We are living in interesting times! And these are the signs of the times. It is an eerie, unsettling time unlike any this current edition of humanity has confronted. It is a disturbing, disruptive, daunting and down right deadly time in which a reeling world population now finds itself locked down in pandemic pandemonium.
A “novel” corona-virus that could not be contained behind man-made walls, even the Great Wall of China, is currently writing the next chapter in the Book of Life on planet Earth. And though COVID-19 reads like something from the mind of a science/medical fiction writer like Michael Crichton, this viral pandemic that has trespassed the insecure borders of nations across the globe is delivering a bigger and more lethal dose of factual, science-based reality than we are prepared to swallow.
The scientists and health care professionals along with the sick and the dying know that we are in the fight of our lives. In this guerrilla war, a stealthy enemy has swiftly laid siege to humanity, selectively sickening and killing untold numbers while making POW’s of us all. The familiar and mostly comfortable routines of what was seen as normal life last month are replaced today by perpetual washing and wringing of hands.
We are instructed that these hands should no longer touch our face and must not come within 6 feet of another person. Immaculate personal hygiene and extreme social (physical) isolation from other potential virus vectors is for now our only line of defense against possible sickness and death, the cases of which can quickly overwhelm our ill-resourced health care system. Epidemiologists say that if it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting 6 feet apart the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt. Impose a two week planetary quarantine and the pandemic is history.
But, of course, that is impossible. There is no magic wand (or silver bullet). What there is instead is the Wall Street (stock market) gavel. A global growth-based economy and a world-wide business model of conspicuous consumption does not allow for human distancing that disrupts business as usual. As doctors and nurses are forced to play God in triage centers choosing who will live and who will die, economists and politicians play their own game of triage pitting Wall Street against Main Street. This is the big-picture moral dilemma that faces the human family as we confront a real-world dystopian future of our own making.
Those of us (which will be most of us) who survive this physical, emotional, socioeconomic plague on humanity will one day (in what now feels like the far-too-distant-future) breathe a collective sigh of relief that will be heard and felt around the world. To quote the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “when the hurly burly’s done; when the battle’s lost and won,” some of us will still be heard singing the Happy Birthday song twice while our hands are in a lather. And we’ll also be rubbing our eyes and scratching our nose much, much less than in the past.
But the ominous reality is that most of us will as quickly as possible resume our well-ingrained pre-plague lifestyles. We will seek to restore and celebrate “business-as-usual.” And when that occurs, the race to restore normality will emerge as the biggest tragedy of this post-pandemic era. For while appearing to have won the battle with a vexing virus (vaccines to the rescue), we will have lost the war. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, figuratively speaking, the “hurly burly“ and the “battles lost and won” refer to the ethical turmoil and moral battles that will continue to wage throughout the course of the play.
If all the world is a stage and we are all the actors on a post-pandemic world stage, then a return to business as usual will indicate that in this morality play, once again we have failed to gain the moral high ground. It will reveal our lack of will and courage to reset our moral compass to guide us on paths of righteousness. It will confirm that our immoral myopic vision inhibits us from seeing beyond our collective noses. It will demonstrate that we still refuse to peer past our Pinocchio proboscises. And it will signal that we once again feel comfortable in touching our nose to scratch that old familiar itch that lives and thrives on unsustainable falsehoods and self-serving lies. Until we can concoct a moral vaccine to vanquish that itch, we will continue to live with an existential threat exponentially greater than any virus can muster.
The climate crisis, that existential threat spread through the moral malaise that infects this generation of humanity is the true threat to human existence and to all life as we know it. The climate crisis, that unnatural global warming of the biosphere due to humanity’s unsustainable domination of Earth’s ecosystems is the ultimate uncontrolled plague that will suck the life out of all God’s creatures, great and small IF we continue down the path of business as usual. It is a path to perdition. And, therefore, it is the business of the Church to lead in a new direction down paths of righteousness (i.e. justness – goodness).
One day the closed doors to houses of worship and places of prayer will open again to welcome back people of faith who yearn to share a handshake of peace and embrace one another in a holy hug. For those who survive this perilous pandemic, it will be an emotional homecoming and heart-felt family reunion unlike any we’ve known before. The pealing of church bells will be sweeter than ever. The songs of praise shall be louder than ever. The prayers of thanksgiving for deliverance will truly rise like incense (Psalm 141).
But if we allow it to be only a celebration of open doors and reunions that marks a return to pre-pandemic life as usual, then we shall have wasted a teachable moment. We shall have squandered a golden opportunity to change a dystopian “valley of dry bones” future into a utopian kingdom of God resplendent with verdant green pastures, sparkling still waters and sumptuous banquet tables holding a cornucopia of abundance and justice for all, all God’s creatures great and small.
The groaning pains of a hurting earth are inextricably intertwined with the socioeconomic realities of global injustices. In 2018 in an IPCC report, the United Nations recognized the critical role of faith communities in combating global warming when it called upon spiritual leaders to unlock spiritual pathways for addressing climate change. “We call on them to help their followers reconnect with the wonders of nature and creation, nurture love for the planet and foster compassion and reconciliation.”
In the face of the greatest moral and existential crisis in the history of the human race (i.e. global warming/climate chaos) the Church of today and tomorrow must see it’s mission as not only that of saving souls, but of salvaging what is left of life on Earth. That means bursting forth from those open doors of the sanctuary to engage in the critical societal and ecological (environmental) issues that are fought for and decided upon in the vast political arena of society. It means being a Church that leans hard on the long arc of the moral universe to bend it toward that which is just, kind and humble/reverent (Micah 6:8). For on a planet inhospitable to life as we have known it during the Holocene Epoch, everything else that has taken precedence in our business as usual world will no longer matter.
I close with this most timely and pertinent statement by Pastor Liz Theoharis:
“Plague in the Bible is not a storm weathered before a return to normalcy. It’s a call to come together in new ways in order to survive, hold the powerful responsible for their unjust policies and the lies they’ve told to cover up injustice, and rebuild on foundations of love and justice.”