There’s a New World Out There

23 Apr

Blog # 75—There’s a New World Out There

I believe there’s a new world out there, and if I were younger, I would be raring to participate in it. When I say “out there,” I’m referring to my being cooped up by the pandemic— separated from the world around me for more than a year. Radio, TV, and newspapers have truly been my window to the world these past months.

I say this world is new, because it is full of possibilities for change. The zone of possibility is where God is to be found. Almost one hundred years ago, theologian Paul Tillich used the term Kairos to describe moments in which important change is possible. It’s a biblical term that refers to moments in which God is initiating change. Kairos calls for action; if we don’t act appropriately, the moment will pass, kairos  will go unfulfilled.

This new world is exciting, but also fraught—with possibilities that are full of promise, but also require hard work and breaking with old patterns of living. When the world teeters on the brink of newness, there also lurk struggle, danger, and conflict, because there are always people and forces who oppose change.

I’ll itemize the realms of newness and possibilities that occupy my attention. Look around you and put together your own list. Some of my items are graver and more significant than others—although all the changes are important for the people who are directly involved.

”Virtual” Reality. We’ve learned these past months that “virtual” can be “real”—and sometimes  more satisfactory than “in person.” (Notice that a new vocabulary of terms has emerged to function in a new world.) I learned this week that the school where I taught for over forty. years has had such good experience with Zoom that it may move a major portion of its program into the “virtual” realm. Some universities and seminaries have already been doing this.

Patterns of Work. My daughter, a social worker for the state of Kentucky, has been working at home for months. She has been informed that she will continue thus  indefinitely. Her daily routine has changed  accordingly. Her experience is so common that office  buildings in downtown Chicago and in other cities show many vacancies—or present tenants are subleasing to others. The “style” columns of our newspapers report on the fashion and cosmetics changes among women who now work largely from home, as well as those who wear masks.

Relations between the Races. Nowhere are the possibilities of change more present than in race relations.The pandemic revealed how our society works against black and brown people. “Systemic racism” has entered the conversation. Unfortunately, the term is also taken up into the culture wars, to mean that everyone is racist. That’s a misinterpretation. Systemic racism refers to the basic structure of our society. Systemic racism is not asserting that all people are racist, but rather that our societal system is.

Even those who have managed to shake off the evil of racism nevertheless participate in mechanisms of society that exert racist pressures. Even as unaware children, we may have attended schools whose districts were prejudicially drawn. We went to colleges and universities that were cocoons of white supremacy, or that even owe their existence to the institution of slavery. We might welcome interracial diversity, but we earned our living in and we’re consumers of companies and institutions that did not—or that tolerate blacks only if they behave “white.”

Our system of policing is deeply involved in issues of race. Changes will be very difficult, but we have the possibility of radically reshaping our institutions of police work.

The president of the United States speaks about systemic racism. For Fox News commentators, the term is “un-American.”  This means that the post-pandemic world has reached an inflection point—the conversation is changing.

It will be difficult. Americans have to re-learn their history. On the one hand, we want to honor our nation and its founders and pay tribute to the possibilities they set in motion. On the other, we must recognize that they built the nation on racist institutions—supporting slavery and other forms of discrimination. Two years ago, teaching this “critical race” theory was banned in some places. Nations have notorious difficulties in acknowledging the negatives that their national myths omit. Japan, China  and Turkey are examples. Germany is one of the few that has re-written its history.

Attitudes toward Essential Workers. Before the pandemic, we spoke of “essential” workers only in war time. Now we know how dependent we are all the time on people who, working largely behind the scenes, do the basic  work that makes our lives possible. Post-pandemic, we are aware that these workers are exposed to risks that the rest of us can avoid. And they are underpaid. Their wages do not reflect how important their work is. They are called “heroes,” but they do not receive heroes’ pay. 

The possibility for real economic justice confronts us here. Where would any of us be without essential workers? During the pandemic, the inequality gap became even wider. It is estimated that the “haves” increased their wealth by $400 billion dollars. Yet Congress vetoed a proposal to give unemployed persons $400 per week.

These zones of potential change, where new possibilities open up, could result in a radical re-shaping of American society. God is present, supporting action that results in more just and equitable ways of guiding our society.

Where do you see Kairos zones today?

(c) Phil Hefner.     4/23/2021

2 Responses to “There’s a New World Out There”

  1. Liftthescreen April 26, 2021 at 11:47 pm #

    I appreciated your blog post.
    One thing you might want to comment on in future is the effect of the pandemic on women, including the “she-cession” — the reality that most of the people laid off in the pandemic were women, especially black women. A huge number of women felt they needed to drop out of the workforce because of childcare constraints due to school closings. I understand that there have not been this few women in the workforce for 30 years. Also, rates of domestic violence increased during the pandemic, and women had fewer escape routes.
    Is there a kairos moment here for women?
    Laura Gottardi-Littell

  2. Liftthescreen April 26, 2021 at 11:52 pm #

    Great point, Laura—add this to the list.

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