You Aren’t Extraordinary

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My generation is inundated with living an extraordinary life. Books, blogs, and films are based on the premise of how to get an individual to live a life that defies normalcy. I’ve read and seen many of these things. I operated under the belief that if I follow these certain steps, then I could, too, live an extraordinary life.

But I think it is all a lie.

Recently, I have been reflecting upon how many of us want to live someone else’s life. Or how many of us want to live a life that is worthy of a film adaptation. There is an imaginary set of standards that we must meet in order to live that kind of life. Be innovative. Be creative. Be a risk-taker. Be spontaneous. Be more.

We are obsessed with this idea and believe that unless we live this kind of life, then life is meaningless. Everyone wants to make their mark in the world. I wanted to make my mark in the world. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.

But I’ve stopped wanting that.

pippin_615x400This past weekend, I went and watched the musical Pippin. I knew nothing of the show going into it. Part of me thought it was a show about what happened to Pippin after Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. Instead, it was this beautiful and yet depressing look at an existential crisis. The show is set up as if we are watching a group of players tell a story. They do amazing acrobatics and all play a role in helping Pippin find his meaning. He goes to war, he fills his life with sexual pleasures, he becomes a revolutionist, he becomes powerful, and he seeks love. Each thing he does still leaves him feeling empty or trapped. [Spoiler — as if I need to do this…most of you probably don’t want to watch it] It ends with the lead player coming out and telling Pippin that if he wants to live an extraordinary life, then he needs to have an extraordinary death. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The group of players mentioned at the beginning that they needed a new protagonist for their production. You realize that this group of players isn’t a group that puts on a show. It is a group that lives in each of us, urging us to live an extraordinary life. Pippin contemplates life and almost kills himself but decides to spend the rest of his days with a love interest and her son. The lead player asks Pippin how he feels about his decision and his response is, “Trapped…but happy.”

It gets more depressing after that, but I’ll spare you the heartache I endured (don’t get me wrong — it was a great show). Pippin wanted anything but an ordinary life; but when faced with death, an ordinary life is all he wanted.

For me, the ordinary isn’t extraordinary so I constantly long for something more. I look to people who are living extraordinary lives and try to figure out what I can imitate so I can achieve the same level of happiness. Our search for extraordinary is rooted in our desire for happiness.

More and more, I am learning that God does work through the ordinary. The ordinary isn’t something to be looked down upon. God does His work through the ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like. Many of us are trying to live extraordinary lives and God is calling us to let Him work through our ordinary lives.

I will admit that sometimes I feel life is bland because I’m not living my best story or whatever else is trendy right now. I live in a suburb…not in Chicago. I travel periodically…but not a lot because I’m frugal. I haven’t written a best-seller (although, I have one on parenting that I’m certain will become a runaway hit). I am not the leading innovator in youth ministry…I’m probably not even an innovator in youth ministry. I look around and I wonder, “Is this it? What happened to my best life? What happened to accomplishing great things? What happened to being amazing at living?”

I’m not extraordinary. I’m ordinary. And I have to be okay with that. You aren’t extraordinary. You’re ordinary. And you have to be okay with that.

Everyone is not going to become president. Everyone is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone is not going to end world hunger. Everyone is not going to be a NYT best-seller. Everyone is not going to be an Academy Award winner. Everyone is not going to be an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL star. Everyone is not going to win a Tony.

But those things don’t make them extraordinary. We do not have to achieve this to live a deep and meaningful life. God works through the ordinary and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It seems like He could accomplish more if He worked through those who are in the public spotlight or who have accomplished a lot. But He works through the ordinary.

Our search for an extraordinary life may be one of the most prime example of our selfish attempts at happiness. What we have isn’t good enough. The community around us isn’t good enough. Our families aren’t good enough. The people God has placed in our lives aren’t good enough. The job that God has given us isn’t good enough. In reality, many of us think that God hasn’t given us a good enough life.

I don’t know how to make sense with all of that. But I am learning to be content in the ordinary. I may never be extraordinary but I  am learning that I can live a pretty fulfilling life letting God use my ordinary.

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What I Learned While Sitting in Irish Pubs

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Recently, I went on vacation to Ireland. My knowledge of the country was very limited. I knew of some things because of films, books, or vague memories of Social Studies in Junior High. Overall, however, I went in without much of an idea as to what I was going to do and see.

To some people, this freaks them out. They need a plan that tells them minute by minute what they are going to do and see. To me, however, I don’t view that as a vacation. When I go on vacation, I want the locals to tell me where to go and what to see. It’s how I found out that the view from the Rockefeller in NYC was a far superior view than the Empire State Building. It is how I found little hole in the wall restaurants on a strip filled with KFCs, Taco Bells, and McDonalds. I have always believed that for the best vacations, one needs to find out where the locals gather.

In Ireland, that was in pubs.IMG_3168

Pubs are much different than American bars. Bars are filled with overly loud electronic dance music. Pubs are filled with conversations, laughter, and whatever music they feel like playing. Bars are filled with overpriced cocktails, pubs keep drinks simple and relatively inexpensive. Bars are where people go to get drunk to forget their problems, pubs are where people go to drink (and yes, sometimes they get drunk) and converse about their problems.

In pubs, I learned that we, as Americans, have little knowledge about our history. It seemed like everyone in Ireland spoke about their history as a nation. And in their speech, there wasn’t a tone of entitlement, but a tone of appreciation and pride. Not only did they know about their country, they knew about my country, as well.

In pubs, I learned that storytelling is the best remedy for anything. People love to tell stories there. They will tell you about stories of the country, stories of their lives, stories of famous people, stories of Guinness, and stories of the town. As I sat and listened to these stories, I lost track of time and for a moment, I forgot about worries and troubles in my own life.

In pubs, I learned that they take pride in what they produce. Every single pint of Guinness was poured the exact same way. They would grab a Guinness pint glass, tilt it at a 45 degree angle, pull the tap handle until the Guinness reached a certain level, straighten out the pint glass and continue pouring until the Guinness reached a certain level, let the Guinness settle for about 109 seconds, push the tap handle and top off the Guinness, and serve. Every single pint was poured the same way. They took pride in their product. They knew that good things come to those who wait.

In pubs, I learned that no one is a stranger. People were excited to get to know you. Once they heard my American accent, they asked from where I came and then proceeded to try and make a connection with me to make me feel welcome (everyone there kept saying, “you are very welcome here”). They wanted to know what I thought of their beautiful country. People truly listened to you because you weren’t a stranger in a strange land there.

IMG_3200Ultimately, I learned that God is present in pubs. I had the chance to attend Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. The music, the architecture, the carefully crafted liturgies, the eloquent reading of the Scripture, it all came together to show a piece of the Kingdom. But that wasn’t the first time I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in Ireland.

Shockingly enough, I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in the pub. There were musicians in the corner playing songs everyone knew. People were lifting up their pints of Guinness and singing along. Strangers were becoming friends over a pint or over a cigarette outside. Stories were being shared, laughter could be heard, and embraces could be seen. In pubs, like churches, people might come in pretending to be someone else. But after a few drinks, they tear away the facade they created. People walk into churches all the time pretending to be someone else. After a while, though, they hopefully drop the facade.

God is as much present in the local pubs as He is in the cathedrals. The Kingdom could be experienced through a pint and through the Eucharist. Worship was in the Gaelic tunes and in the hymns. Truth was told in conversations and in the reading of the Scripture.

There are a lot of similarities between pubs and churches. And I think there is a need for both. Pubs remind us that the Kingdom is messy because we are messy. We are drunks stumbling outside trying to remember where we live. But churches remind us to try and create beauty. We are called to create beautiful liturgies, gardens, parks, and art. Both the pub and the church collide to create a picture of the Kingdom that is sloppy and beautiful. But isn’t that what Jesus talked about? The world being in labor pains. It is messy and ugly, but something beautiful is coming.

Pubs reminded me that this world is messy and ugly but that something much more beautiful is coming.