Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been for two months under virtual lock down and the order to stay at home, and we are thankful that here in B.C. the number of new cases has been comparatively low and have been steadily going down. We are starting to hear the B.C. government outlines plan to reopen. But right from the start, Horgan cautioned us saying, “It won’t be flipping of a switch. We’ll be proceeding carefully bit by bit, one step at a time.” I take that to mean we had to abruptly hit the “pause” button two months ago, but we are now not simply hitting the “play” button but have to move forward cautiously. Also, lest we start to think that means going back to “normal,” because we are not, but maybe actually going into a “new normal,” there is no “playback”?! In the days ahead, the Church will be looking at when and how we can “reopen”, but it will be gradual. Stay tuned and be prepared.
It is not my intention to go into the details of the plans for reopening in B.C., but in general we know there will be a gradual reopening of businesses and services. By mid-May we will be going into Phase 2, and the target date for the start of Phase 3 is between June and September 2020, that is if transmission rates of the virus remain low or in decline. The government will not let us move ahead until it’s safe to do so. The final phase, Phase 4, will only be achieved when vaccination becomes available and there is clear evidence of community immunity and so on,and that will not come anytime soon. We need to note carefully especially the two variables that affect the risk of transmission: contact intensity (how close you are to someone and for how long) and number of contacts (how many people are in the same setting at the same time). Both these variables affect us enormously as a large Church community so we can only reopen very gradually. I want to reflect with you and prepare for anew phase of coping with COVID, and ponder on the Premier’s word “It won’t be flipping of a switch,” I would like to share three thoughts with you: pause,play and the new normal: no playback.
Yes, we have been in “pause” mode for at least two months and before we “flip the switch” or hit the “play” button, let us reflect on this period of “pause” and draw lessons from it. A Biblical word “Selah” comes to mind. Biblical scholars believe it was a musical notation meaning “silence” or “pause” (intermission / interlude), among other things. It is found 74 times in the Bible (OT), 71 of that in the Psalms (39times of that in Psalms with the title and instruction “to the choirmaster”)and 3 times in Habakkuk.
Unlike the Biblical “Selah”which were strategically placed in Scriptures to give us time to “pause,” we have been forced to “pause” in our lives and work by COVID. Nevertheless we should take full advantage of this time to pause and pray, pause and reflect. We need to consider who God is and why we are where we are, and how we can reconnect with God. We need to review, reflect and renew our lives, so we can live differently and more meaningfully, for God our Saviour and Lord. For me, I am rethinking how I can be less busy “doing Church work” and find time to be more fully “a shepherd of the flock”. I encourage you too to do the same – pause and reflect, and live for God when you hit “play”.
“Play” is not just a “flipping of the switch,” or not just“hitting the button.” Have we considered what we were “playing”? Do we want to “play” the same old tune? Can we “play” something different (or at least the same but in a better way)? What have we learned during this “pause” that will make our “game” better? The action to restart is simple and mechanical, but it can also be meaningful and purposeful.
As you may see in what I am alluding to in “game”, I miss all the sports that I love to watch, the NBA, ATP, NHL… and long for the games to restart again. When they do, I know (or hope) I will not be disappointed because during this “pause” (unplanned break), the players will (should) most certainly be training and getting ready, so that when the season can restart after the COVID, they would already have a strategy in play to win. Yes, before we hit the “play” button, do we have a new “game plan”? For me, I pray that I will focus on the things that are in the heart of God, truly like David, with“upright heart and skilful hand.” (Psalm 78:72)
The new normal: no playback
What are we “returning” to when we press the “play” button? Politicians and economists are warning us that we are not going “back to normal” (life before January, 2020) but going into a “new normal.” That certainly includes greater personal and public hygiene, and the vast impact of continual“physical distancing” in our daily lives, but what will it be like? The simplest answer I can think of perhaps is, with the fear of a second (or a third?) wave of the virus, what we are experiencing right now (that we had thought would be temporary) will be ‘the new normal,” at least for the foreseeable future.
From the economic perspective, economists believes that due to the pandemic, the current downturn is fundamentally different from recessions of the past decades, as we are not just in merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. In fact, the term “new normal” was first used to describe the aftermaths of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the global recession that followed(2008-2012). The term is now used in many socio-economic-political contexts such as ours.
These are concerns at the macro level, but we are more concerned with what our daily lives are going to be like. How do we balance the need to stay healthy and the need to put food on the table? Can the average businesses survive the new restrictions? How do we travel? How can schools be opened safely? Are stadiums and meeting places going to remain closed? Will we ever go back to the Church lives that we have treasured (or not) in the past? How do we maintain corporate worship and fellowships…?
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger in a recent article “What’s God’s New Normal for the Church in the Wake of the Coronavirus?” has this very perceptive statement: “… I also have to come to terms with biblical reality: missional Christianity requires that we don’t look to go back to the old normal, but to operate within the new normal reality before us. God’s normal is always to engage the pressing challenges in our day and to invite Jesus’ church to join the Spirit on mission.” Put simply, whether our situation is “normal” or “not normal”according to our experience, as Christians, our normal is always“missional.”
In facing the current virus, Metzger refers to the words of Pastor Mark Nicklas of Beaverton Foursquare and says: “…People are forced to slow down, even stop, and ask what really matters when health and wealth are no longer perceived as givens?” But don’t we all want to stay healthy, and don’t we all need at least our “daily bread”? Again, the ultimate answer is found in the glorious hope we have in Christ.
My mind takes me back to an old book that is on my shelf, Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life (1957), which is based on his exposition of the first eight chapters of Romans. The Normal Christian Life talks about the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and expound on the four steps of the cross of Christ. This means the normal Christian life involves the way of the cross, in dealing with the ultimate problems of sin, pain and suffering. We need to be wash by the blood of Christ, live by his resurrected power and to bear the cross daily. As Christians, our new normal has always been centred in Christ, for we know that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor.5:17)
We shall unpack these and other thoughts in the future weeks. Stay tuned. Pause. Play. No playback.
Your pastor in Christ
Rev. Simon Lee