Do you ever congratulate yourself on being more normal than everyone else? It’s easy to do. What’s normal to us, we assume, is the real normal — it’s other people who are odd.

On a recent getaway, Jan and I were sitting on the beach, waiting for the sunset and watching people stroll by. We saw folks who were old and young, straight and gay, fit and flabby. Skin tones varied, and some were tattooed. We couldn’t help but comment when a couple I nicknamed “Bridgette and Bubba” walked by. He slouched along in shorts, sandals, a ball cap and a tank top. She carried a pocketbook and wore a crisp white blouse, denim hot pants, and high heels. They stopped just in front of us and engaged in a big smooch.

A woman sitting nearby turned, with raised eyebrows, and said something to Jan about wearing high heels on the beach. This particular woman was barefooted — but wearing a full-length dress that dragged in the sand. For the previous half hour, she had been sitting in the surf, dress and all.

We see things like that and wonder why other folks aren’t normal like we are. They probably look at us and wonder how anyone can stand being so stodgy. Normal is as normal does.

I’m reminded that religion has many expressions that are “normal” to different people. For example, there’s great excitement among the 21,000-strong Indian community in the Triangle this week, as a second Hindu temple is being consecrated by having nine stone gods installed in their niches and ceremonially “brought to life.” The elaborate temple complex is devoted to Sri Venkateswara, a manifestation of Vishnu that is especially popular in South India.

While many Baptist and mainline churches struggle to meet budgets, Triangle Hindus are spending a million dollars just for the opening ceremonies of their new $3.5 million temple. Yesterday, a helicopter rained flowers and rose petals on and around the complex as thousands of Indians stood for hours, enjoying the rare dedication ceremony.

For those of us who grew up in the southern part of the U.S., rather than the southern part of India, the idea of carving statues, bathing them in holy water, dressing them in colorful garments, installing them in a niche, and thinking of them as alive does not fall within our concept of “normal.”

People who are raised in a Hindu culture probably think the same thing about our churches that are filled with crosses and stained glass where we worship an invisible god.

As God looks upon the peoples of the earth as we might watch people walking by on the beach, I have to wonder what runs through the divine mind — and whether “normal” is a category of concern.

[Credit Jan for the top photo. The bottom photo, of Moola Vigraha being prepared for installation, is from a participant’s Picasa site.]

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