Hello from the kitchen bar on the Acre,
I wish I had a magic wand like Harry Potter is able to carry, but if I did what would I do with it? What would be reasonable in this present situation? At what place, or specific point in time, do I wish I could go back and make it all different? Those sort of daydreams are exactly that: dreams of what if? I have noted before that there are people who wish they could go back in time and know what they know now. I have never really been one of those people, and I am not one now. In fact, I am content and happy that I am in my 60s. I know that my life has been blessed in a multitude of ways, and there is nothing more I could ask for. I think asking to live longer in this time is a bit crazy, in fact. I know that we have a tendency to see things in the past as nostalgic. We see or remember them as somehow better, as somehow more simple, less difficult, not necessarily easy, but somehow we imagine it was a better time. Again, I am not convinced there is truth in these statements for many of us, and yet, I find myself believing the same. I thought my time in high school was difficult at the time, but that was more because of home than school. I remember loving band, amazing classmates, walking the halls in the morning. I remember youth group and church activities. Later, I remember when I was first married and living in Omaha Village on the Dana College campus. I spent four days a week in Sioux City, my hometown, working as a parish worker at First Lutheran Church. When I came home late Wednesday night, I was tired. Thursday and Friday nights I picked up a couple of shifts at Pizza Hut out on Highway 30 in Blair. I made enough in those two shifts to pay for our groceries for the week. We had a two-foot square piece of particle board with 4 x 4 legs. I had put the legs on with a with a couple of nails (and I think we had a napkin under a leg to steady it) and it had a table cloth on it. That was our eating/dining table. A bowl of cereal and a small glass of orange juice was breakfast and on Saturday, before I returned to Sioux City, we would grocery shop and go to McDonald’s for breakfast. That was the treat of the week. It was a simple life, but I remember liking it and I still see it as one of the more important times I was married to Susan. We would leave after interim that year and I would resume my studies at Luther Northwestern Seminary. That time in OV was a pleasant time, even as I look back at it now. We had little extra (and often no extra) money, but we had what we needed.
There was a time I was in graduate school again (I ended up in graduate school on 5 different occasions to finish three graduate degrees, which says something about stubbornness), years later in Hougton, Michigan. I was working on my second Master’s/PhD, as a supported student, but with my Crohn’s diagnosis, and my need for my own things as a 40 year old, in spite of that financial support, I had a part-time (really full-time) job managing a restaurant, waiting tables and working as a bartender. Yet at one point, I was really struggling and I had to sell a guitar (my 12 string) and an amp to have enough money to pay for health insurance, car insurance, and other things. I have had people tell me that was crazy, but I had to do what was necessary. At another time, back in graduate school again, a divorce cost me almost everything I had, or had accumulated. While those times were difficult, I was fortunate, I had my schooling and a job. I could make it. Graduate school is about perseverance. It is necessary to be intelligent, but it is as important to be focused and simply keep working. At the time, I think I believed things were tough, but looking back, not so much. Yes, I had to sell some things to keep things in the house; yes, like toilet paper and food (not so different from now, surprisingly). I have more than what I need now, but life is not simpler. In fact, it is much more complicated, or so it seems. I know now, looking back, there have been times in my life where I was scraping a bit. I know that was the case even when I was small, but my parents never let us know if they worried. I know now that there are so many people who have less than I do. I am blessed beyond measure. As I have stated rather pointedly, in spite of all that is happening, I am at the most inconvenienced. Certainly as an immunocompromised person, I am at more danger than others. I know that with all the things we are warned of, I need to make good choices, but regardless all of this, I have so much more than others. This brings me to where this blog is pointed, or my intentions for writing to begin with. Where are we headed on the other side, if there is the other side of this? I do not mean that in an apocalyptic way, but rather, what does the other side look like? Will we ever be the sort of social creature we have been in future practices? What will a classroom look like? Will the days of concerts, sporting events, parties, celebrations ever be the same? If not what will we do to adjust? What will we do to manage? Will those, who are less than two, remember a time where people did not wear masks in public? Will we hug each other, shake hands, hold hands? What might it look like when two people wearing a mask want to give the other a kiss? What will our world look like? What will work on an assembly line or a plant require? Will taking a temperature before you can enter somewhere be a standard? Might you need some sort of health card to be allowed to enter certain public places? All of these questions are rattling around in my head.
This past weekend, while listening to the Reverend Merle Brockhoff’s remote church service, he noted the idea that a particular person, and I should go look it up, but I am being tired and lazy, believed that about every 500 years or so something occurs that is so cataclysmic it alters the path of human history, and what occurs so revises the world it cannot return to where it was before. Five hundred years ago, give or take a bit, a German monk, one who had studied to be a lawyer, had the audacity to question the powers of the time. Those powers were the Roman Catholic Church itself – a church that had power over taxes and death. One it collected; the other it presided over. Through 95 questions posted on a door of the Castle Church, Martin Luther changed humanity’s understanding of the world, but more profoundly, also of God. There was a reforming of humankind because there was a reforming in the very foundation of human thinking. Luther’s questions offered an opportunity to think about what people were willing to accept going forward. What were the other paradigmatic moments? Perhaps the time before, while not 500 years, might be the Norman Conquest of 1066. The 95 disputational questions of Luther were 503 years ago (at least this coming October). I think what is occurring now is a questioning of pretty much any structure that promotes a sort of top down, nationalism that has been around for sometime, but is a hallmark of the Trump Doctrine.
While this might sound like I am against capitalism, and thereby throw me into that socialist camp, let me state plainly, I am not against capitalism and the engine of ingenuity, or progress, technologically or otherwise, which create a better world. I am not against people being paid appropriately for their work. I also know there are a ton of questions about what all of that means. That is again, for another time. I am asking something a bit more simple, but also infinitely important. Step back and be honest with yourselves for a moment. I do not believe anyone in the top 1% is reading my blog; in fact, I do not believe anyone in the top 20% is reading this blog. If you look at the figures, the percentage of total world-wealth owned by the top one-percent is staggering. Again, I do not begrudge what they have accomplished. However, I might question the ethics of how it was achieved. If you believe for even a moment, the majority of them really care about you in the slightest, in some altruistic manner, we need to chat. Contact me and I will give you a cell phone number. What they care about is maintaining the position of influence. What they want from the remainder is that we buy into the mistaken notion they give a rip about us. If they can convince us of that, they have accomplished their task. The task: to remain in power and have us be content with the completely ludicrous notion of trickle-down economics, trickle-down justice, trickle-down fairness, or trickle-down opportunity. The one-percent population is so insulated from us, they have no idea what the common day struggle is. Does that sound a bit jaded? It does, and yet when I note I am blessed, I have completely bought into their desire for their world. I am happy; I am content. I believe I have made it. What happens is they are allowed to continue on as they have for most of history.
If I am correct, or even partially correct, I imagine this pandemic and what is happening scares a number of people. Who in particular? Those who are concerned about their wealth, their individual freedom, their ability to do whatever, whenever they want, and, on the other hand, those who have battled from the bottom as “the other” for generations. The NYT ran a story about Hazleton, PA, a town 40 miles from me today. It is a town where my Dominican family as I called them lives, or lived (some have grown and moved away). Their town epitomizes this struggle. I believe we are at another epic crossroads. This pandemic has laid bare (or for some at least, into the open the inequity of society on a broad range of issues.
I am not saying these are new things, but it is now more difficult to sweep them under the carpet. Let me begin in reverse of my list. There have been numerous news stories about how this virus has been particularly hard on the minorities in the country. Metropolitan areas, which are logically hard hit when something is contagious, have experienced incredibly higher statistical consequence from Covid than other groups. I am sorry, but 1,200.00 will not change their lives. It might allow them to go out and spend some money, but going out puts them at higher risk. That is a problem. Many of them are those needing to work and are taking the jobs necessary for us to go to our grocery stores or other places, but again, this puts them at risk. Many working in packing plants, and I worked at IBP at one point, or other jobs are showing up as places the number of cases reported are exploding. Just today I saw that the number of cases per 1,000 is the highest in the country in my own hometown. Yet, they have little choice in whether to work or not. Two of my current students are still here in Bloom because it is not safe for them to go home, which is in the PA town I referred to earlier. Then there are the folks who believe their individual freedoms are being unjustly or unfairly infringed upon by stay-at-home, safe-at-home, or any other edict that doesn’t allow them free reign. Demonstrating out of anger, with a gun to intimidate, is simply not something I can find much sympathy for. It is not about their frustration. I can appreciate their frustration. What I cannot abide is their vitriol that argues a simple-minded belief that is based on selfishness and anger. This sort of behavior has been witnessed before in both our own history (pre-Civil Rights and certainly as a type of behavior that I believe brought about the Civil War) as well as in Europe, and my own academic work and dissertation were about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, executed for his role in the plot to assassinate Hitler. The other day, an older high school classmate wanted to use Hitler as an example, as a comparison, for governors’ actions because the Federal Government left it to these same governors to make the decisions for which they are now being blamed. The audacity used in this administration to refuse to take any accountability is not comprehensible to me.There is little more I want to say, but before you want to merely brand me as a liberal hack. I am about as centrist as one can be. I have both conservative attributes (mostly fiscally) and more liberal attributes (mostly socially). Therefore, the extreme on either side causes me concern. I should note that I am not lukewarm, however. I would like to believe I am thoughtful and logical about things. Then finally, there are those who have worked hard, tried to play by the rules, put in their time. This pandemic has created an enormous burden on them. These are the small business people, the hardworking people who have worked more than one job, those trying to put their children through college. What is evident is pretty simple again. We were able to wipe out most of the stock market gains of three plus years in six weeks. What does that say? We managed to wipe out 11 years of job growth in two months. What does that say? It says the system as it is is precarious. It says most of what we think we have is merely a facade of security. I believe we are on the cusp of a new reformation. What does that mean? I am uncertain. I hope it is about justice; I hope it is about caring for all people; I hope it is a reformation that allows both for the individual to flourish, but a world that demonstrates care for both humanity and the globe we call home. While I am fortunate where I am, I know there are so many more than are not. In light of what I posted in the last blog and as we are trying to understand in this time, I offer this song that speaks to the inequity we all try to manage.
Thank you as always for reading. I have been humbled by the comments and responses. Again, thanks!