I’ve recently become a huge fan of a new podcast: Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People (Beautiful/Anonymous). I love it.
I don’t know that I can necessarily recommend it to everyone because it can have some really strong, colorful language and often intense subject matter that might be upsetting for others. So if you choose to listen to it, be advised.
The premise of Beautiful/Anonymous is that anonymous people call Chris Gethard, a comedian and the show’s host, in order to have an hour long conversation about anything they please. Sometimes the guests discuss incredibly intense topics like being married to a sociopath, and other times they talk about some relatively less intense but still extremely personal issues like their reasons for converting from Pentecostalism to Anglicanism.
Regardless of the actual content of the show, the circumstances of each episode, the lives of the people involved seem to be uniformly exceptional.
They tend to be stories of people beset by great pain. They are people who have either overcome adversity or who are in the midst of challenge. You find yourself rooting for the raw power of human beings who endure great tragedy and either emerge victorious or struggle to maintain hope that one day they will do so. The show is deeply moving, and the lives of these people are truly sensational.
And that’s when I realized something: that’s just the point.
Their stories are beautiful, yes, but by and large, they are extraordinary. These stories are meant to appeal to us through their sensationalism. They get us amped up, they get us shocked, they get us drawn in through just how nuts their lives have been.
After all, it’s supposed to be entertaining.
And I realized this as I listened to the most recent episode of Beautiful/Anonymous, “Noodlebody,” wherein the 23-year-old woman interviewed seemed to possess anything but an exceptional story. She was totally okay. Ordinary.
In fact, she never once lost her cool, got emotional. She actually was a very put-together, considerate young woman whose life is full of prospects. At one point, she admitted some mild “stalking,” which really amounted to some guy being alternatingly dismissive and then clingy. Gethard’s response to this was, “That’s it?”
At that point, Chris Gethard decided it was his duty to spend the remainder of the podcast offering her (tongue-in-cheek?) advice. He encouraged her to start making bad choices, to do drugs in seedy places, to make mistakes. He said that our twenties are meant to be a time of destruction and the thirties are a time of rebuilding ourselves. I think (hope) he was kidding?
But as I listened to Gethard interact with her, I couldn’t help but notice that he was getting extremely frustrated with this girl for being so error-free. He was getting irritated that things were going well for her. He became upset with her because she didn’t seem have any crazy, sensational story worthy of a Beautiful/Anonymous call.
And as I listened to his growing irritation amount to actual yelling at her, I began to realize something: I also was bored with her.
I began feeling like I was wasting my time, thinking that she didn’t have anything good to share. I said to myself, “She’s just some young girl who is fresh out of college and wants a boyfriend.” And I was mad at her for it.
I had been duped by the show’s premise.
I had been invited into the podcast to hear Beautiful Stories, but what I really had grown to love was Sensational Stories. I don’t just mean that the content was necessarily graphic, but the content was raw, honest…“real.”
But after hearing this young woman share her thoughts, share her inner workings (which, she admits, don’t like to stay angry), I realized that my and the show’s working definition of “real,” was essentially synonymous with evocatively painful.
I had grown to think that the only real stories worth hearing were the ones that elicited some kind of response from me, that the only stories worth taking the time to listen to had to be extraordinary, as if “ordinary people” were simply a waste of my time.
But then I started wondering: what if Christ approached human beings this way? What if Christ were only interested in people whose stories were ultra-sensational?
Almost immediately, I realized how uncharitable toward others I had become. I begrudged others, shaming them in my mind for being “boring,” judging them as “less than” others because their story didn’t involve being stuck in a loveless marriage.
We run a great risk in thinking this way, as if someone’s “beautiful story” ought to be determined entirely by the course of what has happened to them in the past. It would be far better, rather, to consider other human beings beautiful in the light of what they are becoming. Indeed, in this way, for Christ, there is no such thing as an ordinary person.
All of us are called to be perfected in the image and likeness of our extraordinary God.
To this point, C.S. Lewis writes:
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to [or hear on a podcast] may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations."
For God, there is no such thing as ordinary people, and every story is a beautiful story, for all stories are fulfilled in His Story, the Story of an extraordinary God, who became an ordinary Man and gave Himself for the life of the world.
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 46
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Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
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