I have just experienced my first flight in a year, travelling from Spain to the UK. Flying isn’t a simple or enjoyable endeavour anymore with PCR tests, locator forms, vaccine certificates plus all the risks of encountering someone positive through track and trace! In the area of travel, I would love life to get back to normal again. However, when it comes to other aspects of life, do we really want to return to normal, and is that even possible?
We were all forced into a sabbatical where life seemed to stop as we knew it. We gradually adjusted to lockdown with its isolation and new rhythms. We discovered zoom and although we talk about zoom fatigue, we have emerged into a new virtual world that everyone is now familiar with. We’ve all been on a learning curve in digital communication and, although we need the face-to-face relationship, we know that virtual communication is here to stay. It will save multiplied millions in travel in our coming years.
Having experienced a slowdown, are we ready to get back into the rat race? Perhaps it’s my age catching up with me, but I don’t want to be flying into a new country each month in the way I have been living for so many years now. I recently experienced connecting with leaders and teachers from over 60 nations without leaving my office. Maybe it hasn’t been as effective as personal face-to-face training but it sure made a difference in all their lives and it cost me absolutely nothing – apart from lots of preparation, some sore eyes and numbness behind from sitting in front of a screen for so long!
I have referred before to ‘The transition tunnel’ in times of change. As we entered the pandemic, we were all in shock and could only look back on what we had lost in terms of the freedom to go wherever we wanted without the constraints of lockdown. After we became used to the darkness of the tunnel, some began to stop grumbling and complaining; instead starting to consider what the new possibilities could be. Suddenly the internet came into its own in a brand-new way – as well as amazon and zoom and a lot of entrepreneurs who looked at making the most from a devastating situation. In the darkness, creative alternatives emerged enabling us to make the most of our sense of loss. Reflection is so important yet in our busy world there often hasn’t been enough time for it. As we have taken time to reflect, perhaps we’ve concluded that our way of life needs to change in the way we meet, communicate, relate and process. For instance, many churches experienced a higher attendance to their zoom meetings of the non-churched; people could relax in their own home with a cup of coffee in hand, just switching on to observe without having to interact with people they didn’t know.
Light began to appear at the end of the tunnel as the vaccine started to be distributed. Now that we’re reaching 70+ percent of our populations being vaccinated, restrictions are being reduced. As we exit the tunnel into the light, we have the difficult talk of ‘adjusting back to the normal.’ But do people really want to? They have experienced a new freedom of working from home which took away the cost of travel and the extra hours of commuting. Meetings have become more efficient over zoom and, although face-to-face is needed, most are looking at a hybrid solution for the future. Will COVID completely disappear, or will variants continue to trouble us? Will we carry masks in our back pockets, thinking twice before we handshake, hug and kiss? There is a new awareness of cleanliness and how easily and quickly viruses can travel. So, the challenge is finding a new rhythm – the new normal.
I read an article recently by John Glasby in U magazine that said, ‘This intense pandemic experience has reacquainted us with some fundamental truths we have been neglecting. COVID made clear our dependence upon each other as a people for our personal and environmental health and welfare. It has awakened in all of us an awareness of how many people live in our neighbourhoods who are medically and economically vulnerable. In some of us, it has stirred a renewed insight and sense of some responsibility for these around us with all kinds of community support mechanisms being put into operation.’ It’s true that in hospitals and many organisations, the crisis has pulled staff together in new ways which developed a fresh commitment to working together. Of course, we have also seen the collapse of many businesses, the loss of jobs, the loneliness and separation of families and friends, etc. which have brought a concern for the increase of issues of mental health.
All these situations can illuminate us with the needs and vulnerability of society as we emerge from the tunnel. It’s a time for fresh vision, for a recognition of our social needs, for the church to be on the streets and be known for our love, service and hospitality. We have been vividly reminded that misfortune, fragility and opportunity are not evenly distributed in this world and that social justice is imperfect – being often elusive. Instead of putting our energy into the polarisation on so many issues that have taken place over these last months, let’s use it to do practical acts of service for those around us.
I agree with this statement I read recently: ‘I don’t want to return exactly to my life before COVID. Looking back to that time, I believe we may have fallen prey to runaway individualism and mean-spiritedness in our government and public lives and to excessive materialism, self-absorption and intoxication with the trivial in our private lives.’
We all want to get back to having friends over to our homes, to spend time with our families, to travel and enjoy the freedom of no mask-wearing. But as we enter the new normal, let’s focus on going deeper relationally in our communities through establishing rhythms that are life-giving and by not going back to our pre-COVID existence. The pandemic, natural disasters and coups remind us that we live in a very needy world. They need our focus, prayers and action. This new normal requires a new kind of Christian or should I say ‘followers of Jesus.’
Until next month,