"The New Normal: Let’s Make It Happen!"
Good morning! The picture is me and Rox on Pike’s Peak – maybe 2004. After I volunteered to give another Wedgewood talk, Melba suggested that a tie into Lent would be nice. We are in the middle of Lent.
I was raised as a Lutheran so I didn’t know much about Lent. I did some research. Lent is celebrated as a commemoration of Jesus’s 40 day journey in the wilderness. The start of Lent is defined in terms of Easter, which is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Lent includes the 40 days prior to Easter, not counting Sundays. Its actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday till Easter. There are six Sundays between the two dates. I don’t think Jesus took Sundays off in the wilderness.
I tried to find the relevant scripture. I actually cracked the Bible open and didn’t find it
anywhere near the parts leading to the crucifixion. I googled it and found references to
Mark 1 and Luke 4. The 40 day journey started right after Jesus was baptized, which
was probably something like four years before his murder in Jerusalem. Here’s some
text from Mark 1: 9-12.
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the
Jordan. And just as he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and
the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from Heaven. You are my
Son, the Beloved; with you I am pleased. And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness 40 days, tempted by Satan and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him."
Wow! The text in Luke also refers to a dove. If that happened to me as a young man, I
would want to walk around and think about it too. Both texts refer to “the wilderness”,
not the desert or any other specific place. Neither Mark nor Luke knew Jesus at the
time of his baptism, so he must have told them. I think “the wilderness” could be
metaphorical – a state of mind: The place where wild things are. I had my own
wilderness, but it took me a little over two years to get out of it. That Jesus did it in only
40 days is remarkable.
The day that Jesus emerged from the wilderness marked the start of a new normal for
much of the world. Whatever you believe, I think you’ll agree that Jesus, his friends,
and even his enemies were game changers. The details of the modern definition of Lent seem like the result of a standards committee. The Pope wanted a Standard and, after some discussions, he got a proposal that seemed to make sense - and so it is. It’s a rule of convenience. Why we associate Lent with giving up something, I don’t understand.
After more than 40 years, I quit smoking in 2012. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be talking with
you this morning. I quit with the help of Chantix. Coincidentally, it was during Lent, but I
didn’t at all think I was “giving up” smoking. I was escaping from it. During that time, Rox broke a bone and wound up in the hospital. One afternoon, her son and I broke her out to go for a ride. I brought some cigarettes, but when I offered them, she declined. She said she was done with them now. We were in a new normal and it wasn’t a bad thing. Cigarettes generate three things: smoke, ashes, and butts. For years we would tell
each other to “watch your ash”. No more.
Besides rules of convenience, like ‘drive on the right’, there are rules of equity like ‘do
not kill people’, and rules of indulgence like ‘no liquor sales on Sunday’. I wish the
commandments had included ‘do not wage war’ and ‘do not enslave people’. Some
people don’t get it unless it is written out. Some never get it.
The pandemic has been like an extended Lent. Most of us have modified our routines
to ensure the survival of ourselves and others. I also think many of us have re-
assessed our priorities and values. I know I have.
For some years, Rox and I would meet at a bar, the McClintock, after work. It was our
rule of indulgence, but it was also our little social club. We got to know the owner and
late afternoon regulars quite well. That came to an end in 2007 when she was fired
because of failing eyesight. Curiously, I rarely went to bars when traveling, which evolved to about 40% of my time. Instead, I would find a somewhere to buy a bottle.
At Wuhan, our convention center had been Mao’s compound. The Chinese repurposed
it after Mao died. After I got in and unpacked, I asked the clerk at the front desk where I
could buy some liquor. He gave me instructions. It was only a couple of blocks, so I
At the compound gate, there were a half dozen guards that looked at me very strangely.
I’m sure they checked to see if my foray was OK, but they let me pass. I’m pretty sure
they put a tail on me though. I was there as an ITU representative. The ITU is a UN
treaty organization so I might have had a kind of diplomatic status.
Even though it was Sunday, the store was very busy. The customers were all touching
the things they were considering buying. There were also a lot of guards, maybe one
for every eight customers. I got my bottle, paid with plastic, and left. It was quite an
experience. One that I wouldn’t have had if not for my rule of indulgence.
When I moved to Charlotte, I toyed with going to bars again. There’s one, Smokey
Joe’s, about two blocks away from my apartment. It’s kind a dump, but popular. The
McClintock was no palace, but it didn’t have uneven floors. Anyway, the pandemic
came along and put a kay-bosh on that idea.
The other thing I found in my first months at Charlotte was Wedgewood. This was quite
by accident. I had often prayed but rarely went to church. I didn’t care for the unidirectional style of communication in most churches. I didn’t feel this was the case at Wedgewood, so I decided to engage in a social experiment by continuing to participate. Wedgewood and its associated activities like book club and food pantry are my new social club. My horizons are broadened by getting me to think about things my box. I would rather donate to food pantry than some unknown bar owner. I doubt I’ll be back at the bars as a regular.
The pandemic created an opportunity to find a new normal that could be better than the
old normal. We should embrace this opportunity. It may be a while before another one
OK. Let’s make it happen!