“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?”
-Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
Do you ever get the feeling like you’re living in some sort of bizarro-world, where nothing is as it should be? Businesses are still closed, kids are schooling from home, air travel seems like a distant memory, the economy is in shock, and people everywhere are wearing masks. There are many, daily, reminders that all is not as it should be. And yet, the longer this disruption goes on, the more and more the abnormal, and the ridiculous, and the extreme begin to seem normal. Things that would have two months ago caused us to do a double-take in disbelief are now the status-quo. A perfect example is our Sunday morning worship service.
Joanna and I were talking on Sunday afternoon about our latest service, she confessed to me something that I too had been feeling but hadn’t been able to articulate: the experience no longer feels strange. A mere eight Sundays into this wild and unnatural experience of online church where we worship as a family of five in our living room to a video streamed over the internet is no longer a strange out-of-body experience for her (it’s a bit more so for me, but in fairness she doesn’t have to watch herself preach a sermon every Sunday—I don’t know if that will ever feel right). How did we go from a place of this being so disruptive and unnatural to feeling strangely comfortable with a reality that we know to be less than God’s ideal for his people?
How do we deal with the cognitive dissonance of knowing that this is not how things are supposed to be, and yet strangely, this feels normal now?
If you are experiencing the same sense of strange familiarity with this season that should not feel right, then allow me to suggest a way of reframing your experience at this time: an opportunity to see something that you have previously missed.
Because the world has never been as it should be, and perhaps we have been given a rare gift. A glimpse behind the proverbial curtain to show us how easy and quickly we can be lulled into a false sense of normalcy by abnormal circumstances. Because long before COVID-19, long before the shutdown, long before isolation, and physical distancing to avoid speaking moistly to each other (HT to Bridge Church Alumnus Brock Tyler for the anthem of the pandemic) – the world was already wrong.
It was already wrong because of racial injustice. Ahmaud Arbery was not lynched a month ago in Georgia because of COVID-19.
It was already wrong because of massive economic inequality. Take a look at this shocking infographic for an example of how bad things already were.
It was already wrong because human trafficking (especially of our young women and girls) was a growing problem long before COVID-19. And it’s not just a problem in other parts of the world, it’s a problem here in Canada. It was already wrong because of our individualized, me-first, rights-based culture that de-prioritizes love of God and love of neighbour for the all-consuming idol of self-love. And in fact in too many cases, does away with those first two commandments entirely!
We were not living the real life long before the pandemic came and changed things for us. Long before we were forced to lay our comfortable first-world lifestyle on the altar of COVID, we were already living in some sort of twisted alternate reality—a shadow reality of the world God created and the world he is re-creating in Christ.
So perhaps this season is a gift. Not because of the suffering it has caused, not because of the things it has cost us all, but because of the perspective it has afforded us. We can no longer go about our lives pretending that everything is as it should be. We will never be able to go back to the world as it was without knowing that it was every bit as broken as the world we experience now. And perhaps that nagging sense of wrongness will propel us into waking up from our stupor and living our lives as though we were made for a different world than this. Perhaps we will finally start to understand what Paul means when he tells the Philippian church that they are “citizens of Heaven” (Phil 3:20) and that we will start to be the catalyst to help move this world toward what the scriptures claim its final destiny is already set to be.
Or perhaps we’ll just go back to living the way another 70’s progressive rock band describes us as being: “Comfortably Numb.”
Which will you choose?