Good early morning,
At this point, that greeting might be the only consistent thing I am able to write in this latest blog. I am often up early, and I have been awake for the better part of an hour (it is 4:50 a.m.). Presently, I wonder what to read or how many sources to read if I am to ascertain the truth of our daily world’s situation; I listen to both the talking heads and people I trust to make sense of our current reality; and, perhaps most importantly, I work diligently to think and analyze what seems prudent in terms of what to do or not to do, especially given my own health situation. All of this is the way I attempt to manage most aspects of my life. It is logical for/to me and generally, it works. However, in the moment (as my Dominican friends are wont to say), there seems to be less we can depend on as logical and more and more , which might, could, or should be deemed the “Theater of the Absurd.”
From the entrepreneurial jerk who stockpiled 70K worth the Purell hand-sanitizer, to a stolen truck found in North Carolina in the last two days with 18,000 pounds of bathroom tissue in spite of our unprecedented global health crisis (I think they both deserve the moniker of selfish-ass), it appears we need to step back and breathe and think. Contrary to the naysayers, and some are people you would think should know better, this health situation, which I imagine would bring back memories of things like polio, smallpox, or typhus to our ancestors, is serious. It is the most troubling and deadly, at least in my life time, and certainly since our global inter-dependence has been so prominent. The important part of this understanding is we are dependent, and whether or not we want to admit it, that has never been more important to admit than now as we attempt to respond to this global crisis. I believe it is a catastrophic emergency of epic proportion. Why? Because the way we respond together now sets the standard for what we will do in the future. We can create borders; we can attempt to build walls; we can start trade wars; we can blame others for our problems; we can belittle anyone who disagrees with us; we can call others names, but we cannot manage this virus on our own. The longer we travel down that path, whether it is in our own neighborhood, community, state, or nation, the more we play into the misguided belief that somehow our own humanity is different or more valuable than the humanity of another, the more likely we are to suffer devastating consequences across all sectors or elements of our human community. This is not socialism to those who want to argue such a ludicrous notion; it is common decency. It is biblical for those who want to argue from some misguided Christian perspective. If you are unsure check out Matthew 25.
While I am self-quarantining quite well over the least three or four days, I have made the necessary trips to the grocery store and pharmacy. I am working from home on my students’ concerns and managing my classes, but simultaneously helping Anton as he prepares to return to Denmark, albeit almost 2 1/2 months early. This has been difficult for both of us, and I will admit tears on both sides of that relational equation. He is such an insightful person. The other day we went for a walk and I asked him about the differences between 17 year olds in Denmark and here in North Central PA. He said that it seemed they are allowed to grow up sooner in many ways in Denmark. Yet on the other hand, the friendships he has developed here are very different, more thoughtful, intentional, and significant (those are my words, but what I believe he implied). He said the difference was because of the involvement in extracurricular things, which they do not seem to do as much in Denmark. He noted that some of the friendships here are beyond anything he had back in home. It is really gratifying to see how many people want to be around him (in spite of the current situation) before he leaves. I have heard people’s names from time to time, but it seems he has influenced a number of people. I know that he has influenced and helped me in a number of ways. I have learned so much through, and because of, him.
What is important in this preceding recounting of Anton goes way beyond the two of us. It is a cross-cultural education that has changed my life for the better. What can we do to make each other more comfortable with whom we are, while teaching us to simultaneously move beyond ourselves? While I was frightened when he first came, the first weekend went well. I was worried I would not be understanding or accepting enough, I have learned that I could have been a good parent; at least it seems so. I have learned that I do not need to holler or make noise, I merely need to be consistent and caring. I need to be trustworthy and supportive. I need to listen and allow him to speak and ask questions (which he is really good at doing). I once said to him that I treat him much like I do my students, even though he is still in high school. Yet he has never once failed to show he can be trusted. The lessons I have learned with him are what we need to do on a larger scale. Yesterday the question was asked “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?” Instead of being the “Comforter in Chief,” which is often what the President is called upon to do, he responded. “I say that you are a terrible reporter; that’s what I say . . .” Are you kidding me?? Enough! Stop! No more disrespect from anyone or toward anyone. Peter Alexander, an NBC reporter for 14 years who has international awards for journalism, asked a rather benign and easy question to help the President if anything. The response is uncalled for; it is juvenile; it is beneath of the Office of the President, and rhetorically it has no reasonable strategy whatsoever. When people are scared they need to hear words of assurance, words of hope, words of reason. I have listened a number of days to the briefings from our nation’s Capitol. The rhetorical bullying, incredibly poor speaking style, and restating the same point four or five times with just a different adjective or adverb is appalling to me. I do not believe this man is stupid. He would not be where he is. He would not be the business person he is; he would not have managed to get elected, regardless the popular vote; he would not have managed to escape all of the things he seems to escape if there were not some intelligence in there. I am not saying I like his methods, his values, or his morals, but he is certainly capable of landing on his feet in spite the odds.
What I find problematic is his attitude. It is the basic way he treats other people. I remember when I was first coming to be a pastor 30 years ago. I was asked about my understanding of prelation and liturgics. That was a strange question on a couple of levels. I was not sure I understand the idea of prelation, but I figured it out from the context. The bishop wanted to know how I understood worship and how my ideas as a Midwestern boy would fit with the higher-church practices of Eastern United States Lutheranism. I remember after understanding the question and the context, saying something to the effect of “If I have not appreciation for their tradition, they will not appreciate me.” That was an important understanding; even more than I realized. While I am not downplaying the potential economic cliff this situation is creating (because that takes a profound toll on people’s lives also), but this is first, and foremost, a health issue. We need to understand the health needs of the public and as a country (and states should try to cooperate), the Federal Government has a duty to its people. In 2010, the National Institutes of Health did a workshop series on the role of the Federal Government in times of crisis titled “Crisis Standards of Care.” To be sure, finding the balance between the role of the Fed and the ability of states and local municipalities is contentious, but there seemed to be strong agreement on one point. “On the practical end, there was a widespread call for the federal government to perform a role as “chief information coordinator” on the topic of crisis standards of care. Federal or national involvement would also provide a level of legal, societal, and practical protection that cannot be achieved at the lower levels of leadership. Many people at the workshops noted that there may be some issues for which federal or national involvement is the only practical choice. ‘There are people all across the country and states, at county and other facility levels, who really are kind of reinventing the wheel,’ said Tia Powell, a bioethicist and Director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Bioethics and of the Einstein Cardozo Master of Science in Bioethics Program. She added, “They are ‘starting all over again, trying to do the literature search and figure out what’s going on. It’s an enormous investment of time and manpower across the country when in fact there are scholars who at least have some of that information as ready knowledge'” (US National Library of Medicine). I believe for too long we have believed the Atlantic and Pacific serve as a protective moat around us. We can merely pull up our drawbridges and protect ourselves. That sort of head-in-the-sand mentality has really never worked, and it certainly will not work now. I am an immunocompromised person because of my Crohn’s diagnosis. The long-term consequences that have manifested themselves (e.g. diabetes, dehydration, kidney failure to name a few) have made me a prime candidate for this virus. I have students whose parents are also struggling. And yet, I am so blessed to be able to sit at my kitchen counter and do my job.
At what point do we realize we are in this together as a human species. This is not about borders, race, gender, age, faith, or any other humanly identifying standard. It is about being human. Plain! Simple! It is about working together. If that requires a directive from Washington, so be it. I understand growing up with the idea of the individual. I understand the idea of not liking be told what we should or shouldn’t do, but I think it is time to think beyond ourselves. This is not political it is about humanity. I am blessed that it seems Anton might be here a bit longer, but all in all, I am ready to work with or together in whatever way I can. I have had a wonderful life. I merely want others to have the same chances I have (or even more). I wish each of you safety and health. This past weekend, one of the more amazing vocalists (narrative crooners) of my life passed. I live you with this. Somehow I do not believe it is time to gamble, but perhaps the advice is well taken.
Thank you as always for reading.