The New Normal

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The New Normal

I've been waiting for months now for things to return to normal. After saying goodbye to a beloved parish in order to follow God's call to a new position, after selling the home I'd lived in longer than anywhere else in my life, after buying and moving into a new home (which I love!), after the winter which never ended and the summer that barely began, I thought things would begin to slow down and return to normal.

Granted, it's been a year full of immense change, and that level of change is unlikely to continue, but even as the largest changes have faded behind me, things have not returned to normal.

What is normal? I'm not even sure I can answer that question, now that I really think about it. A regular schedule would be nice, something that I could rely on and plan around, instead of this constantly shifting collection of meetings. Anticipatable events, instead of phone calls and emails with questions or offers out of the blue.

This week, I finally decided that waiting for things to become normal wasn't getting me anywhere, so I set my alarm an hour earlier so I could start walking in the mornings again. I started working on a new way of tracking the tasks that are waiting for my attention, because the normal way hadn't been working for months.

These shifts, and a few other minor decisions, made me realize that I wasn't waiting for normal to reappear any more. I had given up on  what I suspect is a myth, the day when things will slow down and everything will be caught up and in order. Instead of hoping for some future miracle, I started living in the present as it arrived, in all of its less-than-normal glory.

Maybe this is one of the challenges we're facing as the body of Christ today. Normal is long gone and probably will not return in our lifetimes, yet we are still going about the work of ministry as if it were a normal thing to do. We're waiting in our offices for visitors, we're planning worship the normal way, we're getting ready for the normal launch of fall programs.

But it's not normal now, if it ever was. Going to church on a regular basis is abnormal in America, and most of our communities reflect that statistical fact. Sitting through an hour-long worship service once a week is the exception to the norm, which looks more like youth sports and sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Scheduling time to visit with the pastor is completely counter-cultural; when is the last time someone you knew outside of the church even thought of doing such a thing?

I know there is a longing for normality, for things to be decent and in order (after all, we are Presbyterians!), for what is familiar to remain familiar. I've been wrestling with that longing in the midst of major personal changes, and have wrestled with that longing at the congregational and Presbytery level as well. But longing for it is different than waiting for normal to re-establish itself.

Our new normal in the church is that we are not the dominant culture. That's not even all that new, but we're still hoping for the day when all the sports will return to their "proper" places and everyone will rush into worship on Sunday morning. Our new normal is that people are not going to just show up because it's the thing to do. Our new normal is that who we are as people of Christ is confusing to more people across the country than comforting, and we're not seen as very interesting or inviting.

How can we begin to live into our new normal, instead of waiting for things to go back to the way they were or to settle down into a familiar pattern? How can we begin to claim again Jesus' challenge to us to "go and make disciples" instead of waiting for pre-made disciples to walk through our doors? How can we make the shifts from expecting that Sunday will be like it was fifty years ago to planning for how Sunday is today?

If we can let go of the idea that things need to be and should be normal, and what normal is supposed to look like in the first place, maybe then we can see the amazing things God is already doing around us. I guess that's my main source of comfort as I try to shift out of "normal" gear into this new way of living: God isn't normal at all. God is amazing and glorious and more than I could ever begin to imagine. Longing for normal probably means that I'm not longing for God or for what God is desiring for me.

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