In this ongoing conversation that we are having with our culture, one of the things that we keep pushing for is a return to "normal." We all want to go back to our lives the way that we remember them. But the world keeps telling us there is no such thing, that whatever normal we go back to will be a "new" normal.
In our hearts, we know that this is true. We know that life changes and that it is meant to change us and that when we experience such a dramatic change in our experience, we cannot simply expect things to go back to the way that they were. Not now. Maybe not ever.
But here, too, we have to be careful about figuring out what it is the world means when it says "new normal" and whether that actually gels with our own understanding of this reality.
The world is using this phrase to get us to concede to some of its points, and if the world is the way the world has always been, it is right now trying to figure out what it can get away with. How much "new" are we willing to accept in our "normal"? How much can the world convince us is absolutely necessary?
We learned a few lessons in this after 9/11. We all lined up to go through body scanners; we still submit ourselves to pat downs and searches. Nearly every venue we enter has metal detectors and security guards. We decided you can't even take hand sanitizer on a plane because if you do, you might be a terrorist. Mothers are struggling to get sufficient quantities of breast milk on board a plane for their infants. This has all become so routine that most of us don't even blink any more.
Yet, many of us can remember a time when none of this was true. None of it. It is the "new" normal, but we remember when it wasn't normal at all.
The same thing is happening again, and we're going to have to decide how much "new" we're okay with in our normal. What are we willing to sacrifice, and what are we wanting to keep in order to do that?
This is the real argument that we're having right now, by the way. The world won't tell us that, and it will try to distract us from it, but the truth is that what we're arguing over - what we're fighting about - right now is our "normal."
There are some who are perfectly okay if masks are a part of our new normal. If we have to wear masks for the rest of our lives, that's okay with them. If we have to wear masks just in the winter, that's okay with them. If our children have to wear masks at school for thirteen years, that's fine. There are some who want proof of vaccination cards to be part of our new normal. They want us to have to show our commitment to public health to be in public places, and that's perfectly okay with them. There are others for whom masks and vaccine cards are non-starters. They simply refuse to go there. They cannot imagine a future with them and more importantly, they don't want to.
Eighteen months ago, it wasn't too difficult, relatively, to get everyone behind "two weeks to slow the spread," but we aren't talking about the spread any more; we're talking about normal. We're talking about what our lives look like on the other side of the pandemic, and we're starting to make long-term plans. We're not talking about temporary sacrifices any more; we're talking about permanent ones. Not everyone has recognized this shift in the dialogue, and that's exactly what culture is trying to do. Culture is trying to keep the conversation in the present...but we are eighteen months into those two weeks to slow the spread, and the people are catching on. This isn't about today any more; this is about what we're doing with the rest of our lives.
But it's more important for us, as Christians, even than masks and vaccine cards. There's something more at stake - that is, the very essence of who we are as a Christian people. Which is why recognizing that we've shifted this conversation is so important. It's why we have to recognize what's happening around "normal."
Because it's time for us, as a church, to figure out what we're willing to accept...and what we're willing to fight for. (More on this tomorrow. Today is just the teaser.)