I one time slugged a boy when I was about 12 years old for snapping my back bra strap while I was taking a drink from a water fountain. He fell to the ground with a bloody lip and I got in trouble. I needed to. Some may not think so but responding with violence does not lead to a healthy or restorative relationship. I have regretted that moment most of the years since that time. Was his behavior wrong? Without question. Was he the victim of bullying himself? Without question. Had I stood up for him, ever? No. We were both wrong but responding with violence didn’t make it right. It didn’t heal the years of bullying for him, and it didn’t restore my loss of dignity or embarrassment. Those shaping moments only become lessons if we’re willing to allow them a greater perspective as we mature and deepen our complex reasoning skills.
Somehow we have reached a place of extremes in our nation, and this virus plus the ease of social media has simply magnified each extreme. There are state capitols where folks carrying weapons storm the building believing that is the most effective way to be in conversation with leadership about a disagreement in phased reopening. A young black man goes out for a Sunday run in broad daylight, wanders around a home under construction (something I’ve done in my neighborhood, btw) wanders back out to continue his run, clearly not carrying anything he would have stolen or a weapon, he is confronted and then shot to death. Store workers are spit on or actually licked for asking people to wear a mask when shopping or to stand 6 ft. away from the next patron. 100,000 deaths don’t seem like too many when none of them are “ours”, i.e., anyone we know or love or to whom we are related? September 11, 2001, 2,977 people died, and we still take off our shoes at airports without protest and no longer carry any liquids over 3.4 oz. or bring in our own water bottles from outside the security area, again without protest of our rights being taken away. I try and figure out why wearing a mask to protect other people is such a hot button. Why keeping a 6 ft distance from another person is such a controversial issue. Why churches choosing to follow a safe timeline for re-opening somehow invites folk to believe we do not see ourselves as “essential”? And how does being violent or angry or yelling hate-filled language at those with whom we disagree seem effective or helping a complex situation in any way?
I used to laugh at Regis and Kathie Lee when they would read newspaper clippings at the beginning of their show and then just look at each other and ask why everyone can’t just get along. I laughed because I knew it was too simplistic, but is it?
One of the things this virus has done is effectively illustrate that none of us has all the right answers all the time. There is flat out a need for in-person worship gatherings. There is a dynamic, an energy, a connection in community that CANNOT happen any other way. And I long for it, and hurt for it, and get no small amount of the color blue about not having it AND we must make the best decisions we can to first Do No Harm to one another. I’m guessing there may have been a few Johnson County folk at the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day, maybe or maybe not at the gathering in the masses at the resort shown. None of them may die. But maybe a few of them are asymptomatic and carrying the virus and stopped at a store on the way home and a person they passed walking in has COPD, or diabetes, or MS and that person was wearing a mask, but the asymptomatic Lake of the Ozarks visitor wasn’t. Maybe one of the folks in the pool without a mask went back to their hotel room and the housekeeper cleaning up the room has a child with leukemia at home and one of the little covid19 cells with the spikes transferred onto her clothes or skin and as diligent as she is to take off her work clothes outside the home, one of the spikes made its way to her nose or mouth before she got changed or showered and she unknowingly passes it to her child.
See it’s not about all those folks in the pool – they made their own decisions and can deal with the consequences – it’s a free country. But do our freedoms have any limitations if our decisions lead to the illness or death of others whom we will never know or meet? Maybe all those names on the front page and following of the New York Times on Sunday mean nothing to us if they aren’t our family members or a friend. I believe they mean everything to God – their names are known and will not be forgotten, their acts of courage and sometimes stupidity, their loves of family and friends and the loneliness they likely experienced as they passed from this life to the next. I believe God holds all of that as a gift and embraces them most tenderly. What I wonder is if God wonders why we don’t always do the same thing. I know we have to get back up on our economic, and educational, and social feet, I can feel it in my bones. But I also know God gave us brains and common sense and the challenge to mature as we experience what life throws at us. The church has not stopped being effective, or essential, or a foundational power in the world. Like everyone we are trying, and falling down, and getting up and trying again all kinds of new things and new ways of being in connection, sharing the good news of the gospel, and living our mission and God’s vision outside the walls of our buildings. We’re reading and listening and watching and assimilating new information and feeling low and feeling high and being confused and sometimes having moments of great clarity. And in the midst of it all, trying like crazy to hold the hearts, even from a great distance with people we don’t know and will never meet, holding the hearts of those who grieve most tenderly and through our prayers to give them strength and the knowledge that their loved one is seen and known and now held by God as most precious.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like child; when I became an adult I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, NRSV) Does being an adult in the faith mean putting others needs equal to and sometimes above our own? Even if we are not related to them by blood or DNA or nuclear chosen family? I pray we can disagree about many things without hate or malice or violent intent. I hope we can admit with great humility that none of us has all the right answers all the time, which means sharing information and being willing to change our minds when credible information leads us a direction we didn’t expect. I hope we think twice or three times before we pass on information that is inflammatory without checking the legitimacy of the source as much as possible. See? I’m filled with hope! I don’t think finally that pandemics are meant to be a political tool for anyone. I think when they happen we are invited and even called to work together, to see each other’s value even if we question their decisions, and to allow one another the space to grow and change and fail and learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.
The video today made me laugh and laugh. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the laughter as much and from as many places as possible! I think Mabel and Olive are my new virtual best friends!