It has taken some time to gather my thoughts on the events from last week and so I took some time today to write some of them down:
As the C-19 lockdown continued, I expressed concern to a number of friends that people who have lost the means to support themselves and are forced to stay home may reach a point when frustration, despair, and anger boil over into violence in the streets. It only took a spark.
And in this case, it was a heinous criminal assault that ended in murder. Even though justice was swift, the act itself was enough to spark the violence. Now to be fair, many people took to the streets to protest peacefully. But like the action of this one pseudo-police officer, the stain of criminal activity tainted all the rest.
The headlines immediately pushed the racist angle, which was no surprise. And that is not to say there may not be elements of that in this particular case, but that will all come out in the trial. And prayerfully justice will be meted out.
And justice seems to be the main cry of the protestors and of those talking and tweeting and posting, though it is not clear what they really want. Amidst the poster board signs with their pithy sayings there has not risen an organized statement with clear goals leading to an actionable plan. There is much rhetoric about what has gone wrong, but very few strategies as to how to move forward with justice.
Justice. Many point to the Old Testament Prophets for guidance, and rightfully so. Their calling from God was, to put it mildly, impossible. And yet they labored daily in speaking the “Word of the Lord” to those who should have known better. Their history was built on the foundation of Abraham, Moses, Israel, and David. And despite their preaching and their grave warnings, the nation of Israel was divided and eventually overthrown. Justice was rendered, but not for the poor and the alien, their plight continued. From the poor to the powerful, they were all taken into captivity. God had certainly not forgotten them. He sent His prophets to communicate what was wrong and what was needed. But in the end, it was the nation who forgot God.
And as far as the Prophets, the One to whom they all pointed summed it up. Jesus said, “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.’” And as Jesus proclaimed the justice of God, it was meted out as a result of the greatest injustice, the most innocent Man crucified to provide justice to all who are guilty. And that justice is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God and to people.
People need forgiveness and reconciliation. And Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of the Prophets and Jesus to proclaim it knowing we proclaim it to those who are “not willing!”
I have been reflecting on our current circumstances with this virus and for what it’s worth, here are some of my thoughts. First there is a lot of good news that what we set out to do with sheltering at home has largely been accomplished. The goal was to “flatten the curve” so our healthcare facilities would have more time to ramp up with supplies and equipment as well as not overpopulating them so that people who require hospitalization care are not turned away. From all reports, that has not happened, and we have ample hospital space moving forward (for example, there is an empty naval hospital ship in NY harbor as well as an empty emergency hospital in the Javits Center). So again good news.
The dispute we now seem to be facing is largely regarding plans to come out of sheltering and returning to work, school, day care, delayed medical procedures, etc. And the issue seems to be the success of flattening the curve is no longer a good reason to begin resuming daily routines. So in an effort to maintain “shelter in place” it would seem plans may be morphing into an attempt to keep people, in general, from ever contracting the virus. But the problem with that is the virus is already out in the general population, meaning it cannot be stopped. And that needs to be the “new reality” that we all come to grips with.
The best we can do now is to keep sheltering the most vulnerable and encourage the majority of the healthy to begin returning to daily life so they can continue to be able to help. And yes, more people will get the virus, and yes more people will die from it, just as they will from every other cause of death. The point is we cannot prevent death (though this would seem to be the effort of some of our political leaders). The best we might accomplish by shelter in place is extending the time period in which people will be dying, but that is much different from preventing death. Again this is the reality we must all come to grips with. Some are also arguing that everyone shelter in place until a vaccine is available. First, there is no guarantee a vaccine will be available and second, a possible vaccine would still be about a year away. To suggest everyone shelter in place until then is not reasonable because other major consequences and threats to life are associated with that.
Again there is good news, we know the predominant way the virus spreads… physical contact, and we know how to prevent it… primarily keep your hands clean, which is what washing and personal distancing helps with, and keep your hands out of your face, which is largely what masks help with. And generally there is an extremely high recovery rate, so an overwhelming majority of healthy people who contract the virus will recover and have a natural immune response moving forward. So as a society and a country we have much to be thankful for even during heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. And as the Church we have been given ongoing opportunities in these circumstances to share the hope, peace, love, and life that come to us in Christ to those who are in fear of such things as death, and the loss that brings. May we be prepared with God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit, and in prayer to care for people as we begin moving forward and eventually away from this crisis.