Change usually happens slowly over time. Television moved gradually over seven decades from three black-and-white channels operated by a knob on the front of the 20-inch TV and received by ‘rabbit ears’ on top to high-def color streaming over the internet operated by remote control. Telephone service was once a black phone hard-wired to the wall with a rotary dial that connected to the other phone through an operator (yes, that’s what the zero once represented) to a device that fits in your pocket, goes anywhere, and has more computer power than a room full of the early computer systems.
Such incremental, step-by-step changes are much more easily accommodated than sudden shifts. Organizational change is difficult and almost always needs to take place incrementally so that those affected can adjust to one change before another is thrust upon them.
When change takes place too rapidly, disequilibrium occurs. When disaster strikes, those affected undergo immense changes that “throw them for a loop” as my Mom would say. Where does one begin and how does one adjust when home is destroyed, belongings are gone, and everyday routines of job and school no longer exist?
2020 has confronted us with multiple paradigm shifts. The concept of “paradigm shift” entered our conversation in the early sixties. It refers to a fundamental “change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.”
The political environment underwent a paradigm shift in 2017 with the inauguration of President Trump. We were suddenly confronted with a President who did not act or speak as did his predecessors, and with an opposition party that claimed itself “the Resistance.” We had a Congress that seemed incapable of legislating, exacerbated in 2018 by the House going Democrat.
The country seemed unable to accommodate these sudden changes. Then came COVID-19. The pandemic overlaid the political miasma and worsened it. The swine flu in 2009 and ebola in 2014 would prove to be puny compared to the juggernaut of COVID-19. No living American had any experience to prepare for the impact of this novel virus.
Suddenly – yes, suddenly – we were being asked to make huge adjustments in conducting our everyday lives: stay inside, don’t go near other people, when you’re out wear a mask, etc., etc. Schools closed, businesses shut down. Those whose jobs did not permit remote work lost employment. It was as if Hurricane Katrina struck the entire country.
And then – protests, civil unrest, BLM, Antifa, counter-protests, etc. etc. Rampant wildfires in the West. Hurricanes and tropical storms along the Gulf Coast. COVID cases rising and falling amid arguments over fatality rates and the risk of opening schools, restaurants, etc.
Against this backdrop, federal Election Day is three weeks away; over 5 million votes have already been cast. And did I mention that we have been arguing about HOW we vote?
2020 has confronted us with multiple paradigm shifts!
In times like this, people of faith turn to their faith for confidence and assurance that God will provide their needs. But among the challenges of 2020 has been the reality that recharging one’s spiritual battery through corporate worship has suddenly changed, too. For weeks, it was forbidden altogether. Now, in places where corporate worship is occurring, it is a far different experience due to face masks and social distancing.
Worship is undergoing a paradigm shift. We do not yet know what the eventual outcome will be. But the unease brought on by the incremental changes of the recent past – what music we sing, whether we sing from a book or a screen, e.g. – may pale in comparison to post-COVID worship.
Our consolation is this. Amid change, whether sudden or gradual, we have these assurances:
“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are never consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22)
I sing, “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”