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Are We Going to Take a Phone Book?

Yesterday I walked to the end of my driveway to find. . . a phone book. A phone book was a staple of my youth. You absolutely needed one of these things in the 80’s. Contained in-between the covers were the phone numbers for your neighbors, a listing of all the mechanics in your community, who to call in local government offices. For the better part of my life, if you had a question then a phone book was going to help. But today, this unsolicited tome is a relic of days gone by and now lives in the recycling bin. To be honest, I am a little irritated at the waste of paper and resources. There are lots of things from my youth that have been replaced by new technologies and better practices. I don’t listen to music on 8-track tapes; I don’t pick up my photographs from being developed from a little kiosk out in the grocery store parking lot, and Greystone doesn’t print from a mimeograph machine. Those pieces were relevant and useful in their day, but don’t fit into our current context.

Award-winning author, Suzanna Arundhati Roy, encourages us to think of our current experience of pandemic as a time of transition. In an article entitled “The pandemic is a portal,” she offers a compelling image of the coronavirus as a gateway to the future. You can find the article in the April 3, 2020 issue of Financial Times. Roy writes:

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. . . 

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks, and dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.

We are beginning to think about the future. What will church look like when we return to in-person meetings? What will school look like in August? What will the office look like as coworkers begin to share space? Will there be football in the fall? What habits and ideas need to be left behind? What new insights and practices will we carry forward?
It’s a stressful time. As a people of faith, however, it is also an encouraging time. We have the opportunity under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to shape and create the days ahead. We can try new things. We can retire the old and worn-out ideas and habits and practices and programs that will only slow us down. In Isaiah 43 we find these words:

Do not remember the former things,    
or consider the things of old. 
I am about to do a new thing;   
 now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness    
and rivers in the desert.

These words are given as encouragement and promise. A consolation for God’s people. As we begin to restock and pick up pieces of our lives, let’s choose carefully. God is calling us into the new. Some of the luggage from our past won’t be helpful and will become burdensome. Some of the insights and practices that we have discovered through this time of physical distancing will make all the difference moving forward. As disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, this moment requires a bit of reflection before we continue on the way. So Greystone, how would you answer: what needs to be left behind, and what will you carry through the portal?

Amanda Atkin
Associate Minister of Faith Formation