Bureaucracies in all forms, shapes and sizes have one thing in common, they try and control variables. I don’t think it matters if you are speaking about the federal government or your local city council or, for that matter, your congregational governance, if there is a bureaucracy it has a set of parameters and objectives which give it purpose. They have a specific goal in mind for the organization and a big part of what they must do is control all the variables that might impinge upon that goal.
By and large they work quite well. They establish for us a normalcy allowing us to live and move with some sort of reliable outcome. We can predict to a certain degree how our days will play-out because there is a system that has established the flow of such days and because we desire the same general goals, we rarely create variables outside the common goal.
A few examples might look something like this: A church council enables us to plan our Sundays and structure a life of faith where there is a certain predictability of receiving the gifts of Christ and being strengthened by the fellowship of the faithful. That works well. It is reliable for the greatest number most of the time. The city establishes traffic patterns and law enforcement protocols, governs building codes and seeks to care for the environment of the citizens. Our federal government governs international commerce and defends the interests of our citizens while protecting us from foreign enemies. The difficulty arrives when the bureaucracy comes face to face with a variable it cannot control, something not only unpredictable but untamable, such as a novel coronavirus. This one thing sends the whole house of cards tumbling down or at least scrambling in a panic mode.
This is where the whole “new normal” rhetoric disturbs me. It is not something that bubbled up from the citizens and slowly became a common phrase to describe life in a post pandemic America. If that were the case it would just be called “normal.” No, it is a description used by the bureaucrats themselves. Instead of speaking about their own failure and their own missteps to control the variables, they have instead reached out to control far more than they ever did, and then they branded it as the new normal. Is it normal to go to Lowe’s and see everyone in a face mask? Normal to wait in line to get into the grocery store? Normal to never engage with strangers while sitting at a bar? Normal to participate in church from your living room? Normal to refrain from shaking hands and giving hugs when you greet a friend? According to all levels of current bureaucracy it certainly appears to be.
This is the premise we must reject. To take up the description and use it ourselves is to shift the game, to turn everything upside down. Instead of the bureaucracy rendering service to the whole, we become the rats in the maze the bureaucrats lay out. We hide when they tell us to hide, wear what they tell us to wear, engage the way they want us to engage, and concede that anything else ought to be branded as selfish. But we do not have to use this description. We do not have to play their game. Let us stop saying, “New Normal.” We can stop running the maze and take off our masks anytime we want.