Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-7
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A New Normal?
Ever since Nancy asked me to “preach” at this service I have agonized about just what I would talk to you about. There are so many pressing issues that are swimming around in my brain… so many things have taken place since our world shutdown nearly a year and a half ago.
There is the shutdown itself.
Something that I’ve never experienced in my lifetime. The fear of possibly becoming infected with a deadly virus with no cure. The worry about the safety of family and friends. Reading the daily news reports as the numbers went from dozens to hundreds to thousands to millions of people getting infected and dying. Hospital intensive care units being overrun with people struggling for the breath of life. Images of refrigeration trucks being turned into makeshift morgues outside hospitals because their morgues were full to capacity. Receiving daily updates from the CDC and other authorities telling us to wear masks, wash our hands and social distance. Oh, and there was the hysterical run on toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer and bleach. It was so bizarre to walk down the aisles of Savon Foods and see empty shelves. I confess that often, in the back of my mind, there was the thought… is this how the world ends?
And then when I got home… there was the silence.
The first thing that stood out to me at the beginning of the shutdown was the silence. There were no big machine noises. I live near Highway 1 and there was very little traffic noise. I also live near a school, and I noticed the absence of the noise of children playing on the playground. People just stayed home. I sat at home and watched 2 years of work disappear from my calendar within a month.
But there was one bright moment every day that fed my soul. Every evening at 7 PM sharp people all over greater Vancouver would come outside their homes or onto the balconies of their apartments and bang pots and pans in a grand show of support and gratitude to the first responders and healthcare workers who were putting their lives on the line to save ours. At that moment we were all one. One grand voice declaring gratitude and, I think, defiance… declaring that this will not defeat us. That we will endure.
(The only other time that I had witnessed something like this was the day Sidney Crosby made the winning goal during the Olympics.)
Then at 7:02 the banging would stop and we would return to our silence.
Then one day the silence was shatter again. Only this time, not by pots and pans and cheers of gratitude but by outrage brought on by a video that was circulating on social media of the coldblooded murder of George Floyd. It was captured on a cellphone camera by a young girl who was walking her little sister to the store for some treats. The world seemed to turn its attention away from the pandemic for a moment and join in a collective moan of unspeakable sorrow as we watched and listened to George Floyd beg for his life, crying out to his mother… gasping the words “I can’t breathe” … and then came the outrage. Black people have been speaking out about police brutality for as long as I can remember. But on that day the world witnessed it with their own eyes. Because we were all in the midst of the silence brought on by the pandemic. All the usual distractions were gone. And we were forced to confront the truth that Black people had been crying out against for centuries. It’s strange to me how some things can be right in front of you for so long and then… sudden the boil is lanced and all the pain and ugliness comes pouring out.
We here in Canada have just experienced something very similar. Less than a month ago we “discovered” the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children… buried on residential school grounds. Since this discovery the numbers have continued to grow to over 1500. And there are still hundreds of residential schools across North American that are yet to examined. We ALL know that the numbers of unmarked graves will increase. And, lets be mindful of the ones we can’t count because they were incinerated or who ran away and simply never made it home.
I’ll be honest with you… As an immigrant, it is strange to me to see so many non-indigenous Canadians act as though this is something new… something unheard of. I came to Canada over 30 years ago and this was one of the first things that I learned about my new home. My first agent was an Indigenous woman. She shared with me her experience of being taken from her family and placed in a residential school. There were many things that she did not share with me. But she did share, with tears flowing, how it damaged her life. She lived with the pain of feeling that she didn’t fit in anywhere. She wasn’t truly accepted into the dominate culture and she felt like an outsider among her own people because she didn’t grow up among them.
The title of my reflection is “A New Normal”.
My question is: Now that things are starting to open back up and the silence is beginning to be filled with all the noises of life again… do you really want to go back to normal?
And if not, what kind of normal do you want to create going forward?
I will confess to you that I am in spiritual conflict over this. Because I don’t want to simply go back to the old normal of offering “thoughts and prayers” in the face of generational injustice and abuse. I’m angry. I’m outraged. I wrestle with feelings of powerlessness to do anything of real significance that will make a substantive difference. I pray for a greater image of God… a greater image of humanity and a greater image of myself.
We were given an opportunity to be silent… to be still… and to listen. My mother says, “God was trying to get our attention”.
I don’t know if I agree with her theology, but I feel her heart. We have to do better. We have to make things right. I don’t think that it’s up to God… I think that it’s up to us. What kind of normal do we want to create? I want a just world. I want poverty and hunger to abolished. I want what my hero John Lewis wanted… a Beloved community.
Let’s create a new normal.