“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” - Sonya Renee Taylor
I was 14 years old and on a youth camp when I had a “near death experience.” I had not had a trace of asthma for a few years, and I think the medical people thought I was cured. What no one had counted on was the dust, hay, pollens and horsehair that was prevalent in this camp environment and which triggered a serious asthmatic reaction in me. Because they thought I had outgrown asthma, they had given me no medication. It was a rural campsite, so I did what I thought was logical and took myself off to my dormitory to try and recover.
Fortunately for me I was discovered in there by two friends, one of whom also suffered with asthma. She had an inhaler which she offered to me. I had been indoctrinated by parents and medicos to never take anyone else’s medication, so I politely refused and persisted in doing so for a few minutes until I had this conscious thought: If I am going to die, I might as well die trying to live. I took the inhaler* and within a minute I was breathing freely again.
Over the (quite a few) years since then, I have often reflected on this experience and that conscious thought that was so unbidden and counter-everything-I-had-been-taught. It has resonated through me as I have thought about the Church, and especially the Uniting Church, that has been going through significant decline for a long while now. I have wondered and invited conversation around what it looks like to ‘try to live.’ In these past few days it has suddenly occurred to me that this has been the wrong question – or, at least, it hasn’t been the most helpful question. And that is because it makes the eventual outcome dependent on our insight, energy and effort. We will live or die depending on what it is that we decide to do and on the resources we might find. It is putting ourselves at the centre of the problem and the solution.
I had a little “epiphany moments” in the shower last weekend: it was revealed to me that my “near death experience” changed to a life-giving moment not because I tried to live, rather because my friend offered me a lifeline. Yes, I had to change my attitude, and suppress the voices of my parents and medicos to accept the lifeline, but it was her gift to me that saved my life.
We are facing an almost unique opportunity – as we turn attention to how we might emerge as the Church when current restrictions are lifted, we have the opportunity to rethink and plan for a Church that is absolutely living! We get to write the new chapter, or at least its beginning. We get to discern what God wants us to put onto the page. We get to think about what the Church needs to change, to do, to look like, to embrace, so it will have a future beyond a few more years or decades. To respond to this opportunity faithfully, which means responding with God’s vision in mind, we need to pause and open our eyes and minds and hearts to what our friend, the Holy Spirit, is holding out before us as our lifeline.
This isn’t about changing to use technology (although the lifeline might include the use of technology), and it isn’t about changing the way we worship (although that might also happen). It isn’t about being more or differently creative or any other reactive change we have had to learn and embrace for this situation. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I have found myself wondering more and more whether the lifeline we are being offered in this time is one that lifts up community and relationship? I have seen both lay and ordained leaders ‘light up’ as they have shared a renewed sense of connection with people in congregations and local communities, which is definitely ironic in a time when we are asked to be “socially isolated!” Physical distancing, yes, but I think we are finding ways to be more and more socially connected… beyond Facebook and other social media.
I echo Sonya Renee Taylor’s declaration: “We will not go back to normal.” In fact, my most frequent prayer during this past month or so is that we don’t return to normal. Rather that we will seize the opportunity to discern what we need to do to write the new chapter for the Church that is the Body of Christ, called to engage in ministry and mission with and for all God’s people and for God’s sake. I pray that we will all be led by the Holy Spirit into the future that awaits us: a future “that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Blessings and peace,
*Please adhere to the advice of doctors, parents and others, and do not take medication unless it has been prescribed to you.
(Sonya Renee Taylor is an author, poet, spoken word artist, speaker, humanitarian and social justice activist, educator, and founder of The Body is Not An Apology movement).