Return to Normalcy
After the close of World War I, Warren G. Harding ran his 1920 presidential campaign on the slogan “Return to Normalcy”. He argued in a campaign speech, “America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.” Harding won the election with 60% of the vote. Historically speaking, he was also dead wrong on every point. His return to normalcy allowed the causes of World War I to fester and create the conditions for the Great Depression, World War II, and the Jewish Holocaust. [Occasionally, I like to flaunt my history degree.] [To further flaunt my degree] Harding’s popularity quickly waned after his death in 1923. The decline of his popularity was largely due to the high level of corruption in his administration and his extra-marital affair.
Matt, Dawn and I sat on the parking lot at the Ephraim Moravian Church yesterday. It felt normal. We laughed. We commiserated. I got sunburned. We drank coffee. It was a perfectly normal scene except that there was nothing normal about it. We sat seven feet away from each other and discussed under what circumstances our currently closed churches would open. If felt good to be with my sister and brother, but there was nothing normal about our time together.
I understand the urge to rush back, to return to the pre-COVID-19 days. I want to walk unmasked through Target. I want to see the people I love and hug them and laugh. I want to gather the congregation and sing every song in the hymnbook and celebrate community with a meal. I want to go on vacation…not just retreat to the big, back deck, but GO somewhere. Right now, I’d be happy to go to Warren G. Harding’s birthplace, Blooming Grove, OH.
Just as Harding’s platform to ‘return to normalcy’ led to more grief and sorrow and heartache, I believe our ‘return to normalcy’ will likewise lead to more grief and sorrow and heartache.
A part of my Saturday morning TV watching in the 70’s included “Land of the Lost”. The show featured a father, son, daughter trio lost during a rafting trip. Basically, they fell through a crack in the space/time continuum. In this alternative world, they meet friendly hominoids, fight semi-reptilian alien antagonists, repeatedly miss opportunities to find their way home, and somehow manage to live for three years in the Land of the Lost without a change of clothing.
The show was cancelled in in 1977 without Rick and Will and Holly ever finding their way home. Unlike Dorothy or Alice, they never find their way back.
We will never find our way back to 2019. We will never find the magic teleporter that allows us to return to what we considered normal. Mourn the loss of what was. The transition from then to now has been heartbreaking.
In his book (meant for church geeks) Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Tod Bolsinger uses the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a metaphor for today’s church. Even more appropriately, I believe his metaphor fits not just for churches and pastors, but all of us. Bolsinger tells of the challenges that Meriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery faced as they searched for a water route to the Pacific Ocean (spoiler: there is no water route from the Missouri River west to the Pacific Ocean). Convinced that the route they sought was just over the next mountain, the Corps of Discovery took along with them their boats. They kept what they knew. They knew boats.
The Corps would eventually jettison their boats and with them everything they knew about what was on the eastern part of the Rocky Mountains. They chose to explore and learn from their experience this new land that rose in rocky, snow covered cliffs before them.
I believe we have what we need to thrive in this new world. Our old maps won’t work. Neither will the canoes (metaphorical) that we have carried for miles. We need a spirit to learn (which we have). We need to trust each other (which we don’t have). We need the wisdom of community (which we have). We need the discernment to sift conventional wisdom from exceptional wisdom (which we have not displayed YET).
From my perch, we have more than we lack.
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.