When I think about the people in history I really admire, it’s those who bucked the norm. Sure, there are lots of really wonderful people who, like the Dude, just “fit right in there.” But the people I look up to – people like King, Fox, Francis, and Paul – are ones who had the courage to stand out, even when it meant they’d be on the outside looking in. Even if it got them killed.
It takes a lot of guts to stand far outside the bounds of what’s considered normal and acceptable; it’s even harder to do so over a long period of time. Ostracism isn’t something that any of us aspire to. Most of us – myself included – will avoid it at practically any cost.
Following the rules isn’t always a bad thing, of course. I’m as grateful as anyone for traffic regulations and common courtesy. Yet, far too often, common wisdom gets in the way of uncommon faithfulness.
What if Francis of Assisi had decided to fulfill his socially assigned role as a wealthy heir, rather than embracing Christ’s prophetic calling to re-ignite the slumbering European church? What if Margaret Fell had chosen her comfortable life as an aristocrat rather than her God-ordained role as a mother to the fiery Quaker movement? What if Martin Luther King had chosen the path of a respectable – and quiet – southern pastor, rather than the explosive ministry of prophetic truth-telling and movement leadership that God was calling him into? It’s so easy to embrace the superficially good, rather than the challenging depths of God’s kingdom.
As I consider my own life, and its relative conformity to the world, I have to ask myself: Where do my loyalties lie? Who or what is my ultimate standard? Is it the judgment of my friends and family? The opinion of people at work or celebrities on TV? Or is it the living presence of Jesus, who calls me to embrace the cross and face my fate outside the gates of the city, just like he did?
What is my frame of reference? What constitutes success for me? Do I dare walk with those holy fools who defy human standards in pursuit of the reign of God? Will I conform to the mainstream culture around me, or will I follow Jesus?