New Normal

Politicians. Media. Business leaders. Even Church leaders have used a phrase I do not understand.

The New Normal.

Surely, it is an oxymoron.  Something cannot be both “new” and “normal” at the same time?

Some use it as a phrase of aspiration.  They dream of a kinder, compassionate, better world emerging post coronavirus.  Others see an opportunity to bring change, whether we want it or not.  This change can be justified by being “the new normal.”

Change is inevitable.  It happens. Sometimes, change can be exciting;

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

(Isaiah 43 vs. 19)

Sometimes, change feels unwelcome and terrifying.

Yesterday, I attended a Zoom meeting with other Church leaders and the phrase “the new normal” was one that appeared regularly.  To be honest, I am no wiser as to what “new normal” looks like. 

I do, however, have a greater understanding of some of the issues that we are facing as the country makes it tentative steps back from isolation.

For many people, the push to get back to work and end the lockdown makes the new normal appear to be, suspiciously, like the “normal normal”.  I think this is dangerous.  Not only from a health point of view but, from an emotional point of view too.  This push denies the reality of what we have all been through over the past few months.

I may not be able to tell you what the “new normal” will be, I can tell you how I think we need to engage with it.

What do we need?

  • Compassion

We need to understand that Coronavirus has been costly for everyone.  Some have faced the loss of loved ones.  Some have lost jobs.  Others have faced multiple disappointments.  We have all paid in some way.

We need to not only celebrate coming together but, there also needs to be space to mourn for what we have lost.

  • Resistance

Remember those old sci-fi movies where the aliens always declared “resistance is useless”?

My biggest worry, there will be such a push to get things “back to normal” that we will fail to grasp the opportunity to reflect and assess.  We must resist the urge to rush back.  We must take the take the chance this has given us to reflect and assess “is this really what God wants of us now”?

  • Acceptance

Hard, though it is, we will all have to accept that this is going to take a while. 

We do not know, at this stage, what things will be like when we eventually open again.  We do not what social distancing will be required.  What hygiene requirements will be.  Will we have coffee and chat?  We do not know if we will be able to sing or not.

When we re-start, you may even feel disappointed that this “isn’t Church”. 

We need to accept that we are all learning and finding our way through something none of us has faced before.  Recovery takes time and, if you rush recovery you can do immense damage.

What Do We Do?

  • Pray

Obvious.  But necessary.

Pray for Church leadership that we may have wisdom, knowledge and compassion as we navigate through difficult waters.

Pray for those who are struggling with loss and fear.  Pray that they would experience the love of God as they seek to cope with what they are going through.

Pray for yourself that, God would open your heart to what He is doing and how He is moving at this time.

  • Encourage

Take any and every opportunity to be an encourager.  Encourage the Church leadership, encourage each other.  If something has not been to your taste or liking, look for the good that God is saying to you and share it rather than the negatives.

  • Be Gracious

Something we are all going to need is graciousness. 

Fuming!

Have you found yourself fuming over somebody else’s opinion?

It happened to me yesterday. It was an article in the Church Times written by Angela Tilby. In it, she used some very unpleasant phrases. In one, she accuses clergy of “moral cowardice”. She says, whilst many key workers take risks, Churches remain closed. She also questions how Churches have sought to engage with people in the current climate;

It is absurd to be spending hours creating novel acts of worship from homes while Churches are locked and silent

(Angela Tilby – Church Times 8th May 2020)

I appreciate, the piece has an Anglican audience in mind and their views will be different to mine. But, I had the distinct feeling that, the writer had missed the point.

I have sought, through many blogs, to ask the question “what is God saying to me through coronavirus?” It was my fuming over Angela Tilby’s article, that caused me to reflect further on this question.

My next “fume” came when Angela Tilby wrote;

How trite has been the little trope that “The Church is people, not buildings” which totally misses the point about the public and institutional nature of the Church

(Angela Tilby – The Church Times 8th May 2020)

It may be a “trite little trope” but, that does not make it any less true. The Church is people and not buildings!

Do not get me wrong, I love a beautiful Church building or a magnificent cathedral as much as anybody. I find them awe inspiring, I find the history and stories behind them fascinating. There are some Church buildings that have a special “thin place” feel about them.  We have a building.  I love the fact that we have an adaptable and useful space in which to gather. But, I do not need to be in a building, to worship God.

Buildings carry with them a significant problem (and I do not mean maintenance). They create a barrier between those inside and those outside. For some people, Church is a forbidding place. How do you behave in such a place? When do I stand up, when do I sit down? What if I do something wrong?

I am encouraged by stories of how people are connecting with faith. Because of the ease of access and the anonymity of online Church, the barrier of building is gone.

Is God saying something to us through this?

What needs to change so that we continue to connect, beyond the walls?

As I read Angela Tilby’s comments, I saw them as reducing Church to the event that we put on. Putting on a worship event is only part of the role that any church has within the community. We are to serve our community for the sake of Christ.

I have seen Churches running food bank and food delivery schemes. Churches have become hubs within the community. I know of Church folk who are supporting the vulnerable by doing tasks to help them. I have seen Churches providing avenues to live out the words of Teresa of Avila;

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

The danger, as I see it, is when this is over, we will go back to doing Church rather than being Church.

If the Christian Church is to make a difference with the message of Christ in the 21st Century, we cannot go back.

What is God saying through Coronavirus vi?

Recently, I have shared some thoughts on what, I have learnt, about God, through coronavirus. My hope is, they may spark some discussions as you explore this important issue.

Here is my latest reflection.

I have friends who have amazing artistic abilities.  As we faced Easter under lockdown, one friend, David Senior, sent me a card with one of his paintings;

(Resurrection 2020 – Used with permission of the artist)

In February, David was inspired by the image of a green shoot from a bushfire ravaged tree. In speaking with him, I discovered that he was really moved by the bushfires in Australia and the verses in the Bible in which Jesus talks about the vine and the branches, you can read it in John 15.

As I looked at the picture, and read John 15, I wrote a blog. 

Following extensive editing, I prepared to hit the publish button but, for some reason I cannot explain, I did not.  I decided to hold fire for 24 hours and just see if I had understood.

I spent some time gazing at the painting.  There is nothing new in that, I have returned to the picture many times over the recent weeks. It speaks to me of hope, which has felt in short supply, in the face of coronavirus. Amongst my favourite Bible verses can be found in the Book of Job, which says;

“At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.

Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.

(Job 14 vs. 7 – 9)


It was the phrase, “at the scent of water” that caught my eye.  Of course, the writer is using poetic language to express himself here.  Plants cannot smell.  But, there is something here we need to grasp;

We must learn to scent water

Too often, as Christians, in our desire to help, in our desire to be useful and relevant we have grasped every opportunity that comes our way.  As a result, we have exhausted ourselves.  Once physical exhaustion takes root, spiritual exhaustion follows soon after.  There is a poem (I know not the source) that runs

Mary had a little lamb

She also had a sheep

They joined the local Baptist Church

And died through lack of sleep

I am also reminded of something David Watson used to say;

Not every need, necessarily, represents a calling

I am going to be controversial here. 

We needed lockdown. 

We needed to stop. 

Too many of us have been so busy we are in danger of dying through lack of sleep!

There are plenty of rumors circulating, at the moment, that lockdown is about to be eased.  I want to say, I do not want to go back to everything as it was.  But, if that is to become a reality for us

We must learn to scent water

This is what Jesus said;

but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

(John 4 vs. 14)

What is God saying through Coronvirus v

I have been writing a series of blogs on what I believe God has been saying to me during this time of lockdown. This is the fifth part. It happened during my quiet time today.

My quiet times consist of prayer, Bible reading and a little music. I like to read the passage a few times and see if God draws my attention to a particular word or phrase from His word.

My passage today came from Acts 8.

The Apostle Philip is having a successful and really busy ministry in Samaria.  His preaching is well received, there are miracles taking place and people are coming into a new living relationship with God.  It is at the height of this success, God does something really strange.  He puts Philip in isolation.  That is where my quiet time began; 

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.)

(Acts 8 vs. 26 – NRSV)

To me, this is a very familiar passage and I have preached on this a number of times, particularly in a baptism service. As I looked at the words, I felt my mind heading in a particular direction, however, I felt that God was drawing me to the piece in brackets.  It was here that God was speaking to me.

This is a wilderness road

As the lockdown began, the Church was in the season of Lent.  I was speaking in and around a number of wilderness encounters. I spoke about Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. I spoke about Hagar meeting the “God who sees me” (Genesis 16 vs.13). There were references to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness through the Exodus and returning through the wilderness as the Exile came to an end. 

When I write the word “wilderness”, I wonder what comes to your mind? 

A dry, arid place. 

A place without life.

A place you would not like to go

Maybe, you even think of a Spiritual Desert.  A place where God seems absent.

Then today, as I looked at my quiet time reading, I found myself back in the wilderness again!

As I have spoken to people, over these past few weeks, some have said that they have felt like they are in an emotional and physical wilderness. Normal life, suspended. Plans, hopes and dreams on hold. Family and friends separated. The wilderness, they are experiencing, is a place of separation and isolation.

Perhaps, however, we can think of the wilderness in a slightly different light.  Instead of thinking of it as a barren place, let us try thinking about it as a place where there are no distractions.  When I look in the Bible I see that, the wilderness can also be a place of encounter with God. I think, that is why Luke (who wrote the book of Acts) draws our attention to Philip being on a wilderness road.

This got me thinking. What if our separation and isolation, our wilderness, is really a place of encounter with God?  What if we really need this time without distraction in order to re-connect with God. Are we making the most of this opportunity or, are we trying to keep ourselves busy, to avoid God?

At our recent Housegroup@home, I quoted some words from St Augustine of Hippo, who said;

“God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

(St. Augustine, City of God)

One of the positive sides of being in the wilderness is, our hands have been emptied.

As the story of Philip in Acts 8 unfolds, he meets the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is a God given meeting which leads to a conversation and a baptism. Two things that struck me. Firstly, the encounter would not have happened had Philip not been in the wilderness. Secondly, with everything else gone, the wilderness gave Philip the space to see the person that God actually wanted Him to see.

That is what I believe God is saying to me through Coronavirus;

When you are in the wilderness, God can really get your attention!

So, here is something that really worries me.  Soon enough, lockdown will be released. I am sure, as soon as it is over, there will be a lot of pressure to get life “back to normal” as soon as possible. This means we will get busy. Get activity back into the Church.  There will be a lot of catching up to do and I can imagine the stress and strain that will put on me and on others too.  Experience tells me, the busier I become, the less I will notice what God wants me to see.

Perhaps when “normal” resumes I need, from time from time to time, to purposefully, take the occasional walk down a wilderness road.

Perhaps when “normal” resumes you need, from time to time, to purposefully, take the occasional walk down a wilderness road.

Some words of hope to finish with

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God.

(Isaiah 35 vs. 1 – 2)