Saturday, June 20, 2020

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back to Normal"

Just four months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a name for what most news outlets had been calling the “Wuhan Flu.”  Never has a new word been more widely used in so many languages around the world in so short a time.

The new term of course is “COVID-19,” and it was paired with a much older word: quarantine (derived from the Latin word for forty (i.e. 40 days). Unlike its historic use, however, this time quarantine applied to the healthy (not just the sick). Those not infected were asked to isolate themselves. They called it “socialdistancing.” 
  


In mid-March, all schools and businesses deemed “non-essential” were closed. (Churches were lumped into the non-essential group.)  We were told that a 3-week quarantine to “flatten the curve” would help hospitals face the coming onslaught of a global pandemic. We all did our part. Curve was flattened. Onslaught averted. And yet the 3 weeks became 3 months then four and counting. A funny thing happened on the way back to normal.


A Latin term for “normal” is status quo, which means “the way things have been for a long time.” There is typically good reason for the status quo. Some reasons are divine—like the Ten Commandments; most are less moral but still good—like expiration dates on milk cartons—but the stability of self-governance rests in whether changes to the status quo are proposed by or imposed on the people they affect. Imposed change happens quickly by those in power, but proposed change is a thoughtful process testing whether the good intentions of a proposal do not harbor unintended consequences (thus making the solution as hazardous as the problem).


In the case of America, our founders felt so strongly about changing the status quo of British rule that they risked life and limb to make it happen.  After winning their independence, they did not attempt to erase their history (the names of many east-coast cities and states confirm this).  Instead, they mapped out their future in a constitution outlining a path to “the way things ought to be.” It was a new status quo incorporating the best of past imperfect systems and thinly veiled principles of scripture. The goal was not perfection, but “…to form a more perfect union.”  


Because the founders understood human nature and how absolute power hastens corruption, they structured our self-governance so no one person or party could override the intentions of the constitution (or change the status quo) without first meeting the burden of proof.  This deliberative system allows the status quo to improve over time and has served America well for nearly 250 years (come 2026), but a funny thing happened on the way back to normal. 


By mid-April, it felt like the whole operation was in the hands of few “experts," and most of the media and some state governors were surprisingly open to staying “closed” at all cost. Even when the national economy was slipping into a coma, they spoke of staying closed through summer—possibly through the fall--and November's election. So just in case, Michigan sent out millions of unrequested "mail in" voting ballot applications that can be cast well before November. Hmmmm....


Is it cynical to notice that fostering the fog of continued fear has provided opportunity to impose changes without meeting the normal burden of proof? This may explain the contrast in protocols and reopening strategies from state to state and why some public protests were condemned as a violation of "social distancing" by leaders who weeks later joined shoulder to shoulder in much more reckless demonstrations. What else could explain why in May some business owners were arrested and jailed for opening their doors, but in June many rioters went unpunished for smashing them in? 


A funny thing happened on the way back to normal. Not funny “ha ha” but funny strange—funny like the smell under the floorboards when something has died. While we complied with a temporary change in the status quo, some opportunists shifted the burden of proof.  Rather than making a case to prolong the change; that burden of proof was now on returning to normal. “Can you prove that COVID cases won’t see an uptick if we reopen? Can you prove that not one life will be at risk because millions need to make a living?”


For centuries, the Church in America and faith-based schools like CCS have operated within the framework of a Constitutional government. Does our faith depend on these freedoms? No. Has the church flourished when it could not publicly meet? Yes—this was true many times through the centuries and remains true in places today. As Christians, however, we are called to be “wise as serpents and harmless of doves” (Matthew 10:16) as we interpret the world and times in which we live. So long as we have freedom, we should fully understand it.


Freedom and the “pursuit of happiness” has always come with risk and reward. This risk-reward equation stowed away on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims.; it put ink to the Declaration of Independence; it pointed Lewis and Clark WEST; it gave lift to the Wright brothers’wings and light to Edison’s bulb; it put Ford’s wheels in motion; sent man to the moon; and yes, it even launched Calvary Christian Schools forty years ago. You get the picture: an abundant life and profession of faith has never been risk free.


Our prayer is that followers of Christ will learn from history and not be given to hysteria. Both the history of the Church and this nation have produced a “cloud of witnesses” who were driven by faith not fear. 


We learned something on our way back to normal. It was an “awakening" of sorts. The same masks that made us feel like specks in a faceless ant farm—emotionless gatherers foraging for “essentials” avoiding the paths of others as we ventured from our homes. Those masks that muffled our greetings and muizzled our thoughts did something else. They reminded us we were image bearers of God, and that truth should not be hidden under a bushel or a mask. So may we never get used to them, and may God’s face shine upon us in the days ahead as our unmasked faces reflect Him to our fellow man. In the meantime, may our earnest eyes and actions show His love.

Likewise, our months of isolation taught us that gathering is an essential need. God said of individuals, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Of His church he said, “Forsake not the gathering of yourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) And of nations He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Matthew 12:25) Heaven help us with that last one. Have these words ever been more true? 

COVID-19 is very real. You probably know someone who knows this firsthand. I do, but even that dear friend understands that as the improving “math” of this virus brings hope it is the aftermath that brings new concerns.

The extended closure of 2020 has been the longest experiment in social isolation in the history of the world. Yet through it all, we were never alone. (Joshua 1:9 and 1 Chronicles 28:20), and we were always free to shine. CCS has tried to be exemplary in its response to this emergency. We were ahead of the curve in home-to-home instruction; we conducted the first and only real cap-and-gown Commencement  in west Michigan for our Class of 2020; and we are planning to reopen with exemplary face-to-face classroom instruction in the fall. Rest assured that the emotional, social, academic, and spiritual needs of our students will be valued as highly as whatever other concerns may remain at that time. 

God be with you till we meet again. 
Tom Kapanka