Commentary: COVID-19 steps up to a hot microphone

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As a kid growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was pretty common during live assemblies—award ceremonies, recitals and educational presentations—to hear the phrase: “Please forgive us. We are experiencing technical difficulties.”

Technical difficulties were expected in the world I grew up in. Technical difficulties were everyone’s reminder that the world wasn’t ready for the digital, the virtual and the cybernetic.

And then along came COVID-19. In a strange way, the now well-oiled machine we call the “digital world” stepped up to the hot microphone and said: “Please forgive us. We are experiencing ‘natural world difficulties.’”

This is just one of scores of significant shifts that have taken place since March 13, when President Trump stepped up to the microphone and declared a state of emergency related to COVID-19.

Whether you desire for things to go back to normal or you’ve embraced the notion of a “new normal,” one thing is for sure: The world has changed.

Changes in the normal world

From my seat as a college minister, I barely can keep up with the personal and professional adjustments being required of me with each new hour.

If you had told me just this past February that “medical grade designer face masks” would be in everyone’s online shopping carts, I would have looked at you as if you had a third eye. Yet, here we are. An invisible microbial enemy has changed how we dress, gather and wash our hands.

I recently bought something from an online marketplace. I attempted to hand the seller, who was wearing nylon gloves, a $20 bill. She requested that I use Venmo to transfer her the money instead. Whatever happened to the “cash only” signs I used to see growing up? I guess they left town with the expression: “Please forgive us. We are experiencing technical difficulties.”

As eager as people say they are to get back to “normal life,” the world is changing. After working remotely for two months, what employees now will jump up enthusiastically and embrace their long and traffic-ridden commutes to work?

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What patients, after being able to visit the doctor virtually without even having to change out of pajamas, will want to make a face-to-face appointment when they are feeling their worst?

What parents haven’t grown to love the convenience of a drive-by birthday parade as opposed to the drudgery of sitting through the traditional two-hour Saturday-killer, watching the birthday boy open 10 different Lego sets?

Going back to the past or the future?

A few months ago, we rarely, if ever, used phrases like “social distancing,” “sheltering in place” and “nonessential businesses,” but there is no possible way to put the genie back in the bottle.

Once everyone is done pretending to be a handyman and plundering the hardware store, or quits burning through their stimulus checks with online shopping, we are going to look around and notice a different world.

Maybe you are a nonconformist. Maybe you never once turned on a streaming service and fell in love with your couch during the quarantine. Maybe you can’t wait to double dip chips at the Mexican restaurant like old times.

Maybe you tell yourself each night, “Viruses are nothing new, stimulus packages are nothing new, and national states of emergency are nothing new.”

But once we finally emerge from our bubble-wrapped homes and step outside, we will see where we are.

The prophet Daniel taught that “[God] changes times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21). Daniel knew at his core uncertain times aren’t uncertain for God; they are scheduled.

As Christians, we need to be more like the Old Testament tribe of Issachar, described in 1 Chronicles 12:32 as a people who had an “understanding of the times.”

The world is changing, but, as believers, we are the ones most equipped to navigate the days ahead with competence and confidence in Christ.

Joshua Gilmore serves as the director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. Prior to serving at NGU, Gilmore was a youth pastor in the Chicago area, a professor and administrator at a small college of missions, and a music minister in New Jersey. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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