Called to be Radically Ordinary – That’s it!
We spend a lot of time holding up “successful” people and using them as the metric for our lives. We look to people of incredible character like Nelson Mandela, or people who do incredible acts like Mother Teresa.
We over-celebrate accomplished athletes and actors using their lives as the measure of our own success. It’s a behaviour that starts very young: “Why can’t you be more like this person?” is a phrase of our childhood relationships and certainly follows us into adulthood — whether it’s other people asking us the question, or perhaps we ask it of ourselves. We tend to grab onto the image of people who, in our minds, are the best at what we value and then we spend a lot of energy, time and emotion in pursuit of being like them.
While I am certainly not against benchmarking and goal-setting, I believe far more in being, as our Vice Principal Duncan Todd has put it, “Radically Ordinary” The Bible is full of stories of God using Radically Ordinary people to build His Kingdom. For me, this is both comforting and overwhelming.
It is comforting because my work is connected to a far greater story than my own; it is overwhelming because it reminds me that I am just an ordinary person — as you, too, are ordinary. I think it is critical to remember our ordinariness because when begin to think our success as a school, a teacher, a principal or a person is because of our own incredible Goodness — or that our failures are due to our own unredeemable Badness — that is the moment we fail to give God the Glory.
On May 27 2017, we celebrated Hamilton District Christian High’s 60th anniversary, and I would suggest that a lot of our Celebration was about the extraordinary goodness of our God to a radically ordinary people. It’s been 60 years and we have had over 6000 alumni graduate. And while perhaps there are what might be considered superstars among them, most of our grads are invested in the day-to-day of doing Kingdom work. I believe that Kingdom work is for all of us, in our Radical Ordinariness.
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life,” wrote the apostle Paul. “I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message).
So as a school, we are in the business of cultivating the character of radically ordinary students, through their learning, for a life of service to God. When we talk about character at HDCH, we have five particular habits in mind. Building the Kingdom is for the resilient, it is for the compassionate and the creative. Working in the Kingdom takes competence and is done best with a lot of reflection. These are all habits that we believe can be developed in ordinary people by the practice of their learning and by the grace of God. It is working these out in the day-to-day that leads to our growth.
Having successful people as our benchmark doesn’t have to be a problem unless becoming that person, or becoming like them, turns into our mission and our focus. I am not Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa and I never will be. I am Nathan Siebenga, just a ‘Radically Ordinary’ guy, trying my best with the resources that I have. This is very much what the founders of this school were working towards, and what so many faithful members of our community have aimed at over sixty years.