Expanding the Narrow Scope of Normal
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up comedy lately. That’s mostly because of Instagram. I started watching all the videos of this one comedian so the algorithm started feeding me more. And I’m not mad about it. I’ve needed more laughing in my life lately.
One of the comedians I discovered on Instagram is a woman named Tina Friml. She has cerebral palsy, which of course she jokes about. “So I’m disabled,” is how she opens her show. Her disability is pretty clear when she performs, especially in her talking, which has a bit of a slur, and in her facial expressions which tend to be very pronounced. “But don’t worry,” she says to the crowd, “you’re going to be okay.”
I mention her first, because she’s hilarious, and second, because I can’t stop thinking about one of her jokes. She says, “A lot of people think I suffer from cerebral palsy, but I don’t. I have cerebral palsy, but I suffer from people.”
That got me thinking. I’ve mentioned before that I was diagnosed with autism a few years ago, which can make it hard for me to manage in highly stimulating environments like grocery stores or crowded restaurants.
It got me thinking about some of my friends with ADHD who have a hard time focusing in places where they’re expected to sit for a long time and be quiet.
It got me thinking about some of my trans friends who aren’t “passing,” meaning that the people around them don’t see them as the gender they are. A trans woman may not have the resources to get laser hair removal, so she still struggles with stubble on her face and neck. I think about how people stare at her because they can’t reconcile her stubble and her Adam’s apple with the beautiful dress she’s wearing, the one that makes her feel most like herself. I think about how she carefully monitors what she drinks when she’s out because she doesn’t want to face the potential danger of going into either gendered bathroom in public.
In all these cases, people don’t suffer because of who they are. I don’t suffer because of my autism. I suffer because most places where people gather socially are, by default, bright and loud. Folks don’t suffer because of their ADHD. They suffer because there’s an expectation of stillness and quiet in “serious” places like offices or classrooms or worship services. My trans friend doesn’t suffer because she’s trans. She suffers because people can’t broaden their idea of what a woman looks like.
We suffer because the world around us was not built for people like us. We suffer because all of us have been taught a very narrow definition of “normal” and to reject or pity or change anyone who falls outside that definition.
This is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel today. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard.”
John fell outside the scope of “normal” in one direction, and Jesus apparently fell outside the scope in the other direction. But clearly, that scope was pretty narrow. One must eat and drink just the right amount to be acceptable.
This is why we have LGBTQIA+ Pride every year. To broaden the world’s scope of what is acceptable, of what is joyful, of what is good.
Just before those verses, Jesus says, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ Pride invites us to hear the music of queerness, of transness, and to dance. To hear the wails of those who are harmed because of who or how they love or how they express their gender, and to mourn.
For those of us who generally fall into categories of “normal”—whether you’re heterosexual or cis-gendered or married or white—sidebar: yes, so long as we need have special courses or majors in Black History or Middle Eastern or Latin American studies—and we do—we know that white is the narrow scope of normal—anyways, for those of us who generally fall into categories of “normal,” Pride calls us to question what we think we know, what we think we’re sure of. Jesus prays, “I thank you, God, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”
When we think we already know what is good, what is right, what is normal, when we cling to our certainty about any of that, we miss the good news, we miss the opportunity to love the way Jesus taught us, we miss the great joy and beauty of the limitlessness of God’s creation.
Why do you think the Pride flag is a rainbow, and why do you think there are new colors and symbols being added to it all the time—including colors specifically for our Black and Brown siblings? Because the queer community actively works to be open to more expansive ways of loving and being.
And, let’s be honest, cisgender queer people can stumble just as much as cisgender straight people when it comes to trans issues. White LGBTQIA+ people can struggle just as much as white straight people when it comes to white supremacy. All of us have our narrow scope of normal that we cling to.
We think that holding onto that narrow scope of normal keeps us safe, makes life easier. But that’s not what Jesus says.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I want to speak now especially to my LGBTQIA+ siblings today: God made you. God made you gay. God made you lesbian—made me lesbian. God made you trans. God made you bisexual. God made you nonbinary. God made you intersex. God made you asexual. God made you queer, in whatever way that queerness manifests in you. God made you.
And you don’t suffer from how God made you, you suffer from people’s rigid scope of normal, of right, of good.
Because Jesus’ yoke is easy, and his burden is light. When we step into how God made us—even when the people around us make it hard—something inside us becomes lighter, easier. And the kingdom of God is a place where being ourselves is made easy and light for everyone.
If our faith is a constant trial, a constant struggle against who we are, we’re not doing it right, says Jesus.
If our church is a place where people need to conform to narrow definitions of normal, no matter how destructive it is to people, we’re not doing it right, says Jesus.
My LGBTQIA+ siblings: We do not need to change. We were created by God in God’s own image. What we need to do is to find our people, the people with whom we can be our amazing, beautiful, God-made selves. Fully. Brightly. Loudly. Find the places where the yoke of who you are is easy and the burden is light. That’s the kingdom of God.
So Pride, you could say, gives us a glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth. May it be so.