Thursday, June 25, 2020

Covid Connections

By: David Shogren; reprinted with permission; printed originally for the Iowa Chapter MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) newsletter, Social Questions Bulletin (SQB) Spring 2020

This year has brought perhaps the most radical shift in multinational lifestyles since World War II as Covid-19, a novel coronavirus, erupted in Wuhan, China, population 11 million. The pandemic spread quickly and pervasively.
Hospitals were overwhelmed in Italy and New York City, hot epicenters with staffs stretched, protective equipment rare and thousands dead. Nations declared quarantine at varying rates as borders closed, mass transit stopped and economies crashed. Unemployment exploded with millions becoming food insecure. The USA provided emergency provision but big corporations and the rich always seem to receive lion’s shares of benefits.
The global imperative was to “flatten the curve,” slow exponential growth by sheltering in place so as not overwhelm hospitals and allow time to develop vaccines. The goal is “herd immunity” through vaccinations in affordable quantities, immunizing a majority when added to Covid-19 survivors hoped to have acquired antibodies preventing reinfection.

The church adapted as social gatherings became taboo. Concerts, sporting events, political rallies, mass transit and traditional worship in churches, temples and mosques were all eliminated out of fear, concern for the most vulnerable (elderly, persons of color, the poor or those with underlying conditions), and state mandate. Schools, colleges, churches, businesses, media; all were forced to work and socialize from a distance, in a new world of online platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime.
The dilemma facing the world until herd immunity is achieved is how to open economies/societies to minimize economic collapse, poverty and potential uprisings given an “acceptable” spike in mortality, especially of the most vulnerable (Darwinism). The dilemma facing MFSA and the church at large pits the survival of institutions, even those working for justice, against the risk of death for individuals as the human need for personal social contact eventually comes to the fore. What does justice mean in this trying time?

MFSA’s Organizing Principle (see page 4) applies here. In a sense Covid-19 has provided a unique perspective of, ”blest be tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” We have the opportunity in relative isolation to reflect on our mutual needs, wants and dreams, to realize more fully that we are all building blocks, all members of a common body, all united in love and bestowed with dignity by God’s grace. Many celebrated Holy Week and Easter in physical isolation from believers, a first as we worshipped together apart, boundary free via Internet.
Where are you most keenly feeling/yearning for a new day of justice and holy social action? The possibilities are many:

             Racism fueled by hate, irrational fear, too many guns, police power abuse and vigilantism flood the national consciousness, violence taking Black lives needlessly, continuously and murderously.

             The inequality of suffering as the virus is most deadly among the impoverished and persons of color. Native Americans on reservations with inadequate food, water and health care suffer from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory issues;  underlying conditions associated with mortality.

             The plight of “Essential workers” often treated as expendable slaves in packing plants, first responders, field workers, food servers, hospitals, delivery personnel, truck drivers, fire fighters, police, sailors at sea; all are put in harm’s way. Many receive minimum wage and are threatened with job loss, even if risks are high for workers and families. Many find it impossible to access unemployment claims as the system is overwhelmed with unprecedented numbers of desperate applicants. Immigrants are especially vulnerable to threats of deportation, thus fearful of protesting unsafe or illegal conditions.

             Economic injustice that even as stocks are bolstered, too many small businesses fail. Federal government has not developed comprehensive plans to protect citizens from disease and economic ruin, forcing states to compete for supplies and how to manage reopening. This all leads to predictably uneven results and likelihood of spikes in infections and deaths.

             The allure of myths and conspiracy theories challenging science and reason. Too many are questioning institutions, expertise, truth and the need to cooperate for the common good. Armed protesters invade capitols demanding early opening economies no matter the cost in lives. It is ironic that the very churches that deny full human rights to LGBTQA persons, most vocal in claiming “prolife” political positions, are all too willing to risk the lives of those they minister to in the name of financial and institutional viability.

This is not an exhaustive list but is adequate to give pause and move us to despair or prayer. Many feel overwhelmed in isolation by constant television news and social media. As persons of faith, let us gravitate toward prayer, spiritual discipline and social responsibility as the state opens and racism flares. Reach out to one another with calls, cards and letters of encouragement and guidance. Advocate with leaders in government and church for justice and compassion, truth and love. Read. Meditate. Laugh with those who laugh and grieve with those who grieve. Protest injustice safely.  Sleep and eat well. Exercise body, mind and soul. Set measurable goals for personal growth including social advocacy. File your taxes/census. Research candidates. Vote. Give if you are able. Pray… even with fasting.

Count your blessings. (One of mine is the safe arrival of grandson, Rory Dylan Shogren, born at home in San Diego in the midst of pandemic on April 25.) I extend my blessings to all as we endeavor to stay well and anticipate a joyful (virtual) fall gathering, God willing. Shalom. 

David Shogren is a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church who grew up on a small dairy farm near Lansing in Allamakee County Iowa. The Methodist Federation for Social Action and Board of Church and Society were affirming influences in developing his prophetic voice for social  justice, peace and environmental stewardship. In retirement Dave and Cherry enjoy spending time with their 4 granddaughters and new grandson in Des Moines and San Diego. He has been editor of MFSA's Social Questions Bulletin (SQB) for 2 years.

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