Ah click bait. Tops the chart of Things-We-Are-Officially-Done-With-But-Well-Just-Kind-Of-Can’t-Help-Ourselves. We may as well bond over it to generate a wistful smirk while we sit at home looking at another screen.
You’ll have heard ‘new normal’ discussed about as much as you’ve heard the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘times’ next to each other, and as frequently as your heart has sunk when you’ve seen a mate who should know better post a crackpot conspiracy theory masquerading as a documentary on facebook. Or as much as you’ve scrolled past another pic of an amateur banana bread attempt, or a sweaty selfie of someone who has completed an iron man in their ensuite.
Sure, this is all decidedly abnormal. But I suppose my question is ‘who’s normal are we talking about when we imagine the new version of it?’
To answer that I think we probably need to cast our minds back to the ‘old normal’ of life before COVID-19. I navigate my life between two worlds, about as far apart as you could imagine. I live in a gap that can feel simultaneously wonderfully self-righteous and terrifyingly lonely at the same time (on bad days), or beautifully textured, humbling and gratitude-inducing (on good days).
I’m a white, middle class, British, university educated male. I live in Cape Town in a predominantly ‘Cape Coloured’ community, deemed working class (though up to half the population are not working), where (at least) 60% of children don’t finish their schooling, and which is basically held together by mothers, aunties and grandma’s.
Two very different worlds. Two very different normals.
One normal is used to hanging out with friends with successful careers and big dreams for the future, on long term contracts with medical aid, in coffee shops and enjoying safe, green spaces whilst sporting pricey active wear. Returning each day to a home with a spare room. Rarely witnessing death or trauma. Being able to walk around malls and shops freely. Looking forward to an upcoming holiday. Feeling represented by mainstream media. Pursuing personal comfort and fulfillment. Acquainted with and feeling entitled to having a level of power and influence. In this normal the poor are viewed as morally suspect and are generally seen as lazy and/or addicted.
Another normal has nowhere safe to hang out and so resorts to standing on corners of streets with friends in yesterday’s clothes, most of whom are unemployed or only have a casual job that pays by the day and with no medical benefits. Returning each day to a home which, far from having any spare room, is home to 11 other family members. No green space – but shacks of friends’ families in the sandy back yard. Trauma and death are part of life. If ever you’re in a mall you are followed by security guards, so you find most public spaces intimidating. Holidays are something people do in movies. You’re either ignored or condemned by mainstream media. Survival is your life’s pursuit. You are used to powerlessness and irrelevance. In this normal the rich are generally seen as morally suspect, selfish and/or greedy.
So what will the new normal be, if the old normals were so mutually exclusive? We are at a crossroads – as lockdowns ease around the world we have the chance to forge a new normal together – THAT is exciting!
Can I tell you some of my longings for the new normal?
I long for the new normal bringing together the two realities above.
I long for the new normal to finally see that economic growth alone is a rubbish marker of success and human progression.
I long for the new normal to refuse to put up with prosperity for the few at the expense of the many.
I long for ‘new normal Christians’ to analyse the Capital Gospel as much as the Social Gospel.
I long for the new normal to galvanise the church to literally stand in the gap, pull disparate parts and people together in one kingdom vision, and thereby show the world a new world is possible.