In this time of confusion and crisis, we are faced with difficult choices — and great opportunities.
told by Deborah
“Oh, My people! My people. My people. Your ways and your deeds have brought this upon you. This is your punishment; how bitter it is, because it pierces to the heart!
“My anguish, My anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the ache in My chest! My heart cries out within me. I cannot be silent, for I have heard the sound of the trumpet, the call to arms. Disaster after disaster is proclaimed: the whole land laid to waste. My houses destroyed in an instant, My curtains in a moment.
“How long must I see the signal flag and hear the sound of the trumpet? For My people are ignorant and neglectful, refusing to listen to Me. They are foolish children, devoid of wisdom and understanding: clever at doing wrong, unwilling to do what is right.”
Anyone who has attempted to render into English what has been said in a foreign tongue knows that some ideas and concepts can be “lost in translation.” It happens even when we speak the same language. Imagine the possibilities for confusion in Divine-human transfer! But this passage has the particular force and passion of direct dictation. It is quite unlike the Jeremiah we know so well, the angry prophet who specializes in scolding and condemnation. In the midst of predictions of coming disasters we hear a grief-stricken cry of love and desperation:
“Oh, My people! My people. My people. My heart is breaking for you!”
These are words of empathy and compassion; not a cold, harsh judgment, but a sharing of the suffering soon to come. It is the voice of One whose heart is hurting. The Beloved is witnessing, in shock and despair, what His children have done with the gift of Free Will: a terrible tragedy they have brought on themselves.
Despite it all, God does not and will not forsake them, but groans in disappointment, grief, and — at the same time — affirming the enduring connection. It is the scream of a loving Parent seeing precious children come to harm: “Oh, My people!”
Long before the advent of our Lord Jesus, God was present with us, walking with us, speaking to us, trying — passionately, anxiously — to communicate the fact of Divine love, and warning of the terrible results of human confusion and misconduct.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
~ Micah 6:8
God has not forsaken us, but is walking alongside us — and, through the power of prayer and faithful care, working alongside us, as well. And, as we have often been told; we know what to do … in a general way. But things have gotten complicated: unforeseen circumstances have arisen, never-before events are occurring. When there is no predictable result, no clear answer, what shall we do? How shall we decide what is right?
The answers will not leap up into our arms; there is no simple solution, no response that will not be costly. Our choices demand courage and self-sacrifice of one sort or another. These are frightening times, confusing, uncertain — and yet they might be Our Greatest Hour. We, particularly as Christians, are being called to give faithful witness.
A crucial concern is the focus of those who are authorized to decide what course we, the people, are to follow. Never has it been more clear that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” (Or where/how you live, more accurately.) Most notably, for me, was the recent campaign to order meals on-line from local restaurants.
Now I’m a big fan of several of our local cafes, and certainly want the best for the owners and their staffs. But this disturbed me. For one thing, no matter how many orders are received in a single day, there won’t be enough to sustain the businesses for a potentially months-long closure. Neither will it provide for the waitstaff or the back-kitchen help (dishwashers, cleaners), or bartenders, nor the linen supply company, parking attendants, etc. Additionally, why has this category drawn particular interest? Are our politicians genuinely concerned about the livelihoods of the owners and employees — or their own bellies? Are they worried that their favorite restaurants won’t be there when all this is over?
And, of course, it is a question we must ask ourselves, too.
Who do we care about — and why?
How deep is our understanding and our compassion for one another?
We have been ordered to shut down our communities: shutter our schools, senior centers, barber shops, fabric stores, and Starbucks; to close up every hair salon, gastro pub, jewelry store, hair salon, and portrait studio. These are not merely sources of human connection — hugely important as that is — but what about the people who work in these businesses? How shall they live? What shall they do?
Blithely we have acquiesced to a quarantine that prevents many people from making a living, putting their very survival at risk. Somehow, “it goes without saying” that this “is for the best” — although we’re worried that we might run out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. That is apparently our greatest concern. Shame on us. Seriously.
“Character is who you are in the dark.” — and in a time of crisis.
No one wants to die in a plague or to condemn anyone else to such an ending. Neither, though, should we instantly, unreservedly agree to a course that has the potential to destroy others: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. This has all seemingly happened so fast that no one has had time to think: there has been no considered discussion, only panic and — disgracefully — accusations and political grandstanding.
It is time to take a deep breath and reflect on what is going on; on what we are doing and what we are allowing to happen. I do not pretend to know all the answers, but my heart calls me to these considerations.
Is the current “solution” the right course for us to follow? Might there be a better way? Who is being hurt? Who is at risk? Who is making the decisions? Whose voice isn’t being heard? Whose needs and concerns are being ignored or overlooked?
Are we so awash in panic that we’ve forgotten how to think — and how to pray?
For those claiming to believe in “a preferential option for the poor,” who have several (hundred?) rolls of toilet paper under their beds, and two year’s worth of canned goods and rice in their cupboards: think about all those who do not have the money to buy an extra package of toilet paper, or tissue, or detergent. Or food. Think about those at the local Women’s Shelter, the grandmother living on Social Security, the veteran surviving on his pension.
Do we think first before we buy. Do we ask ourselves if need it, or is there someone who may need it more?
Do we assume that everybody is in the same situation as us? What if they aren’t?
For various reasons, a number of people confide in me, often sharing intimate details of their lives. These — along with several local events — have inspired/provoked this reflection and caused me to have great reservations about enforced quarantines (lock-down) of long duration.
To begin: After only eight days of unenforced, generally flexible quarantine our county has had one shooting and two knife attacks, all classified as “domestic violence” — and those are only the ones that have been reported. There is literally No Where for victims to go, and no where to send the assailants. Some of the conversations I have had indicate that other families are approaching the teakettle-about-to-boil stage, too. Hopefully while this may not result in violence, it is increasing tensions and creating discord.
A joker has said that in nine months there will be a new baby boom. I am more concerned that instead we will see an increase in divorces — and much sooner, as well as lasting emotional damage to children and families.
I do not believe that people are capable of enduring prolonged enforced proximity, especially when there are no other outlets for our energy or interests. We cannot compare this with the wonderful spirit of the London Blitz because those (admittedly extremely courageous and resilient) folks “carried on, regardless”: they went to work, met in pubs, and uplifted and encouraged one another with cheer and hope and friendly personal contact.
We might also consider the classic psychological experiment in which a group of rats were confined together in an enclosed space. I’m sure you all know of it: in a short time the inmates developed a number of neuroses, engaging in self harm, violence against one another, and simply shutting down: refusing to eat or drink, eventually dying. Similar human examples are not unknown.
The other side of the equation is the cost of social isolation. It is all well and good to say, “Well, you’re not really all alone. You can work remotely. You can homeschool the children. You’ve got the internet, email, FaceBook, the telephone, Skype, Apple TV, Netflix streaming…” These are the words of the comfortable and affluent. There are many, many people who cannot afford these (expensive) wonders; they hold jobs that are not high-tech, there is, perhaps, a single computer to share among the whole family: not one per child and two for every adult.
There are also those people — often the elderly, but others, as well, who do not posses any of our modern technical marvels. Shocking as it may seem, there are still some folks who have only a phone and a TV, and nothing more. Without human contact from friends and family, they will wither like an unwatered garden. (There are also multiple experimental examples of this unhappy outcome of isolation.)
The quarantine is also creating new pockets of isolation for people who live alone, but who are members of communities of camaraderie: “the guys” who meet for coffee at Denny’s, the ladies who lunch, the yoga class at the community center, the choir at church, the reading club. Now those doors are closed to them.
Are we — as a nation (and others, too) making the wisest choices in response to this crisis? Who is being hurt? Who is at risk? Who is making the decisions? Whose voice isn’t being heard? Whose needs and concerns are being ignored or overlooked?
We may not be able to provide immediate, simple answers, but we can offer what I will call “soul-lutions”: attitudes and actions that can bring comfort and encouragement. We can be Light-bearers and hope-carriers: prayerful, courageous, and compassionate people who recall God’s love and mercy. We can bless and not curse; offer suggestions, not accusations; we can treat others as we would have them treat us.
And always, always, we can proclaim hope. The Holy One does not forsake God’s people (and that category includes everyone). The promise of another chance, a clearing of the path, a rescue from the storm was spoken at the beginning of Jeremiah’s shout of warning:
“If you will only return to Me, O My people,” declares the Lord. “If you will cease pursuing hateful and hurtful goals, and no longer betray Me, if you can say, truthfully: ‘As surely as the Lord lives, we are honest, fair, and good,’ then the people will be blessed, rejoicing in God and giving Him joy.”
~ Jeremiah 4:1-2
May the radiant love of God enlighten and sustain us,
Be a soul-lution.
Pray for all God’s people, unceasingly.
Provides listing of regional phone numbers
Resources for families/friends
Mental Health, Substance Abuse, Family Violence Prevention information (U.S.A.)