Saturday, May 8, 2010

God, Life, and Everything - “The New Normal”

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

You’ve heard it a lot lately. The New Normal.

We lower our voices and say it in the somber tones usually reserved for “death sentence,” or “cancer.” Of course, given that this phrase is almost always uttered in association with the economic crisis, the solemnity might be understandable. People will have less money from now on: it’s the New Normal. Joblessness is permanently high: it’s the New Normal. We’re doomed: it’s the New Normal.

Actually, the first time I remember hearing it was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when gas prices shot up over $3 a gallon. Some expert on the radio predicted that gas would never be cheap again: it’s the New Normal.

I heard it most recently at a meeting of church leaders who were discussing how the economy had changed how the national church will operate. Fewer funds, more needs to be met, congregations without clergy, grants drying up, that sort of thing. Someone sighed and said, “It’s the New Normal.”

Yes, I suppose so. The idea behind that phrase makes a certain amount of sense. Things as we have known them are no longer. We will have to find a new way. You can’t go back.

Taking the phrase in a healthy light, it could help us to move on with our lives in so many situations where the old life is no more. Think of new parents. No longer will they sleep the night through. No longer will going out be spontaneous. No longer will they ever rest easy when they can’t see their child.

Think of the new widow or widow. No longer will they hold hands with their love. No longer will they sleep together or look into each others’ eyes across the table. I remember when my grandfather died, and my grandmother told me about a meeting with a friend whose husband had also died. She said, “We had a good cry then decided we still had things we wanted to do.” The New Normal.

The New Normal has some real merit. But, new as the phrase is, the idea is as old as the hills. People have had to adjust to new situations for as long as there have been people. From ancient days, whole towns, even whole societies have destroyed and their inhabitants enslaved. From ancient times, fortunes have been made and lost in a stroke.

For Christians, The real New Normal took place with Jesus who changed everything at least in the way we relate with God. No sacrifices, no fear, no outsiders - just God loving us and commanding us to do the same. All it took was saying “Yes,” to God.

Of course, like all cases of this new normal, for Christians this new way of life means saying goodbye to the old way of life. Self interest has to go. Fear and self protection have to go. Pride has to go. So does indifference over the fate of the poor. The New Normal for a Christian is a life of joyful service to those who don’t deserve it and have no possible way of paying it back.

No wonder so many keep trying to go back to the old ways.

But like with the economy or death, the New Normal means you can’t go back. Even if you try, it’s not the same.

That’s the power of the New Normal – it burns bridges and forces you to look forward. The only thing we need to remember is, that’s not always a bad thing.