It’s a beautiful day in June, 2021, and we’re beginning to see light at the end of the COVID 19 pandemic, one of the most devastating tragedies of our lifetime. For more than a year we have lived through the death of loved ones and friends, economic challenges, layoffs from work, the closing of businesses and schools, and times of depression and anxiety. What a blessing it is that the scientists have been able to develop the vaccines that have become available to so many people. Every day I bless the doctors whose inspired work is helping to save countless lives and unite loved ones who have been separated by quarantines.
Even though there are a number of people who have not been vaccinated, and masks are still required indoors, there is an unmistakable attitude of optimism in the air, and a sense that life will soon be “back to normal,” meaning the way it was before COVID. However, I would like to suggest that instead of going back to the old normal, we make a conscious effort to go forward to the new normal. By this I mean incorporating the valuable lessons we have learned during this past year to develop more effective ways of doing business, improving our relationships, and experiencing more peace in our lives. People are calling this period of time “entering into the new normal.” I like to think of it as an opportunity to remove not only the masks we have used as protection from the virus, but the masks that represent unconscious habit patterns that limit us from embracing new and effective ideas that have the potential for producing real and lasting change. However, for this shift to take place we first need to come to terms with the trauma we have endured this past year. We need to remember that trying to bypass our challenges diminishes or “masks” our ability to heal and extract value from them. Instead, we need to come to terms with our trauma and find meaning in it. To understand more about this, let us turn to the teachings of Victor Frankl.
Twentieth century neurologist, psychologist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl developed a school of psychology called logotherapy, which asserts that the most important element in healing from pain and trauma is finding meaning in our suffering. The concept of logotherapy was explained by Frankl in his timeless bestseller, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he states that, “striving for meaning in life is the primary, most powerful, motivating and driving force in humans.” So we need to ask ourselves, how do we begin to heal the traumatic experiences we’ve endured since COVID-19. What can we release or embrace that will put us in greater alignment with our deepest values? How can our lives have greater meaning in the new normal?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what is being referred to recently as the new industrial revolution. It seems that as more businesses who employ white collar workers are calling their employees back to work, they are finding that quite a few of those workers are not interested in returning to their workplace. They want to continue working from home. The workers find themselves far less stressed and more productive working from home. They don’t have to commute in inclement weather, or fight traffic, or wake up as early to prepare for their commute. They have fewer expenses in gasoline, car payments, auto insurance, and extended childcare services. As a result of this feedback, a number of employers are negotiating ways to compromise by calling their employees to the office only one or two days a week. This move not only increases productivity, but avoids stressors such as long commutes, traffic, and added transportation expenses. This monumental change is coming about as a result of the COVID experience.
Another example of the new normal is a greater emphasis on home improvement to enhance the quality of family life and the number of activities that can be done at home. Because people had to forgo their vacations this year, home improvement services such as porch.com, an online marketplace connecting home owners to contractors, have tracked 300,000,000 US google searches for home improvement work, which is close to 50% over the previous year. They have also found that over 3 out of 4 home owners who porch.com surveyed have completed as least one major home repair project since the start of the pandemic. According to a recent NPR article, this means that people showing a new interest in making their homes more comfortable and beautiful so that they can spend more quality time there. In many ways this past year has helped remind us of the value of home and family.
In the film industry, a new business model is being implemented in which feature films are starting to be released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming services in our own homes. This is a dramatic change from the fierce competition which has existed between film distributors and streaming platforms for over a decade. This means that instead of waiting months to see a feature film on TV, the home audience can see these films while they are still showing in theaters. Of course it costs those viewing at home the price of movie theater tickets, but it provides a tremendous convenience to those who choose to watch first-run feature films at home. In addition, it provides a source of revenue to the companies providing these services. Using this new model is a tremendous breakthrough for the entertainment industry and a wonderful example of how we are stronger together than we are separately.
Now let’s take a moment to discuss what the new normal is shaping up to be regarding religious services in general. Actually many of us in the ministry have been discussing this all year as we have grown more familiar with live-streaming and a number of houses of worship have either sold their brick and mortar locations, (as we have done), or could not afford to keep renting. In addition, the number of people attending worship services in most denominations has declined dramatically over the years. According to a Gallup poll, the average number of people who attend church on a weekly basis in the United States is well under 50%. This decline has been taking place over the past twenty years, and seems to clearly indicate that religious denominations need to find a new normal in order to survive. Many people are disillusioned with church, citing hypocrisy, greed, and exclusion as its main objections. I believe that those of us who are spiritual leaders have a powerful responsibility to help fashion a new form of ministry where people can find comfort, inspiration, community, and an active connection that reaches beyond our communities to embrace our entire human family. I also believe that this can be done without the constant pressure to maintain a building by holding countless fundraising efforts. I believe that fundraising efforts are used most effectively when the funds are used to support organizations or individuals who are making a positive difference in our world.
On a personal note, I have come to find a deep sense of fulfillment from recording our Sunday services at home each week. Our virtual congregation is currently reaching hundreds more people than we ever could have managed at our physical location. It really warms my heart to know that so many people are responding to our services and our messages. In addition, it is a tremendous blessing to be able to produce quality videos (thanks to my son, Matthew) which create an ambiance free from the distractions that often take place in an in-person service, such as coughing during quiet times, frequent trips to the bathroom, people arriving late, and the ever present shrill of the unattended cell phone. So I’m really happy to continue offering services to our virtual congregation using our present format even when we go back to meeting in person.
What I have proposed to our board is that the three most important responsibilities that we have as a Unity ministry are:
- Delivering inspiring, informative and uplifting Sunday services
- Promoting social interaction, both virtually and in-person and online
- Acting in accordance with our highest principles by taking nonviolent social action to promote equal rights for all people, and supporting sustainable methods to ensure the health and safety of our natural resources.
These activities do not require an expensive building. (add here)
During this past year, the news coverage of COVID-19 around the world has given us the opportunity to connect with people on a visceral level, to see and feel their pain as they lost their loved ones, and struggled to feed and shelter their children. Of course, we’ve all seen the suffering of humanity throughout the years, but being forced to be home every day during the pandemic and watching the media cover stories of so many people needing help and struggling to survive brought me to a new level of compassion and commitment. Now I feel much more committed to reaching out to our global family with our powerful teachings of love and hope.
I believe that the COVID-19 experience has provided an opportunity for me to find meaning in my work to a deeper and fuller degree, than ever before. God does not live in the worship structure. God can be found in the simplest of environments and in the most humble of experience. We are prosperous, not because of how much we accumulate, but because of who we are and how we use our internal resources.
When we start meeting in person again, which will be fairly soon, we will rent a modest space and focus on classes, workshops, and topics of interest designed to inspire and uplift all who attend. We will still have our virtual Sunday service, but our in-person meetings will be designed to connect with one another and find ways to use the tithes that we receive to continue to support human rights issues which reflect our deepest values.
The COVID experience has provided us with opportunities to find meaning in the way we interpret life. I invite you to join me as we take off our masks and find greater coherence and acceptance within ourselves.
With much Love and many Blessings,