So, You Wanna Go Back to Normal?
"Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Num. 14:3-4, NIV).
I am going to attend a baseball game today for the first time in almost two years. For most of my adult life, I have attended several ball games every summer, but due to the pandemic, it has been almost two years since I have enjoyed this ritual of summer.
But even though I get to attend a ballgame … even though it will feel more “normal” than did my summer of last year … even though baseball is supposed to be the sport that has not changed … it still will not be the same.
Now, I’m not just talking about the Covid-19 restrictions that will still be in place, but instead, I’m talking about the effects of disruption and the reality of change in our world.
While the game I go to today will be something like those games that I have enjoyed in the past, it will be different. Today’s game, save the weather, will be a full nine-inning game … but yesterday, the Rockies played two seven-inning games … the results of not just Covid-19 but of the League and the Players’ Association realizing that since those last two innings are usually rote (when needed as in Covid or an unscheduled double-header) the world isn’t going to stop spinning if we drop those two innings.
And while this is true, as with the change of putting the batter on base for the intentional walk instead of throwing four pitches, purists (like me) think we’ve lost something. We want to go back to the day when things were “normal”.
Like the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt when they encountered the reality of change needed to claim God’s promise for them … when change is required … when we have to learn something new or give up something to which we have grown accustomed … our tendency is to rebel and to wish for the “good ol’ days.”
But, in most cases, those days were not always that good.
That was certainly true of the Israelites who were longing for slavery and oppression instead of fighting and working through the uncomfortable process that would give them freedom, autonomy and prosperity. Instead of recognizing the necessary changes that come with surviving disruption in their lives, they chose to feel sorry for themselves and to stage a rebellion against God’s chosen path for them.
As the hot, dry and desolate days of the desert of Covid-19 eases; as we see the possibilities of surviving and thriving on the other side, we must not fear the challenge and work on the other side. We need to know that the disruption caused by the pandemic will necessarily affect change in our culture and in our world, that life will be different.
And that includes the life and culture of the church.
No, God does not change, but how we worship, serve and experience God necessarily changes as we grow, mature and move through this world, both personally and corporately.
As the restrictions on worship ease and churches return to worship that is more like what we knew pre-pandemic, don’t be lured into thinking we are returning to normal … God has led us to a new place and to a new way of life. We must do the work necessary to inherit the land that God has laid at our feet.
And while that work might mean fighting a few giants in the land, God promises to go with us in that fight. We can learn how to use technology to reach new generations and new populations. We can find ways to worship God that do not involve stale and unfamiliar traditions. We can carry the “bones of Joseph” in the forms of meaningful traditions and symbols of the church and its historic witness of God at work in our lives forward with us into this new land.
What we cannot do is to rebel and to refuse to enter into this new land.
Prayer: Oh God, You have brought us to the banks of the Jordan where we have the opportunity to inherit a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where we can find New Life in You. And yet, we are afraid to go up and to inherit that land. Quiet the rebellion of our souls, Lord, and strengthen our resolve to learn from the mistakes of our forefathers. Lead us into this new land, both in our culture and in the church, to claim Your promises in our life, that Your Kingdom would come, and Your Will be done. Amen.
Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains