“Jeff, I need you to put your salad down, go outside and look around. Take in what is happening right now. We need to evacuate. Now.” My wife, Sheri, was trying to be as calm as possible encouraging me to soak in the gravity of the moment.
I reluctantly set my Trader Joe’s salad on the counter top of our kitchen and stepped into the heat of a late Northern California afternoon. Our neighbors were gathering in the streets, pointing to the sky to the west. The so-called “Carr Fire” was out of control consuming everything in its path like the Biblical plague of locusts devouring Egypt.
“How did it get so freaking close, so freaking fast?” I exclaimed to no one in particular. The smoke-darkened sky looked angry as explosions of fire danced wildly sending plumes of smoke billowing like a chugging locomotive. “We need to get out, now!”
We had prepared for a potential evacuation earlier in the day, but we had little concept of how quickly this fire would spread. We had to move swiftly because our neighborhood, clearly in the path of this fiery beast, was being evacuated.
We hastily gathered a few things and stuffed them into our vehicles, our minds racing with images of what should not be left to be reduced to ashes. The streets quickly filled with vehicles, looking like the beginning of a demolition derby. The evening air was filled with the shrill cries from multitudes of sirens and horn blasts.
After creeping in traffic for about a mile, I impulsively pulled my truck off the road into a vacant parking lot and climbed out into the night. I could hear my wife pleading from an open window in her car now wedged in the bumper to bumper traffic. “You are NOT going back for your motorcycle, are you?” “Yes! I have to!” I yelled in what I realized must have sounded overly dramatic.
With that, I ran back to the house where I had to kick in a gate and a door to rescue my beloved Kawasaki Vulcan. My heart was pounding in my chest encouraging me to move faster as I could see the fire getting closer. My eyes filled with smoke as debris peppered my face while racing through the string of traffic and trying to avoid the oncoming emergency vehicles screaming past me.
I made it safely back to my waiting truck, secured my motorcycle and wedged my way back into the evacuating flow of traffic inching along. The sky behind me was shimmering in exploding fire light and around me was a combination of deck, dash and grille lights, light bars and other strobes and sirens screaming to effectively alert drivers to the present emergency.
I texted my girls to let them know I was back in my truck, then allowed my mind to calm. Then, these thoughts bubbled up as I posted on to Facebook (7/26/18, 9:31 pm):
“Update: we have been evacuated, chaos everywhere! Do you ever have that feeling that your life is about to change?”
Change comes to all of us. Nothing is as permanent as change. Sometimes it happens slowly, almost unnoticeably like aging; other times it is forced upon us. Change, like a wildfire out of control, can’t be stopped from happening.
The days to follow were very intense for all of us as we moved into my son’s home about 12 miles from the western edge of the fire. Our nerves tense and fear palpable as we stayed riveted to our cell phones trying to track the progress of the fire’s attainment.
A few days later, I posted again on Facebook (7/31/18, 8:27 am):
“We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new experience of being human.”
Even though this incident impacted our regional community, there is a greater fire burning and it’s impacting our global community. From the smoldering ashes, could this be the birth of a New Normal, or a New Renaissance (French: Rebirth)?
Can anyone disagree that we are in times of epic change? Considering that change is inevitable, it is imperative that that we learn to adapt to change. First, we must embrace the reality of what we are experiencing. Often, we need to grieve the losses as we process change. Then, we should allow one season to fade away as a new season is born.
Despite the fact that everything changes, God Himself declares, “I the Lord do not change” (See Malachi 3:6). This does not imply that God is stagnant, uncreative and archaic. In fact, the Scriptures introduce God as Creator, which denotes one who creates and initiates the principle of change.
According to King Solomon stated in his book of wisdom, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven” (Ecc 3:1). His words capture the spirit of change that is inherent in time. In essence, God’s purposes and activities in time are designed for seasons, which in turn require change. Change is the essence of life lived in time.
What about fire? A characteristic of fire, beyond its destructive, transformative capacity in its fuel-consuming fury, is its ability to refine and purify fine metals.
In the ancient text of the Bible’s book of Malachi, it is foretold of seasons where God’s movements among humanity would be like a “refiner’s fire.” “For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver” (See Malachi 2:17-3:6).
It does not say in verse 2 that He is like a forest fire, or like an incinerator’s fire. It says that He is like a refiner’s fire. A forest fire destroys indiscriminately. An incinerator consumes completely. But verse 6 says, “I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed—you are not destroyed.”
A refiner’s fire purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. God is like a refiner’s fire.
One thread of observation that weaves a fabric of unity among those who lose much to catastrophic events or sudden change: it is cleansing. The deep grief over loss slowly yields a burgeoning new beginning. The old normal yields to the new. There is an invitation to begin again—a Renaissance emerges.
The first Renaissance of the 14th century was a bridge leading humanity out of the Dark Ages and into the Modern Age. Most historians believe that the catalyst for this transformation was the horrors of death experienced in Europe due to the Black Plague. The agony and suffering experienced by all of Europe because of the Black Plague led scholars to begin to focus much more on how to improve life on Earth rather than on how to get into the afterlife, which had been the predominant focus of scholars during the Dark Ages.
A second and greater Renaissance is now beginning to emerge. This greater Renaissance is arising as creatives such entrepreneurs, artists, and theologians are joining together to re-discover ancient wisdom and reinterpret that wisdom into new, fresh, and creative ideas that will lead to an even greater cultural revolution than the first Renaissance.
This Renaissance, a New Normal, will be a bridge leading humanity out of the isolation of the Modern Age and into a Golden Age of harmony, prosperity, and community. Could this be what was expressed in the words of Jesus, “On earth as it is in Heaven”?
The first Renaissance arose out of the horrific ashes of the Black Plague. The second Renaissance is arising out of the ashes of a horrific existential crisis of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and depression that so often characterizes our modern culture.
I have come to rest in the sovereign heart of a loving and good Heavenly Father although it is easy to grapple with unanswered questions during turbulent times. Even though God doesn’t cause crisis events, He does seem to allow in His wisdom what He could easily prevent by His power.
One of my mentors, Dr. Mark Chironna summed it up thus, “In the pursuit of our life’s purpose, there will strategically occur a defining moment in the form of a refining crisis. In this refining crisis, God sets us free from confining limitations and empowers us to step into greatness.”
On a recent drive through the charred landscape of our once beautiful wilderness now resembling a burnt, shaved cat, my wife observed the flowers poking through the ashes. A New Normal is emerging.