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IN THE MIDST OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC, DO WE REALLY NEED TO SETTLE FOR A NEW NORMAL?

A NEW NORMAL

BY MIZHRAIM RIVERA

It was a show starring a lovely lady with three daughters and a man named Brady with three sons that hit the airwaves in 1969. Only a year removed from the Chicago riots, and the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet, 1969 had its moments too. The Beatles had their last performance, the Concorde took flight, the Boeing 747 made its debut and Woodstock attracted more than 400,000 people on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

The sitcom of course was The Brady Bunch, a family style sitcom that did not have major success during its run, but became part of American families everywhere as re-runs taught children and teenagers alike what growing up was all about. Why all this talk about The Brady Bunch? Well, a few weeks ago, after I had wrapped up one of the many Zoom meetings I’ve been on, it hit me. Those little Zoom user boxes on my laptop look not unlike the title sequence of The Brady Bunch. Except of course the Brady’s looked much happier, (and somehow seemed to know where each other were on the screen.)

I laughed thinking about how we’ve come so far along in technology only to look like a 1970s sitcom. But there seems to be a deeper meaning to all this for me. See, as I was thinking about the current events of the day, I realized that people of faith have much to pay attention to. When the Brady’s were making their mark on TV land, the writers ignored one of the biggest issues that was swirling around them at the time.

In 1969, the world was in the throes of the Vietnam War. Nearly sixty thousand U.S military fatalities had put the country in a tailspin. Peace and love were the talk of the day and I could imagine, for those living at that time, a new normal seemed to be emerging.

Fast forward fifty years and now we find ourselves embroiled in another war. This war is not one that is being waged with bombs and bullets. It’s an invisible enemy that is being fought, it seems, with policy changes. This is where our new normal begins and is precisely the place where one must ask, “how does a person of faith live now?” It’s fun to joke about Zoom meetings looking like The Brady Bunch, it’s another matter entirely to take our current circumstances lightly.

I may be accused by some that I am magnifying the issue beyond a reasonable scope. However, history has taught me that when new ideas emerge, we must not make haste to accept them.

Let me define what I mean by a new normal. It seems to me, to be an amalgam

of current changes and future changes those in power are saying must take place. And if you have any doubt that the new normal can affect people of faith I need only to point you in the direction of German policy.

I am not talking about Hitler’s Nazi, Germany. I am talking about Merkel’s Germany. Merkel of course being the current Chancellor of Germany. Do not take the previous statement as the author comparing the two. That is a tactic left to those that don’t always understand our violent human history. But I do want to point out that what Merkel’s Germany is doing with their reopening guidelines, is also what other countries around the world are talking about implementing.

What could be so egregious you might ask? First you must understand that religious services in Germany have been banned since the start of the pandemic. As Germany looks to reopen, part of the guidelines they are implementing for places of worship is that there be no singing. The CDC has even gone as far as saying that talking can be a potential hazard. Perhaps this new normal is trying to usher in a society that can, at best, whisper or worse, won’t be able to talk at all.

And perhaps you think I’ve gone too far. But what history has taught me is that social experiments have already taken place in times not too far from us. That is why I stay vigilant about changes that occur. And more so when these changes occur as people are reacting in fear.

What does all this mean for the church? Certainly, I must have an answer, or else I’m only adding fuel to the fire of fear. Well, I do have an answer, though it will be up to the reader to acknowledge its worthiness.

If Zoom meetings reminded me of a sitcom, they did so because of those dreaded boxes. They seem to me to be representative of the actions taken by trigger-happy governments and city councils; whose actions, intended or not have boxed in the church into a virtual space that lacks any of the vigor and human contact we find in the gospels. And as I think about it the clearer to me the words of Jesus become. The heavy crowd had made Him go up on a mountain and sit down. His disciples, hardly ever leaving his side, came to him. What ensued was the greatest sermon ever preached. We know it today as the sermon on the mount.

I can imagine the crowds, perhaps dispersing below or maybe they waited there in anticipation that he would return to them. Yet, it was to His disciples that He said “you are the salt of the earth.” A strange thing to say on a mountain if you ask me; but a truth that speaks to us even today.


“But if salt has lost its taste,” Jesus continued, “how shall its

saltiness be restored?” I wondered what this meant and of course the metaphors for salt came to mind. Salt is used to preserve; to give flavor; but what Jesus emphasized was that it could lose its saltiness. The very thing it is meant to be. Of course, my curiosity peaked and I wondered how salt can lose its saltiness.

It’s simple to understand really. It’s possible (though I am no theologian) that Jesus may have been referring to the salt prevalent in the area. This salt was a salt unlike some that we use today; it was mixed with impurities. If salt was stored outside exposed to the relative humidity, the salt would essentially melt, leaving behind a white substance that looked like salt but tasted nothing like it.

As Jesus said, salt of this kind “is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” A new normal is not just about the masks and plastic shields at your favorite grocery store. It’s not about standing six feet apart either.

In recent days the word systemic has been thrown around like a hot potato. But what people of faith have to realize is that systemic change in the way that we do worship and how we share our faith is happening to us right now.

Jesus’ words to me are so potent that they are worth considering amidst these turbulent times. You see, you and I, as Christians, we are meant to be salt. Not act like salt, not dress like salt, or talk like salt. We are supposed to be the salt of the world. But the salt has been placed in the cupboard. Into that little virtual box restrained by companies that believe in ideologies that can easily turn to a complete shutdown of not only our rights but our way of living out our faith.

It’s imperative that as we trudge through this mess, that we don’t stop being salt. That we don’t become the thing that is trampled underfoot of men that have no regard for the things of God. Men that think only with carnal minds and selfish intent.

Recently, I was asked by a respected person in my life to watch a COVID-19, “Reopening” meeting hosted by pastors. We sat there for twenty minutes listening to strategies and plans. We looked at each other and thought the same exact thing. Have any of them asked God what His strategy and plan is? Listening to those pastors’ talk sounded no different from a press briefing with the CDC.

I would never encourage anyone to not listen to experts. But I would suggest that you also listen to God. What does that mean, listen to God? It means to stand on the truth of His word. You see the salt that Jesus seemed to be comparing us to is the kind that had to be mixed in with all those impurities. It had to rub up against the things that themselves are not salt to make them salty. But the moment the salt is taken into an unsuitable environment, it starts to lose its saltiness.

Jesus’ warning is stark. He reminds us that if we no longer can be what He has called us to be, then the world is left to its own devices. And hardly can I think of a faster way that the world will be left to its own devices than a church pent-up in virtual boxes for an indeterminate amount of time.

You may read this and decide to still click from home. And I don’t knock anyone for it. Don’t read this and feel condemned. That is not the point. I’m merely ringing an alarm bell. I’m stating what I see from a perspective under-girded in part by historical knowledge of authoritarian systems and an unyielding trust of God’s word.

I pray and I mean that literally, that as we continue through these times, we don’t lose the passion to follow Christ. That the church finds its way back to worship and to unflinching tenacity to live out God’s truth. That we look in the mirror and know that Jesus lives in our hearts. And that our hearts should abound with love and compassion for those that are hopelessly lost in this pandemic.

I pray that God restores our country to values we all once collectively shared and did not abandon so easily. I pray that the ideologies of the day do not prevail. But above all I pray that we as the body of Christ don’t lose our nerve. That we stand in solidarity for the truth of the gospel before we stand in solidarity with the whims of the world.

 

-VOICE-

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