no matter where one lives. I'm learning to look for it, to see it and to celebrate it. The best stories, the one's that carry real meaning and have real impact, are the one's that celebrate ordinary people doing ordinary things, demonstrating amazing grace and beauty. It's there. It's really there.
I am seeing that now.
Small white sedans and cookie-cutter suburban houses contain a thousand flashes of grace and when looked at from just the right angle, breath-taking beauty is there.
My eyes are now wide-open to this. I'm looking. The great thing is that I don't have to look far to see.
I still miss my old life and ministry - and painfully miss my Mongolian friends and colleagues. But, I no longer want to be aloof from the ordinary. I don't need to be unconventional. Embracing the everyday and the stuff of earth and life is a better way to live. God is in the ordinary. Grace is in the ordinary. Our lives are a series of simple stories with simple beginnings that a sovereign, wise and good God is moving toward a glorious end.
That's not ordinary or cookie-cutter at all. That's magnificent.
Note from the Establishment:
In light of this, I'm planning an ongoing series of posts that will highlight the amazing and extraordinary stories of ordinary folks. I hope it helps to get a different angle on grace. More to come.
Also, this article has mostly to do with being a "Missionary Hipster" ... it has nothing to do with that fact that I still prefer hand-brewed coffee, craft beer and indie music. That said, I will probably continue to stay away from the odd beards.