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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "normal"

Throughout the pandemic - and now as we are emerging from it - I've heard people talking about "getting back to normal." I know I've said it. And when I said it (and heard others say it), it meant a return to the way things were...reclaiming what we had come to know as our usual, standard, common way of life.

The word "normal" comes from a Latin word referring to a carpenter's square. (And if you, like me, didn't know exactly what a carpenter's square is, here's a picture.)

Carpenter's squares are helpful to set joints and corners at right angles, ensuring a straight and sturdy construction. They are extremely helpful in building, but I'm not so sure "normal" should be our ideal for communities and relationships.

Many of us long for a return to "normal" - to the way things were, to what we know, to what feels comfortable. But it's also good for us to recognize that the way things were (and for many of us, the way things always have been) are not always good.

With a carpenter's square, whatever doesn't fit exactly or fall square has to be cut off, or shaved down, or sanded away. And in our culture and communities, all too often what had/has become our "normal" leaves many people cut off from resources by a culture of classism, their opportunities shaved down by systemic oppression, their hope sanded away by the abrasive grind of daily struggle against overwhelming and unjust odds.

So I hesitate to hurry back to what was "normal." I don't want to return to increasing economic inequity and decreasing economic mobility. I don't want to move back into police brutality and mass incarceration. I don't want to reclaim systemic racism, or abuses of power and exploitation of the powerless. I don't want to fall back into societal patterns of distrust and fear and violence.

So maybe, as we emerge from these past almost-eighteen months of a pandemic, our goal should not be what is "normal" (i.e. familiar, comfortable, status quo), but what is good...what is just...what is loving...what Christ calls us to do, and who Christ calls us to be.

When I was in 9th grade, I performed in a youth group musical by Kyle Matthews called "This Changes Everything."

A picture of me from around the time of my stage debut

One of the songs in the musical dramatized how the Pharisees and religious leaders (the keepers and protectors of the status quo) responded to Jesus. They sing,

This is not normal!

People don't give love away

unless they know they'll be repaid

Oh, this is not normal!

This is not normal!

It certainly wasn't. And it still isn't. And if that's what it means to be "not normal," then I hope we never will be.


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