Musings from a Pessimistic Pastor
Haven’t you heard?
Fear is the new ignorance. Stupidity is the new intelligence. Talking big is the new doing great, and me is the new we, because all I care about is myself. Blistering criticism on Twitter is the new conversation, avoidance is the new finding common ground, and decimation is the new repair.
Haven’t you heard? This is the new normal. Better get used to it.
It’s important for me as a pastor to let you know that the new normal is here to stay and that any attempt to fight back is futile. I will admit that the past few months have been discouraging, because some in this country‒ and some in my own church! ‒ just can’t seem to take a hint.
Did you see the devastation in Houston? I saw it. I saw cars and homes and businesses flooded out. I saw the tragic death of several of my fellow Texans.
The situation is clearly beyond repair, and yet I also saw my foolhardy neighbors hitch their boats to trucks and drive down to the epicenter of the costliest natural disaster in history just to help people they’ve never met before. Don’t they know there’s a new normal in town?
And why would first responders who live in the new normal go to such lengths, risking life and limb, losing nights of sleep and foregoing meals, just to save the embattled Houstonians sprawled on their roofs in the pouring rain looking for the smallest source of hope?
What about those super rich sports stars from Pittsburgh who chose to board a cargo plane carrying 150,000 pounds of goods to help people in Puerto Rico, or that tech company in Virginia that shut down operations to collect water bottles, diapers, and baby formula for relief efforts in Florida? They clearly haven’t heard of the new normal.
I guess the Nazi rally in Charlottesville just wasn’t loud enough or belligerent enough or costly enough to make these ordinary Americans understand that kindness and civility and heroism are simply no longer the viable traits we once knew them to be.
As we speak, stories are flooding out of Las Vegas following the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history: 59 dead, hundreds more wounded. Horror of horrors, truly. Yet in those harrowing minutes, many brave and duty-bound women and men flew like angels into the loud and terrifying spray of automatic gunfire, scooping up the wounded and dying before getting their own bodies to safety. This is not “new normal behavior.”
Other nations have likewise failed to understand our current reality. South Korea is giving millions to humanitarian aid for the 28% of North Korean children who have chronic malnutrition, despite the immediate and terrifying nuclear threat North Korea poses to them. Don’t they know that the new normal means we take care of ourselves and no one else?
All of these reports of human decency and generosity coming out of Mexico City following its devastating earthquake make me scratch my head. People dropping everything to help others out of the rubble, giving clothes and necessities to those who have lost their possessions and livelihoods, people openly comforting others amidst the collapse of buildings and an overwhelmed community. This kind of behavior is unfathomable in the world of the new normal.
And what was Mexico thinking sending aid to Texans in need when American political rhetoric was so hostile to them? It’s almost as if they take the Bible’s command to love thy neighbor seriously. Haven’t they figured out that the new normal means I am my only neighbor? Sheesh.
Hope is supposed to be dead. Friendship is supposed to be dead. Helpfulness is supposed to be dead. But it seems Americans and foreigners alike, those who have made the commitment to demonstrating these very same virtues of hope, friendship, and helpfulness, just keep deceiving themselves thinking they can actually bring these virtues back from the dead. In fact, they are so delusional that they pretend like these virtues were never dead to begin with, but are alive and active today. Imagine that.
In their world, it’s like the new normal never existed. It’s as if the true normal is the way in which they persevere in changing the world and not in how the world perseveres in trying to change them.
I guess we’re not all cut out to accept the world as it is. Sad.
Rev. Brent Barry is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease, and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.