I just left a lunch meeting with a group of pastors from across the southeast corner of the state. Previously there had been Zoom meetings, but this was the first face-to-face in quite awhile so everyone was talking in small groups, trying to catch up on their church’s activities. The consensus was, there was a gradual coming back to the way things had been done in the past, a return to some of the sacred rites and practices of the faith that are so precious to Christians everywhere.
One of the pastors changed the direction of the conversation a little when she said, “I have been feeling we need to push a “reset” button on our lives and the life of the congregation. We need to take this time to re-examine who we are now and how our thinking has changed." That word made a lot of sense to me — “reset”.
How often in our lives do we have to find that button in our brain and push it and then prepare ourselves for change — the birth of a baby, job change, life passages. This group of professionals was talking about church worship, how technology has been adapted to reach people with the gospel message, and the frustrations they felt as they realized that while people were still faithful to the gospel message, the way of doing worship had altered subtly while we were all under quarantine.
And it is not only church worship. The cry of this past year is, “When can we get back to normal?” But what is “normal”? Erma Bombeck, the humorous columnist, once said, “Normal is the setting on a washing machine.” Nothing will ever be exactly as it was before the pandemic. To date, five hundred thousand people have died. Many people have lost loved ones either to the virus or just the usual ways that death comes. Your grandchildren have grown and matured in your absence. If you have spent an intense time at home with your children you have come to know each other in a very different way. There are nuances to behaviors we have not recognized in each other before this time.
I often think about the horrors of the Civil War. I have seen pictures of Atlanta, Georgia, and other cities in the South that look like the bombed cities of London and Dresden, Germany, after World War II. The results of that war are still being felt in the issues of white supremacy, Black Lives Matter, and the removal of statues that are unpleasant reminders of a time in our history that shaped us for generations to come. “Normal”? History is never normal.
The “reset” button for our generation has been spinning the world into a new age and a new way of looking at the life we have been given. Massive crowds of people will not be a comfortable place for many people maybe for years to come; medical resources and care of hospital personnel have to be examined and the systems re-vamped to meet the needs of this generation. Education of our children will return to the classroom, but every teacher and student will have a memory of masks and home classes. “Wash your hands” is now a part of how we live safely.
And the power of the pandemic has altered our political landscape. The inequities of health care and financial resources have boiled to the top and everyone is demanding equality so that they can live with dignity. In the past four years the world has seen a side of the United States it had never seen before and we are having to “reset” how we deal with the European Union, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia, Russia and China.
The “reset” button is whipping our world through a sea of changes. Sometimes we just hold on for the ride, but other times we are apt to land in a different place than we have been before.
“Normal” — not so much. “Reset”. New focus. But human beings always adapt and we can only work together for the good of all.
A friend and I were discussing a book the other day and in the process of our visit she asked a rhetorical question — “How did white people and western civilization ever get the idea that their way was the only right way?” Her thoughts jarred loose a memory about an incident that happened when I was in India. Northern India had been conquered by a group of people known as Moghuls. They were from the plains of Central Asia. They were lighter skinned and according to anthropologists are from the same branch of humanity as lighter skinned Europeans. The further south you travel in India you notice the people are much darker and part of the native group known as Dravidians. The Moghuls never subdued this group. They had a thousand years or more history of mixing with the people of Africa. I overheard a conversation by two of our guides one day. Both were from Northern India around New Delhi. One of the women had seen a famous Indian movie star. The other guide was very excited and asked, “How light-skinned was she?”
Their conversation hit me so hard that I have never forgotten that day. Everywhere there seems to be the concept that lighter skin means greater beauty and in the progression of things — leads to power and wealth. It was an eye-opener that was really hard to hear.
The six weeks I spent in India, the lectures I heard, the places I visited, the people I met all taught me how little I know about the world in which I live. A world so variegated as to be beyond comprehension. We are each unique and no one person is better than another. It seems as though it is a lesson the world has never learned, because every culture and society constantly belittles the “other”. And we wonder why we can never find peace.
America is so blessed by the rich tapestry of people and cultures that have contributed to our makeup. The history of America is not just a “white” history, but African, Asian, South American, East Indian, Middle Eastern and every other color and creed. That is our greatest strength. Western civilization is younger than the 5000 year old history of India’s people. We now know that human beings came out of Africa and began that great migration to all the corners of the world.
Public Radio had an interview recently with a Latina woman who talked about self-image and learning that every culture sees beauty in a certain way. My vanilla-colored skin is a far cry from the exotic beauty of many mixed races across the continents. Body shape and size, music, art and other cultural aspects of national identity are all good and strong. It seems that Western Civilization has fed the world “the great lie” that “white is good” and that other gradations of color are not on an equal level, but are lesser than.
It is time this fantasy was put to rest. When we combine our energies and our cultures we are like a strongly interwoven rope. We can do great things for the human race and sustain this planet which the Creator has given us. Life is good when we are one.