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Creating the new normal - can we be better for each other?

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What will the “new normal” look like when this is over? How can we become a better and more just community after this pandemic?

/Grand Valley State University

We welcome back to this column Kevin McIntosh, as we continue introducing you to some of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute staff. Kevin joined GVSU in 2017 as the coordinator for interfaith resources at Grand Valley. He works with the Kaufman Institute to coordinate the interfaith interns at other colleges including Calvin University and Hope College. Kevin also works closely with the Interfaith Youth Core on various projects including an annual training session for interfaith leaders from various Michigan campuses. He received his Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School.

We have been in quarantine for over 40 days. This makes sense because the word quarantine comes from the Italian words quaranta giorni which means forty days. It has been a difficult time for many of us. And while there have been disruptions everywhere, for those of us in higher education, it has completely transformed our campuses. 

In just a couple of days, universities around the country transitioned to remote learning, residence halls normally filled with students lay dormant, and graduation, the hallmark of the academic year, was delayed and/or went virtual. Outside of academia, these past 40 days have caused more disruptions in our routines and have made many of us wonder when this will end and when we will go back to normal.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, the general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s Board of Church and Society, remarked that “COVID-19 has upended our routines and exposed the horrible injustices in our world today. We are called to build a new normal where everyone is protected and safe and healthy and has an opportunity to flourish.”

I have gravitated toward this call for a new normal and have been thinking about how we will change when we end our social distancing and return to the restaurants, colleges, work places, gyms, and other places that make up the fabric of our society. Now you might ask, why do we need a new normal? Some might be yearning for a return to March 22, right before the stay-at-home order took place. For me, COVID-19 has shone a light on many of our injustices in society. Issues such as homelessness, food insecurity, and health care have risen to the forefront of our minds. 

In the past month, a glance at social media can show you the horrors and the wonders of society as we think about the new normal. We have seen people brawl over toilet paper, get angry at cashiers because supplies are out of stock, and hoard essentials like hand sanitizer.

But at the same time, we have seen the generosity of our neighbors: chalk messages outside Spectrum Health and other displays thanking our health care providers; restaurants like Garage Bar and Grill giving out free food to folks who have been laid off or furloughed; and our local houses of worship and congregations creating new ways for us to build community while socially distancing. I hope that we are more like the latter examples than the former, and that we continue to do innovative things so that we can be better together.  

In my tradition, Jesus has always called us to create a new normal. As a first-century Palestinian Jew, Jesus radically called for the inclusion of all people to make sure that we were tending to the “least of these.” Jesus broke norms and sat with the powerless, the outcasts, and the outsiders. This radical figure pushed back against those in power and those abusing their privileges. He questioned those who didn’t want to help the other and was willing to be there with his friends during their grief.  

How will you answer this call to help the least of these? How will you lend a hand during these times? It could be donating food to a local pantry, giving funds to domestic violence shelters, or just by calling someone you haven’t talked to for a while. Kaufman Interfaith Institute has numerous ways people can give back locally, as described on the front page of our website,

I pray that this pandemic ends soon, but I also hope we don’t return to the status quo. The world has changed and shifted. Just like the work of Jacob A. Riis, a photojournalist who first revealed the life of the poor in New York in the 1880s, allowing the way for social reforms, this virus has shown the injustices that have always been around us.

Philomena V. Mantella, president of Grand Valley State University, recently wrote, “Every massive upheaval in our society has brought learning, wisdom, and invention. This will be no different. There will be a ‘new normal’ for sure, but it will be an amplification of much of what we already knew was our work ahead.”

What will we learn, invent, and inspire to be after this? 

Laura Kelly Fanucci, a Christian author, wrote a viral social media poem looking at what happens next. She writes:

When this is over,

may we never again

take for granted

A handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the store

Conversations with neighbors

A crowded theatre                                                                                                                    

Friday night out

A taste of communion

A routine checkup

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.


When this ends,

may we find

that we have become

more like the people

we wanted to be

we were called to be

we hoped to be

and may we stay

that way – better

for each other

because of the worst.

I echo her prayer; I hope that when this is over, we have become better people. I hope we have deepened our relationship with our neighbors, and remembered that how we treat “the least of these” shows how we treat everyone.  

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