The first point of ten under the Stress Test Conclusions heading was, “Exercise capacity was good and average.” Point ten concluded, “Findings consistent with … average conditioning… Exercise capacity was average.” There it was, three times in half a page, the same word. That gray, mundane, faceless, path to obscurity word – average.
Average movies don’t win Oscars, average people aren’t on the 10 Best lists, average runners don’t win gold medals, and Grammys aren’t awarded for average songs. In our culture that celebrates winners, is there a fate worse than being average?
Statistically speaking, average refers to what’s typical or the central value in a string of data. To determine the average height of the girls in a classroom, for example, take each person’s height in inches, add the measurements together and then divide by the number of girls. If the result is 66”, then the average height is 5 feet 6 inches.
The bell curve is a great visual of the concept. When a sixth grade class runs the 200-yard dash, there will be a few speedy students, a few slow ones, and the bulk of the class will finish within seconds of each other. A graph plotting the finishing times will be in the shape of a bell curve, a curving line with a big lump in the middle that slopes sharply downward on both sides. The lump? That’s average.
When the above-average walk the red carpet or stand on the podium or add a star to the restaurant sign, there’s an implicit assumption that they are worth more. Financially that may be true; attendance at last week’s Oscar winners and reservations at the hip restaurant will increase. But the actors and chefs aren’t worth more as human beings or suddenly more lovable because they broke out of the pack.
Ash Wednesday and Lenten practices help me settle into that truth if I’ll let them. When the ashes from the burning of the palms from the last Palm Sunday are placed in a cross pattern on my forehead, the officiant repeats, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” When I walk back to the pew, my mortality stares back in the ashes that peek out from the bangs of the girl across the aisle or appear starkly on the bald head next to me. I’m dust, they’re dust.
The ashes remind me of our common humanity and equal value before God, and the shape of the cross of our common dependence on God’s work of salvation. When I accept Christ’s work on the cross, my strivings mean nothing. When I accept that God’s love for me, one of his dust creations, doesn’t depend on my bell curve position, that his grace isn’t reserved like an Oscar statuette only for the above-average, I can revel in being typical.
Without that mindset I stiffen like a porcupine when my average-ness comes to light, again. It takes the gritty cross reminder and Lenten reflections shared in community to usher me to my seat in the middle of the lump and find contentment. We’re not faceless and obscure; we are worthy because he loves your dusty face and mine.