As I write this, things are starting to go back to normal as more and more business are re-opening, people are beginning to shelter less and less, and traffic is increasing day after day. But frankly, I don’t want things to go back to normal because I really don’t care much for what had become normal before the virus struck. I want to move forward to a new normal and leave the old normal behind.
And by new normal I mean what it has once again taken a crisis to make clear. And what has been made clear is that there are lots of people out there who are truly kind and compassionate, thoughtful and considerate, generous and just plain nice. They are people who know that we really do need one another, and value community, helping others out, being a neighbor, supporting one another, serving. That is what I mean by the new normal: people being their best, being human to one another, being real human beings.
Somehow over the years, meanness and cruelty, fear and prejudice, anger and rudeness and a lack of consideration for others has become all too normal; people being their worst has become all too normal; truth and respect and kindness no longer normal at all. Add to that the fact that the word community has become obscene; “one nation, divided” has become our new motto as a country; the self, “me, me, me,” has become the god who is worshipped above all others. To top it all off, people have even come to celebrate the worst in others; have come to find meanness, demeaning others, humiliating others to be entertaining: have come to glorify violence. That’s the old normal I really didn’t care for and do not want to return to.
But will we? When this current crisis passes, will we revert to form, to what has become normal? The sad reality is we usually do. Once a crisis passes, it’s back to business as usual, people no longer at their best, same old same old. It’s almost as if it’s too much of a strain to keep being our best, too demanding, too hard. And is that the truth of it?
In a way it is because I think the reason we always return to the old normal is the fact that so many people do not have a faith, a belief, that calls them out of themselves day after day; that forms them with kindness and compassion, reverence and respect; that teaches them the wants that matter; that casts out their fear and undoes their prejudices; that trains them to serve more than their own needs, to serve others; that produces a strength of character, a love of truth, a commitment to do justice; that knows that without grace and mercy and forgiveness they don’t have a prayer. Without such a belief, a faith, that forms and shapes and teaches and trains and guides us day after day, we will always go back to the old normal. But the thing is, living out such belief, such faith, is demanding, is hard, requires a great deal of straining.
There’s no mystery as to how we can establish a new normal. For we who call ourselves Christian it has to do with actually being Christian in a culture in which Christianity is hardly Christian at all. It has to do with being formed by the Gospel, shaped by the Spirit, following the way of Christ. It has to with obedience to God, obeying the command to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and love the neighbor as ourselves.
Who knows? Maybe in this crisis we will hear a word of God powerful enough to bring us to our senses so that we bring an end to what has been normal for far too long.
This piece, like the other piece, is about a new normal, but offers a different take on it. It has to do with sheltering in place, bluebirds, and a wondrous sight to behold. What I’m talking about is this.
A few years ago, one of our daughters gave us a rustic, hand-made birdhouse that was built to look like — surprise! — a church. We loved it and installed it on a pole on our deck along with a bird-feeder nearby. No birds nested in the birdhouse, however, and the bird-feeder attracted only a single cardinal, two doves who were clearly in need of a weight-watchers regimen, and one very determined squirrel.
But then this spring my wife Kitty read that if we put out a different kind of birdseed as well as dried mealworms, all kinds of birds, including bluebirds, would find their way to us. And they did. To our great delight, one bluebird couple even took up residence in the birdhouse. One day we happened to notice that mama bluebird was getting a bit plump and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard little chirps coming from inside the birdhouse. We then watched as the parents started to fly back and forth from bird-feeder to birdhouse non-stop, no let-up, no coffee breaks. This went on for two weeks and more until one wondrous morning.
As I was sitting at the kitchen table, I happened to look outside at the birdhouse and I couldn’t believe what I saw — a little beak was poking out. I called to Kitty to come and look and we became mesmerized as we watched the little guy stick his head out again and again getting up his nerve to leave his cozy nest behind. Finally, he squeezed out and plopped onto the platform protruding out at the base of the birdhouse. He stood there for the longest time, looking this way and that, taking in the strange new world all around him. He flapped his wings a few times as if to test them. Suddenly, he lifted off and flew somewhat erratically across to the neighbors’ house where he attached himself to the brick, clinging desperately, it seemed, to a tiny outcropping. After a few minutes, he apparently decided that he’d be far more comfortable sitting in a nearby tree rather than gripping a wall and so off he flapped and crash landed into the branches. He immediately began chirping very loudly, announcing his location to his exhausted parents to let them know in no uncertain terms that he was hungry again and, since he had no idea where the refrigerator was in his new surroundings, he expected them to bring him lunch.
So what’s the point? Just this: if I hadn’t be sheltering in place, not allowed to hit the road and make visits, had the time to take time, I never would have seen the wondrous sight I saw, a sight I had never before seen, the sight of a baby bluebird venturing out into the world, taking its first flight. Normally, I would have been in a rush to get out the door, get on the road, get into the day. That was my normal: never enough time, always in a rush, scurrying here and there. It’s a normal that I don’t want to go back to. I like my new normal in which I have time to see and marvel at and be enthralled by some wondrous things.
Now if you’ve been around for a good while, you’ll know that I often preach about noticing, seeing, looking — or rather, not noticing, not seeing, not looking. You’ve also probably figured out that I’m preaching to myself on those days and you are basically eavesdropping as I talk with myself. These sermons to myself work for a while but then it’s back to the old normal, the old normal I no longer like.
But who knows? Maybe the crisis we’re in will speak a more powerful word of God to me than I preach to myself and, even as I start hitting the road again, I will actually take the time, make the time, each and every day, to see wondrous things that grace me with joy and lead me to give thanks to God.
What a wonderful new normal that would be!