In a grim classroom, a little boy fidgets at an empty table. He steals a glance at his friend – six feet away and plugged into a chromebook – instantly realizing the incommunicable state of affairs. His restless soul, taut with a quickly diminishing supply of boyish energy, depleted from habitual restraint, betrays his weary mien, fatigued from burdens he was not designed to bear. His eyes dart around the room, snapping permanent images of zombie children hunched over next to him, finally resetting on his own screen. A teacher paces slowly from table to table. “Jackson, put your mask back over your nose, please. Don’t make me ask again.” A languid arm reaches up and summons a hand to slide the dispirited, dirty cloth back over its hook.
The new normal.
Divisive school board meetings nationwide over mask mandates, particularly for children, are just the latest evidence of a continuing battle over the establishment of a new normal. The self proclaimed sympathetic voices, dressed up in empathy but clamoring for necessary, but temporary (ok…) increases in authoritarian measures gather on one end of town halls to shout, through masks, at a supposedly uneducated and uncaring conglomerate of ‘freedom fighters.’ One side believes they embody Mother Theresea, and the other has equated themselves with Paul Revere. One believes their missionary duty is to preach the new normal gospel and save the lost, while the other imagines themselves leaning against the wall of Gondor, holding off the battering ram of the CDC. Metaphorically speaking, Fauci would obviously be Gollum.
If you step back from the fray, it appears our greatest fear ought not be the fruition of an Orwellian new world order or the death of our children. (By the way, I’ll let you decide which is more likely of those two and stay out of the vitriol.) Rather, it is the unleashed transparency of secular society’s ultimate authorities, the definers of “normal” to begin with, recklessly running to their logical ends, that concerns me the most.
I’ve witnessed firsthand how educators and students have deftly adapted to Covid-19. As far as surges go, I’m not pining for an increase in resiliency from kids, coaches, administrators, or parents. I’m familiar with the human capacity for endurance and agility.
… I’m also aware of humanity’s tendency to make adjustments and worry about the price later.
During my senior year at Concordia College, my “normal” included running 90-100 miles per week as a captain of the cross country team, practicing my trumpet three hours per day as a member of the concert band, writing weekly love letters to my fiance, and managing a full academic course load. Maintaining this regimen was enjoyable and sustainable, since I didn’t have to concern myself with kids, a house, or food. When I left the confines of the college cocoon, a monastic environment as identical to a professional athletes’ as I’d ever enjoy again (which I knew), I had to adjust to the new normal of being married, living in a different state, and working my first real, grown-up job. Instead of letting my environment dictate my life completely, I held fast to my firm, foundational convictions – the definers of my priorities and determiners of my goals. Instead of giving up my music and athletic ambitions, I amplified them. Training increased. Study increased. Time with my wife increased.
It didn’t come without cost. Initially, I remember an exhausting adjustment to new routines and habits. I could feel my entire physical, mental, and emotional self being broken down and built back, trained into the new way of life like strands of muscle learning a movement. My athletic dedication left me with essentially no social life, and at one point, also no body fat, which was dangerous. Three additional moves and four more job changes – and now a new baby – have granted me opportunities to continue perfecting this process. Introspectively dissecting the exact toll and wide ranging impact on myself and those around me is beyond the scope of this article. Instead of hypothesizing butterfly effects, let’s hone in on a key truth: when we or society are forced into being flexible, the compass we are using to guide the way matters.
The self-authenticating, God-breathed Scriptures have been my compass, and I’ll gladly open up to share a few basic truths which have served me well. The vision to work as if working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) provided a sufficient reason to continue pursuing excellence in sports beyond college. My priorities have been established by the command to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and obey his decrees (Joshua 22:5; Matthew 22:37). Loving my wife and leading my family with Biblical masculinity, spiritually and financially, is my most important earthly calling. In summary, the structure of my plan to address any circumstantial upheaval which could lead to a microcosmic “new normal” has always been in accordance with God’s Word.
Can we say society has a similar playbook? To be discerning citizens, we ought to examine secular religion’s ultimate authority. Hint: it isn’t Scripture. But, whatever foundational premises are guiding their decisions, they will define what normal is, and when followed to their necessary conclusions, indicate what the “new normal” will eventually become.