COVID is like a houseguest that drops in for a few nights but who then decides to stay.
Back in early February of 2020, my wife and I had just disembarked from the last cruise ship that didn’t have any passengers with the virus. From that point the coronavirus began to disrupt our lives.
We were told to wear masks, wash our hands regularly and stay apart from other people. We learned and practiced a new protocol: social distancing. We were told that if we all followed the guidelines our unwelcome visitor would probably go away by the fourth of July.
But it is now a year and a half later, and our persistent guest seems to have settled in and has totally disrupted our lives. Our newspapers and TV news channels display alarming statistics of how many of us have caught the virus, how many of us are crowding the emergency rooms of our hospitals and how many have died from COVID-19. For a few months the numbers seem to go down, but as warm weather arrives and we jam the beaches and flood to outdoor concerts the crisis becomes more threatening than ever.
Many of us have now been vaccinated against the virus, but too many have not, and these are the ones overflowing the hospitals. If everyone would simply get the shot, we are told, the virus could be overcome quickly, but it appears that vaccination has become a political issue. We have become a divided nation, Republicans vs. Democrats, Trumpsters vs. anti-Trump people, and conservatives vs. liberals.
A national crisis usually finds Americans bonding to defeat a challenge, but now we descend to fighting each other. Almost certainly we could wave goodbye to our annoying visitor if we all rolled up our sleeves and received the shot.
Now I realize that all of this has been said before. I have postponed this column because it seems that the virus has dominated our lives, and it is just about the only thing we are talking about. Since this is basically a piece on religion, let me alter the direction and share a reflection or two about COVID and the churches.
In many ways God, it seems, has taken a back pew. I am not aware of anyone who is praying that God will miraculously wipe out the virus and return things to normal. Instead, churches (and almost everybody else) are wondering just what the new normal will be like. We are hoping and praying that God will invest us with wisdom to use our faith in fresh ways to minister to the world as it evolves into this new normal mode, whatever it may be.
During the 20 months or so since I embarked from the cruise ship, I have not gone to church, but I have thought a great deal about how God is appearing among us. And I find it hard to believe that God (I don’t really refer to God as “He”) is an omnipotent father figure up there in heaven who gives us what we pray for and issues commands on how we ought to worship and adore God.
We need to develop our church services to reflect the modern world in which we live rather than repeat creeds that were the product of debates in the Middle Ages and which defined God and faith according to what the winning parties asserted. And we need more people who will create music that incorporates the 21st century viewpoint of the world.
Now I am treading on dangerous personal ground here, for I am a 20th century person who enjoys many of the old hymns and reacts a bit against rock bands in church. But as our COVID visitor walks out of our door, and we rearrange our lives that have been totally disrupted by its presence, it will be our responsibility to help create the new normal.