“Imagining our New Normal?”

“Behold I make all things new!” – Revelation 21:5

Twenty years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I “couldn’t be put back together again.” The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war.

Everyone’s TBI is different. In the Brain Injury community, we say, “If you’ve seen one TBI you’ve seen one TBI.”  Still, all TBIs share the family traits of neurological deficits and behavioral changes that are challenging for both the one who has them and for the loved ones who must deal with them.

As I was trying to stay afloat in these new uncharted waters, my thoughtful neuropsychologist, Sarah, threw me a lifeline with the term “new normal.” She said, “Don’t compare how you are today with how you were before the accident. Compare how you are today with how you were after the accident.  That’s your new normal.”

One of my disabilities is an impaired “executive function,” the part of the brain that allows one to multi-task. Sarah told me, “Before your accident you could probably cook dinner, talk to your wife, and listen to NPR all at the same time. Now pick one.” So I have learned how to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I get very frustrated by this, especially if I compare myself to before my injury, but measured by my new normal, I can see improvement.

This idea of new normal has been so helpful to me that I have begun to think about it as a metaphor for the life of faith. Since my injury I have been paying attention to the word “new” wherever I come across it in our faith.  Scripture is full of it: the Revelation passage above is just one of countless verses where “God is doing a new thing.”

And our hymnody is also full of allusions to the new: “morning by morning new mercies I see” and “new every morning is the love.”  These phrases carry so much emotional power for me.

They remind me that ours is a God of new starts, second chances, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And you don’t have to have a disability to benefit from thinking about your “new normal.” The everyday bumps and shocks of life set us all back at times, and the aging process will in time diminish our capabilities. But this God of the new is never done with us, even in the face of death.

It occurs to me that “new normal” is a useful way to think about what happens after the pandemic. Many are eager to go “back to normal.” But there is no going back to the status quo ante.

Recall when the prophets like Jeremiah spoke of “restoring the fortunes” of Israel it didn’t mean going back to the way it was. It meant creating something new, something better, something more just, and fair and kind. It meant seeking something closer to God’s intention for his people and world

The upheavals in our society, the protests against police brutality, the cries for justice, and the revealing of the inequalities and inequities in our society call for more than a return to the way things were. The twin viruses of Covid-19 and racism share a trait: they are powerless without a host. These viruses invite us to imagine not a return to business as usual, but to a new way to be a society, a new way to be church, a new way to be a person of faith.

Let us imagine what our “new normal” might look like.

Prayer

God of the Exodus and the Resurrection help us to see and know the new things you are doing in us and in the world around us. Keep us from discouragement about the things we can longer do, and let us be grateful for the things we can. Open our imaginations to what new things we might do.

(Photo: RL Floyd, 2020)

“Living the Risen Life” A Devotion on Colossians 3: 1

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. – Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)

On Easter Day we all sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” as we joyfully celebrated the astonishing claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Resurrection is not a once-a-year happy moment, but a living reality in the lives of Christians. I am always deeply moved at baptisms by the church’s bold assertion that “we die with Christ in a death like his, and are raised to life with him to live a new kind of life.”

“A new kind of life” sounds pretty good to me since the old kind of life I have lived often has left a lot to be desired. Those “new kind of life” promises—resurrection promises—remind me that Christ keeps working in me and through me and with me. And not just me as a lone individual, but me as a member of his church, his body, his fellowship.

When Christians say, “if Jesus were alive today…” I know that they merely mean “if Jesus was still walking around and talking as he once did in ancient Galilee.” But the truth of his risen and continuing life with us is even more astonishing than his earthly life.

The risen life means that in life, in death, and in life beyond death, we are not alone. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, Jesus is with us. Because Jesus is alive today!

Prayer

Living Christ, may we grow more and more each day into the risen life we share with you

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for July 29, 2019. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“Growing Up” A Sermon on Galatians 3: 23-29

Growing up isn’t easy! I’ve had four grandchildren in the last two and a half years, so you can imagine I have spent a good deal of time with toddlers, and I am in awe of my children’s parenting. Toddlers need constant supervision, encouragement, and correction. I’ve heard my children say, gently but firmly, things like: “We don’t throw things at the dog!” and “Careful. You really don’t want to stick your finger in your baby brother’s eye.” Continue reading

“Breaking chains, Opening Doors” A Sermon on Acts 16:16-34

Today is the Seventh and final Sunday in Easter and we have had several readings from the Book of Acts that emphasize the power of Jesus’ resurrection during the rise of the early church. Continue reading

“By the River” A Sermon on Acts 16: 9-15 and Revelation 22: 1-5

You may have noticed there is a lot about rivers in the service. A river is featured prominently in both our readings for today. One is an actual river in the ancient city of Philippi, where Paul went to pray, and where he met Lydia. The other river is from John the Divine’s vision of the New Jerusalem, where a river runs through the heavenly city. Continue reading

My Blog is Ten Years’ Old: A Retrospective

In the Beginning: 2009-2010

I’d like to thank all of you who have dropped by this blog over the years. It is hard for me to believe a decade has passed since I began it. I started to write again as a personal act of healing which in time morphed into a new chapter of my ministry. Continue reading

“Superpowers” A Devotion on Acts 5: 14-15

“Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by.” —Acts 5: 14-15 (NRSV)

Sometimes when I read from The Acts of the Apostles I am envious. I read about the extraordinary signs and wonders the Apostles accomplished in Jesus’ name, the great crowds they brought into the church, and the numerous people they healed. Continue reading

“How then shall we speak of the atonement?” A Reflection for Good Friday

(This essay was first written in 1995 for my study of the atonement with Professor Richard Bauckham at St Andrews University in Scotland. It later appeared as a chapter in my book When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. Some of the references, therefore, are dated.)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” The death of Jesus Christ was understood by the earliest church, not least by Paul himself, as a divine act of reconciliation between God and humanity. Which is to say that Christ’s death on the cross was understood from the beginning as an atoning death. Continue reading

“Unfinished Business” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 3: 6

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”—1 Corinthians 3: 6

At the beginning of my ministry I taught myself to cook. I was serving two small congregations in rural Maine. I was single then and rattling around the parsonage, so to keep myself occupied (and fed) I started reading various cookbooks and trying out different recipes. Continue reading

Remembering Horace T. Allen (1933-2019)

My friend Horace Allen died on February 5. Horace was an important ecumenical Christian scholar of worship and liturgy.

The Reverend Doctor Horace Thaddeus Allen. Jr. received his B.A. from Princeton University, his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and his Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary. Continue reading