Between Amens — A topsy-turvy world

Dr. Karen Shadle

My family and I have tried our best to follow CDC guidelines lately, but we have struggled with one recommendation in particular.

Did you know that the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend less than two hours of screen time per day? I am not proud to report that we dwarf that figure in my household. The challenges of recent months have led to way too much time with smart phones, video games and television.

In an effort to correct that imbalance, I recently started a mini-book club with my 11-year-old son in which we read and discuss classics. At the moment, we are finishing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and are finding it an excellent discourse on the current age.

After diving down the rabbit hole, Alice encounters many strange things: anthropomorphic animals, food that makes her grow and shrink, nonsensical competitions with no rules. At first, this distresses her greatly. At one point, she exclaims, “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change!”

But as her adventures progress, Alice’s strategy shifts. She learns to manage the altered reality and immerse herself in the bizarre logic of wonderland. She is able to communicate more effectively. For example, she befriends the Cheshire Cat and helps the Queen of Hearts’ subjects to avoid execution. After a while, she seems to enjoy her surroundings, strange as they may be.

We all can relate to Alice’s topsy-turvy dream world, because at times our own reality seems like nonsense. Things that used to be good are now bad. Don’t gather, don’t touch, don’t volunteer and don’t sing. We planned an event, but please don’t come. This sounds like something the March Hare might say. Derby in autumn? Absurd!

Wouldn’t it be nice for things to make sense for a change? In so many ways it feels like we are all guests at a very mad tea party.

In the Office of Worship, I often receive questions about how to adapt the liturgy during the pandemic. In almost every case, the typical logic of liturgical norms is useless. A mixture of creativity, reverence and common sense are needed to forge new temporary norms. “This would never be the case in usual times,” I find myself saying a lot.

As silly as the comparison to a children’s book may seem, I believe it is useful to find touchpoints in history and culture that help us process the psychology of today. I recently heard a homily from Father Gary Davis about the great Louisville flood of 1937. Few alive today remember that exceptional event, but the disruption it caused to everyday life in our region is similar to what we are now experiencing. I find these comparisons helpful, because they remind us that challenges — whether personal or societal — are not that uncommon at all. And we find a way through them.

The start of what will certainly be an unconventional school year is upon us. Things will surely get curiouser and curiouser. I hope that I can be like Alice, adapting and thriving in the face of a strange new reality.

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