Living with this pandemic has been a difficult time, for me, in some ways.
On the one hand, I have mostly enjoyed being self-isolated in my own space, with no real pressure to do any more than survive. Yes, I did go to the supermarket twice while we were in Lockdown, and I attended Church via Zoom each Sunday morning. I also answered the ‘phone when a friend rang each day. And there were one or two things that needed to be done in my role as Treasurer for each of two groups. Perhaps I actually did more in Lockdown than I thought! But, by and large, it was a fairly quiet time, doing my own thing or, as Philo said a few weeks ago, “living in an introvert’s paradise.”
On the other hand, there have been regular news updates as well as regular political commentaries from a variety of sources regarding the “progress” of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in terms of people infected and number of deaths. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we have been most fortunate with the way in which the country has been steered through the crisis, with concise and factual information, a laying out of the reasons for the current strategies, and so on.
At the same time, we have also had analyses of the economic impact of the Lockdown, the increasing number of people who have become unemployed, the extension of the wage subsidy, and the closure of many small businesses and cancellation of a number of major sports and cultural events.
News and information has also come to us from beyond our borders – countries where strategies have worked, countries where they have not, depending on whether Governments have taken heed the warnings of the experts or have taken prompt action to limit the spread of this novel coronavirus. Some governments have learnt important lessons from past pandemics – others have not – and it shows in the various national responses and their results.
If any one thing stands out for me in the middle of this pandemic, it is the insistence on the part of some, mainly right-wing politicians and business leaders that we must quickly get Aotearoa New Zealand “working again” – which, on the whole, means a return to making a profit – profit that turns out to be to the benefit of those who own both large and small businesses and usually at the expense of their employees. It would mean a return to a world where 85% of the population is dependent on the 15% who have the major part of the wealth. It would mean a return to a world of inequalities at every turn, even within our own country?
So, in the last few weeks, as we have gone from Level 4 Alert down to Level 2 Alert, I have become more and more distressed, even depressed, by all this talk of a return to “normal.”
And I venture to suggest that we call “normal” is not what God would call “normal.”
When I read today’s Psalm, I hear words of comfort and encouragement – and the option of choosing whether or not I, as one person, or us, as a group or a nation, follow the path set down by God our Creator and Redeemer.
We have a choice.
The Psalmist writes:
5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.
There is a contrast here between what happens when we live God’s way and when we rebel against living God’s way. All life benefits from our allowing God to direct our lives, as a species. When the rebellious, those who choose exploitation of fellow humans and of Nature and wilful misuse of resources to make inordinate profit, when these people are in “control” everybody suffers – eventually to the extent of this most deadly global pandemic impacting almost every aspect of our lives. Could God be speaking to humankind any more clearly about the wickedness of our ways?
And it seems to me that the Christian Church has bought in to the “normal” way of doing things, in a capitalist world. We are not immune from life in the parched land reserved for the rebellious. For example, in an age emphasising the importance of the individual, there is so much division between faith communities calling themselves “Christian” – based on vastly different interpretations of our Bible and on various theologies and understandings of God only loosely-based on writings contained in the Old and New Testaments, so that many faith communities now worship Jesus rather than following the spirit of what Jesus taught and revealed about God during his lifetime. A kind of religious entrepreneurial enterprise selling palatable spiritual packages.
We have a choice.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we heard that just before he was due to ascend into heaven, Jesus prayed for his disciples, “that they may be one,” [Jn 17:11]. Jesus had done his bit and was getting ready to return to God the Father. But there is a real note of concern for his disciples in this prayer. The disciples were going to be left behind in the world with Jesus’ departure. He taught them and spent time with them, and revealed the true nature of God to them, in his teaching and in his healing ministry. Now they were at their most vulnerable, now that Jesus was leaving them
Jesus knew we would be assailed on all sides by voices declaring different ideas and goals, and that the potential for divisions was ever-present, and so he prayed that we would be “one” as Jesus and the Father were “one” [John 17:11]. And this, this unity amongst followers of the Jesus way, it seems to me, is absolutely essential in this current climate of global pandemic. Do we decide to go back to the old “normal” or do we want to really work for a new and better “normal,” based on what Jesus taught us about God?
My distress has been to hear the calls of those in positions of leadership advocating for a return to how things were. Which would only leave us vulnerable to the old issues and uncertainties of life in a world geared for the benefit of the wealthy.
My whole being cries out for the reconstruction of “normal,” giving heed to the cries of Nature and the Planet as well as of the “anawim,” the “little people,” to make the world a better place for everybody and everything.
I pray God to help me live out the Jesus way in my own life so that others may see the wisdom of God as an alternative to humankind’s usually destructive and soul-destroying “wisdom.”
I have a choice.