Pastor's Pen

What’s Normal?

Posted on: Aug 27, 2020

I’ve heard a lot of people say one or the other of the following statements:

“I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

“We will live in a new normal when this is all over.”

The first statement points primarily toward the economic routines of our lives: going to work (and school), shopping, vacations, and such. We want to return to how life has always been—or at least how we have thought it has been.

The second suggests that, on the one hand, all the disease and disruption we’re dealing with had better be worth it. (That’s sort of a corollary to, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”)

More significantly, the second is an expression of hope: all this disruption, disease and death has to lead to improvements to how life has been for so many people. And we will all be better people for tending to these deficiencies in our common wealth: food insecurity; living wages for “essential” workers; meaningful public health policies; equitable education systems; rightful healthcare delivery—and more.

Will things get better?

Canadian writer and Episcopal priest Martha Tatarnic observes: “I am skeptical [that] ‘We’ll be different after this’—we have said this in response to 9/11, to mass shootings, to floods and hurricanes and forest fires, to the slaying of unarmed black men by police. And then we keep operating as if each of these events hasn’t clearly spoken into the business-as-usual of our lives and demanded a response.

“We keep shopping and driving and burning forests and fueling extremism and overlooking systemic racism and polluting the ocean and throwing out plastics and pumping our skies full of carbon, as if all of these behaviors should be able to go on unchecked. We live as if we’re separate beings who get to set the rules about how we’ll exist in creation. We terrorize the very fabric of relationship on which our lives are built—until it all collapses in one telling disaster. Then we pick ourselves up and continue on as before.”

Continuing on as before means that we have been ignoring for a very long time—through our lifetimes and well-beyond—the connectedness of all of life. Denying that we are connected has been the primary culprit in the spread of the coronavirus to all regions of our country.

Using simple logic, assuming that we individually set the rules for our lives is twaddle. Beginning in earliest childhood, we absorb rules—ways of living that enhance our survival. The vast majority of these rules help us interact positively with others. (Sociopaths manipulate or ignore the rules, violating the trust we humans depend on to thrive.)

As people of faith, these connections—these relationships—are covenant relationships. When we interact with others in covenant, we act in ways that Jesus teaches us. We commit ourselves to promises and obligations toward each other and to God.

The Great Commandment is the keystone of such covenant: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'” (Luke 10:27; GNT).

The primary place we practice covenant relationships is in church—we promise to practice attitudes and behaviors that reflect Jesus’ teaching.

The foundation for these, and all, covenant relationships is our covenant with God. We are surrounded by God’s grace, which God promises to us. One writer states it this way: “Grace is the unmerited favor of God that pursues, permits, purifies, and mends [our] relationship [with God].”

In return, we commit ourselves to the Great Commandment. We promise to live in ways that demonstrate we are God’s kinfolk—that with loving God, we also love our neighbors and care for ourselves so we can love God and our neighbors to the fullest.

So we really shouldn’t be talking about returning to normal (as people commonly understand it), or envisioning a new normal.

When we live as God’s people, “normal” always has been and always will be well defined. It’s up to us to determine how we practice the love for God and neighbor and self that God’s grace empowers us to share.

—Pastor Fogal

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