Love in the Time of COVID-19

Gentle Reader,

I stayed home from church today. I feel completely fine, but took the opportunity to get some extra rest as my pastor made the decision to cancel second hour discipleship groups (aka Sunday school). I didn’t have to be there to teach, or to do any administrative work, so it was sweats, a cup of coffee, and tuning into the livestream for me.

And you know what?

It kinda sucked.

I appreciate that my church streams its services. This has been important for me in the past, when I’ve been stuck at home for weeks at a time due to illness or surgery. But there really is nothing like being with people who have become part of your family. There really is nothing like hearing your voices blend in a not-always-pleasing harmony as you worship God together. I missed seeing my friends. I missed hugging my students and listening to them talk about things completely unrelated to the lesson I prepared.

So, I get it. Social distancing is annoying; who wants to remain six feet apart from friends and loved ones? Choosing to go beyond that and stay at home when you feel fine seems stupid. Go ahead and complain.

But do it.

Some of you want to roll your eyes and flip the bird at me. It’s no big deal. People are overreacting. It’s just the flu. I’ll do what I want.

And that, my friend, is unloving.

That, my friend, communicates to vulnerable people – those with underlying conditions that make catching “just the flu” far more complicated, the elderly, those without financial resources and medical insurance, and those with crap immune systems – that you don’t care what happens to them.

To us. Because I fall into that vulnerable category. My liver wants to kill me and my immune system sucks.

I know that I am responsible for taking care of myself. I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to hurt. I’m checking my temperature twice a day. I’m not hugging anyone. I’m allowing myself to take naps as often as I need to, because it’s vital that I don’t become run down. I’m drinking lots of water. I’m eating good foods. I’m figuring out a good exercise routine, because I need to stay active, but, again, I can’t become run down. As to going out in public, I’m taking that moment by moment, asking God to give me wisdom as to when to brave the wider world and when to stay tucked away at home. A lot of this, I do all the time, because I have to be vigilant; I can catch anything at any moment and be knocked down.

I’m not asking you to do any of this for me. I’m not asking you to bear a burden that is only mine to carry.

What I am asking of you is that you take a moment and think. While you may contract COVID-19, have a mild case and recover quickly, or even remain asymptomatic, that’s not the reality for everyone around you. By being flippant about it, you can easily spread the virus among people who are not as naturally equipped as you are to fight it.

That said….

Some of you are in panic mode and you’re buying very strange things in large quantities, like all the toilet paper in the land.

STOP IT.

Over-reacting, my friend, is just as unloving as under-reacting. Yes, it is good and wise for you to take care of yourself and your family. It’s not wrong to have some extra supplies around. But you do not need to hoard. Your hoarding means that the vulnerable population mentioned above does not have access to the things they need to take care of themselves.

Arrogance and ignorance are plagues upon our ability to love and reason well in the best of times. We cannot afford to indulge either during this crisis. Yes, it is a crisis. It may not seem so to you right now, but the truth is that our medical system is not equipped to handle hundreds of thousands of people flooding the hospitals, whether they actually have COVID-19 or they’re just afraid they do. If we do not all practice caution, we will end up as Italy is at the moment: doctors without necessary tools, leaving them in the anguished position of choosing who to treat and who to leave to fate.

It’s annoying and crappy and weird and unsettling. Nobody ever expects to live through a time like this. But if we all choose to exercise caution and love our neighbors, we can flatten the curve. We can get through it.

What does loving our neighbors look like right now?

  • Accept the fact that you won’t get to socialize as much as you like. It’s okay to feel annoyed or depressed about it while you process the situation. But you have to reach the point of accepting it, otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. Take it from one who’s been on medical house arrest before: it’s much easier to get through if you choose to look for the good and the joy, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do or have.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.
  • Check in on people, especially those who are vulnerable. A text or phone call means a lot to someone who’s worried or stuck at home.
  • Pray. For others. For yourself. Ask God for both peace and wisdom.
  • Listen to the experts. They actually do know more than you do.
  • If somebody needs soup or toilet paper or Oreos and you have some to spare, share.
  • WASH. YOUR. HANDS.
  • DON’T. TOUCH. EACH. OTHER.

Love is going to look a lot like common sense and compassion. It’s also going to look like making decisions you’d rather not make, like canceling group meetings and vacations. But that’s what the people of God do. We don’t just think of ourselves. We think of others.

With apologies and thanks to Gabriel García Márquez for the riff on the title of his novel,
Love in the Time of Cholera.

Five Minute Friday: Burden

Neighbor

Gentle Reader,

Attended my first homeowner’s association meeting last night.

Handy that that experience lends to a lot of thoughts around this prompt.

Kate says: burden.

Go.

Chris usually goes to the meetings because, honestly, I just haven’t cared to. As long as my neighbors keep their yards clean and are generally quiet (meaning no blaring music at midnight), then it’s all good. Do your thing. But Chris couldn’t go, and we got a passive aggressive letter from the HOA board in the mail that annoyed me, so I forced myself to remain in real pants past 6:30 p.m., signed myself in and sat at a table in a crowded American Legion hall.

The first hour-ish was boring. A lot of complaining about sprinkler systems that none of us have control over. Because Idaho is all about de-regulation, the designers of the neighborhood apparently didn’t have to file irrigation plans with the city, and some of the irrigation boxes are actually on private property, so a good chunk of them can’t be located by the landscaping company, who have been fired because of expenses, etcetera, etcetera. Riveting.

Then came the discussion about the people who have failed to pay their homeowner’s dues. As the young kids say, it was lit.

I get it. There are always going to be those who feel they are above the rules. They should be held accountable. Of course. No problem.

But what about those who experience sudden job loss? Idaho is a “right to work” state, so anyone can be “let go” at any time, for almost any reason. What about those who are sick and struggling to pay medical bills? If it were me, and I had to pick whether to pay the hospital or the HOA, I’m paying the hospital. What about those who have to choose between setting aside money to pay a yearly fee and using that money to provide for their children? The kids win, hands down.

So, I asked the board what the communication process looks like. I believe that we all tend to assume that other’s life experiences are much the same as our own. We theoretically understand that the poor are always among us, but we don’t always move from the theory to the reality. Does the board reach out to the individuals? Do they take the time to listen to the stories? Could we set up a separate fund that homeowners can voluntarily contribute to throughout the year to help cover shortfalls? Maybe that fund could function as a scholarship that those who are struggling could apply for?

Did you know that if you ask those kinds of questions, you are a socialist?

Jesus makes it super clear that loving others often entails coming alongside them, helping them shoulder burdens when appropriate and, if necessary, teaching and empowering them to make better choices in the future. We do exactly nobody any good when we sit there in our smug superiority and shame them. As if we are immune to sudden devastation! Any one of us can lose everything at any time. Nobody is guaranteed a trouble-free life. Nobody is even guaranteed the next breath.

I am weary of living in a culture, both secular and church-ly, that grows angrier, blinder and harder by the day. God, open our eyes to our selfishness. 

Stop.

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Where Has All the Conscience Gone?

Storm

Gentle Reader,

The view from my window is not a pretty one. The wind blows, pulling at the early summer roses, forcing them to release their petals. The sky darkens, clouds laden with rain and hail. The birds are silent, hunkered down in their nests, beaks tucked into their feathers. The roughly 2-foot scar on my abdomen throbs. A storm is brewing.

In 1955, Pete Seeger wrote the first version of the folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Penned just after the fall of Joseph McCarthy but before the United States became heavily involved in Vietnam, the lyrics are oddly prophetic, beginning with:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

And ending with:

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Indeed, when will we ever learn?

I am ashamed of this government, these people who call themselves leaders. They play politics while children scream and shudder, wondering if they will ever see their parents again. I am appalled by those who speak of immigration in cold and abstract terms, forgetting that there are real humans involved. I am angered by Christians who dismiss the immigrants, especially the children, who say “they aren’t ours to worry about.”

Jesus begs to differ.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:25-37 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

I am not a lawyer nor an expert in the law. I don’t pretend to be. I do know that legally emigrating to the United States is a far more difficult process than most of us realize. I do know that someone from a poverty-stricken country isn’t going to have thousands of dollars to go through the process (application fees, lawyer fees, travel costs; see this for an example). I do know that our government has contributed to the problems in Mexico and Central American countries via ignoring certain dictators because it benefits us, raising tariffs on goods, overthrowing the occasional president.

I do know that these people are our neighbors and they’re crying out for help.

Will there be some who manipulate the system? Yes. Does that mean you slam the door in everyone’s faces? No.

The United States isn’t a theocracy; we aren’t a Christian nation. But there are Christians living here and if that’s you, you can be sure that Jesus commands you to love your neighbor – all people, everywhere, sacrificially, all the time. It doesn’t matter if the immigrant who moves in next door is here legally or not. Our job is to love and serve.

Our consciences are seared on this issue. We think we have rights and privileges because of where we were born, rights and privileges that we must defend, at all costs, against “those people.” Well, “those people” are quite literally the same as us. Same biology, same aspirations, same needs. Why are we building walls – literally and metaphorically – when we are given no leave to do so in Scripture, which is supposedly our foundation for living? Why are we so desperate to cling to the passing, fading, identity of “nation” when we’re flat out told that we don’t belong here (see Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11)?

I’m hardly an anarchist. I believe in order. I believe in obeying the laws. I also believe that our allegiance is to God, over and above all else, and when the direction the country takes is contrary to His way, we stand up, say so, and tenaciously stick to His path. Our ancient brothers and sisters did so when they refused to worship the emperor of Rome and when they rescued babies left out to die in the cold. Our brothers and sisters living in the shadow of the Third Reich did so when they hid Jewish people and helped smuggle them out of the country. They saw the evil for what it was. They didn’t attempt to defend or justify it.

It’s time for us to let go of the illusion of the United States as morally superior and innocent. We aren’t. This country is just like any other throughout history. Good and bad, bright and blight. We aren’t special. We aren’t unique. Right now, we horrify people around the world. This “zero tolerance” policy is wrong. Refusing to really do anything about it – all parties are guilty of this – is wrong.

Christian, you and me have to face this. We have to stop making excuses and we certainly, definitely, absolutely have to stop twisting and abusing Scripture the way Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in his attempt to justify separating families at the border. We have to get real and stop believing that any political party – GOP or otherwise – is the “party of Jesus.” When our government does something wrong, ours should be the voices raised the loudest, speaking truth and defending those harmed by the action. We need to recognize lies we’ve believed and reject them.

We can – and should – care about all those who are marginalized: the children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the immigrants. We must use our privilege wisely and effectively. We were once the children and time will make us the elderly. We are all one disaster away from becoming the poor, the disabled, the immigrant.

God loves them, just as He loves us. Jesus died for them, just as He died for us.

We are all the same.

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Five Minute Friday: Turn

Us

Gentle Reader,

What is that? That glowing, bright thing in the sky?

The seasons don’t change so much as dramatically appear one day. Of course, tomorrow I could wake up to six inches of snow. North Idaho is certainly a “Well, do you feel lucky?” kind of place when it comes to selecting outfits during springtime. Sweaters in the morning, t-shirts in the afternoon, flannel pajamas at night.

Went for a walk with a friend this afternoon. Her almost 8-week old baby is not quite sure how to be a human being yet and definitely didn’t know what to make of the glowing sky-ball. Squinty side-eye in the extreme, yet covering her face resulted in squawks of protest. I think it must be difficult to be a baby and have all these new experiences and stimuli flung at you all the time.

Kate says: turn.

Go.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Matthew 9:35-38 (NKJV)

Weary. Skýllō. “To skin, flay; to rend, mangle; to vex, trouble, annoy; to give one’s self trouble, trouble one’s self” (Thayer’s). The people were raw, like the juicy skin that’s exposed upon popping a blister. They were annoyed and troubled. Some had brought the pain upon themselves.

And Jesus had compassion on them.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Compassion for someone with cancer, sure. For someone who lost a job, yes. Compassion for the drug addict? The chronically late? The one who is simply different?

Jesus is no doormat, nor does He enable anyone to continue on in bad habits (sometimes sin, sometimes just stupidity). He doesn’t ask anyone to ignore anything. What He does ask of us is far more difficult than our natural desire to distance ourselves from the smelly, the foul-mouthed, the troubled. He asks us to do as He does. And what does He do?

He gets up close. Personal. He never compromises truth but it never flows from His lips in tones of spite or pride. He heals. He listens. He loves.

Not just the people who love Him back.

Even Judas, the one who betrayed Him.

Really, they all betrayed Him.

Make you think, doesn’t it? A whole world of people outside our doors, aching for love and truth, even if they won’t admit it. People God is drawing to Himself.

People just like you and me.

Because our sins might be prettier, easier to hide, or socially acceptable – but they still required His blood.

How can we not have compassion on them, who are us?

So turn, we must, from building walls and toward them from whom, in our pride and fear, we would escape. We are the Jesus-people, the ones who claim to know something. The knowing is not enough. The knowing must move to the doing, to the embracing, to the preaching. We are the sheep who know the Shepherd. We must tell the weary, scattered ones – even the ones who have troubled themselves – where the safe pastures are. This is our duty.

No, it is our delight.

Stop.

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