Monday, March 30, 2020

Beleaguered, Stripped and Stranded

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s article “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague” in The Atlantic, March 14, 2020 is a good read.  Like the governors of many of our states in this present moment, the officials in 16th century London were concerned about people coming to town to “see certayne stage plays,” gathering in large numbers “close pestered together in small romes,…whereby great infeccion with the plague, or some other infeccious disease, may rise and growe, to the great hynderaunce of the common wealth of this citty.”  London closed down the theaters back in that day, just as Broadway has been shut down today.

Religious zealots were present in that day, too.  Pelzner quotes an Elizabethan preacher who proclaimed that “the cause of plagues is sin” and “the cause of sin are plays,” then “the cause of plagues are plays.”  A modern day Louisiana preacher in a sermon live-streamed on FB, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”  On March 13, Jerry Falwell Jr., on “Fox & Friends” called the response to Coronavirus “hype” and “overreacting.”  “You know,” he said, “impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump.”  Other religious leaders of the far right denounced the concern about the coronavirus as “fake news”—and that was just a little over two weeks ago.

And there were those back in the 16th century as there are now who were a little slow in getting hold of the situation and asked the simpler questions:  “Does anyone know if we can shower yet or just keep washing our hands?”  

Like the stripped and beleaguered Monterey Cypress pictured here, we are all feeling terribly alone facing this crisis. We feel stranded on a rocky coast with tempestuous waves about to overwhelm us.  There are no anointed handkerchiefs.  There is no vaccine. We are separated from family and friends.  We are “stuck” in our homes.  But we are not alone—everyone else around the world is in this with us.  Everyone feels stranded on a rocky coast.  Everyone is separated from friends and families.  Everyone is stuck.  We are in this together and for the long haul.  As tough as it is—Stay Home!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Misinformation, Disinformation, Lies: The Denial of Truth

Twitter removed a tweet by Rudy Giuliani yesterday.  In his tweet, Giuliani was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and attacking the Governor of Michigan. Giuliani quoted Charlie Kirk who claims that the unproven anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine “in at least three international tests was found 100% effective in treating the coronavirus.”  This is not true!  Donald Trump has also touted this same drug as a potential coronavirus cure, while physicians warn of its serious and inherent dangers.  It is misinformation!  

For the last four years the truth has been usurped and displaced by a self-serving version of events or facts, “with whatever selectivity, distortion, falsehood, manipulation, exaggeration, evasion, and concoction necessary” to maintain a narcissistic personality.  Some say it began with the Inauguration crowd, but I would suggest it began long before. Truth in the sense of eventful and factual matter does not exist in the present quagmire. When truth is no longer “true,” when it is compromised, prefabricated,  fabricated, and/or ignored—the whole company of heaven and earth becomes a seedbed of misinformation, disinformation, and lies!  

Conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation about the origin, scale, prevention, and treatment of the coronavirus are thriving in the social media world.  The World Health Organization has declared the virus a pandemic—but has also declared a “massive infodemic” as the world is peppered with incorrect information about the virus, making “it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” thus posing risks to global health.

In February 2020, US Senator Tom Cotton suggested the virus may have been a Chinese bioweapon.  Rush Limbaugh said that the virus was probably “a ChiCom laboratory experiment”….an attempt “to bring down Donald Trump.”  Russia said the virus is a biological weapon manufactured by the CIA.  On and on it goes…bots and trollbots…making an array of false claims all over the Internet.  When the denial of truth has been practiced at the highest echelons of government, truth ceases to be — and then anything goes and we’ve got it coming from out of everywhere!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Global Community

I hesitate to write in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and th social distancing being practiced by so many to bring down the curve.  COVID-19 is a terrible disease, the likes of which w have never known or experienced before.

It is natural, I suppose, for Americans sheltered in place, to complain about the imposed solitude.  And it is natural, I suppose, for us to focus only on ourselves and the hardships that face us now and will face us in the days ahead.  But this pandemic is global.  It is disrupting the lives of countless millions:  Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK--177 countries and territories.  Over 17,000 people globally have died; 392, 000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide and these numbers are growing every day.  Spain alone, has confirmed 6,600 new cases this morning.

There is a passage in the Book of Isaiah that spoke to me years ago and speaks to me still.  It is particularly poignant just now:

Enlarge the limits of your home
spread wide the curtains of your tent
Let out its ropes to the full
and drive the pegs home (Isaiah 54:2, NEB)

We must spread wide the curtains of our tents and enlarge the limits of our concern.  We must avoid offering platitudes such as the one I see on FaceBook every morning about praying “for our family and friends.”  We must, at all costs, avoid focusing on our own self-interest, our own well being, our own protection, our own isolated existence.  We must also pray for those we do not know, those who live in other lands, those who do not think as we do, those who do not look like us, for they, too, are caught up in this global pandemic.  They, too, are God’s children. They, too, are dying.  I am so frustrated when I hear over and over again about the “American people,” as though somehow we are the only people caught up in this pandemic.  We are not in this alone and never have been.  We belong to the whole, we are part of a global community and if we can’t see that now in the light of the present moment we are truly blind.  Expand your thoughts, your concern and your prayers to include all, not just us.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” (John Donne)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Lone Cypress

Last week we drove once again on the 17-Mile Drive in Monterey, California.  Along the way is the Lone Cypress, a Monterey cypress tree, which only grows naturally in Pebble Beach and Point Lobos, California.   The tree stands on a granite hillside overlooking the Pacific and is believed to be about 250 years old.  It has been scarred by fire, wind, and storm and for the last 65 years has been held in place with cables.  Last year the tree was damaged in a  wind storm, losing its leftmost branch.  The tree is one of the most photographed trees in North America.  I have photos of the tree from the past, but took yet another last week to record its new brokenness.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic and the precautions being taken here and abroad is overwhelming for all of us.  We have never experienced anything like this  before.  When we add to this crisis all the personal, familial, and community  issues that we face in normal times and continue to face now, the situation seems almost unbearable.  

The elderly in nursing homes and hospitals are isolated from their children and friends.  Neighbors are isolated from neighbors.  We all know that a phone call isn’t the same as holding a hand or giving a hug.  Social distancing (making us a kind of lone cypress) is creating havoc in families, homes and businesses.  At the same time, the normal heart attacks, strokes, transplants, cancers, and other forms of physical suffering are happening as usual—along with all the other daily vicissitudes of just being alive.  Life is tumbling in on us as it has never tumbled in on us before—only this time, it isn’t just “us”—its tumbling in on everyone!  

No one is a lone cypress anymore, even though we are isolated one from another.  We are a forest—every branch touches another, and thus touches us all (the very reason for social distancing).  I am reminded of the words of John Donne:  “No man is an island” which expresses the truth that human beings do badly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to survive.  None of us are a Lone Cypress,  or a lone continent (entire unto ourselves).  Like that cypress tree in Monterey, we need cables (one another—a global community) to hold us together, to keep us going on in the face of the present calamity.  Being a “lone cypress” isn’t an option anymore.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Gospel According to You

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote of Frederick Buechner’s book:  “For me The Sacred Journey was not just the interesting story of the maturation of a very talented artist, but also the awesome story of God in the life of an attentive human being.”  The latter part of that statement has stuck with me for years since first reading it:  the “story of God in the life of an attentive human being.”  Religious people talk a great deal about the “story of God” in the Bible as the final word, and thus often fail to see or hear the “awesome story of God” being told in new ways in the lives of other human beings and in the life of this world in which we live.

It is a grave mistake to claim that the “awesome story of God” has been fully revealed in the life of only one man (Jesus) two thousand years ago (end of story), or that the “story of God” was brought to a stop or a conclusion with the Book of Revelations—now bound up in  the binders of a single book.  The story of God will never end for it is continually being revealed in your life and mine—and in the history of our world.  No one man or woman, be it Moses, Isaiah, Deborah, Ruth, Jeremiah, or Jesus; no one book whether it be the Bible, the Koran, or Pilgrim’s Progress, or The Imitation of Christ, can tell the full story—it is still being written, still being told, still unfolding, and always NEW.  We sing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, write on my heart every word, tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard,” and miss “the awesome story of God” (perhaps just as precious and just as sweet)  being told and revealed within our journey and those of our  brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, and friends.

George Fox (founder of the Society of Friends) wrote:  "“You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?”  The Bible says this, and Moses says that, and the Apostle Paul says—but what do you say?  What’s your story, what’s the “story of God” being revealed to you in your journey? Rufus Jones said that there really isn’t any Gospel until we write our own—the story of God in our life.  How can we hear  or be attentive to the story of God in our own journey if we’ve closed the book?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Mom’s Sacred Journey

“And there is so much to see always, things too big to take in all at once, things so small as hardly to be noticed…but it is no accident when they open our hearts as well as our eyes.” (Buechner, The Sacred Journey)  

“…Home was not a place to me when I was a child.  It was people.” So wrote Frederick Buechner in his little book, “The Sacred Journey.” Death can never put an end to our relationships with those giants of our childhood—our real home.

“Memory is more than looking back to a time that is no longer,” Buechner says,
“it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.” These people we loved and who loved us.  These people who taught us so much.  They seem to be with us still and continue to touch us.

My mother insisted, before her death, that I should have her journals.  Why?  I do not know.  Did she really want me to read them?  I couldn’t read them five years ago when they first came into my possession.  I put her journals in a box and hid them away in a closet.  Every once in a while I would think about them being there.  Every once in a while I thought about reading them, but then felt myself an intruder, a trespasser encroaching upon the sacred.

Mom was fifty-eight years old when she began her chronicling in 1977—forty-three years ago.  Dad was living then. Yesterday, I know not why, I pulled the box of journals from the closet and began to glance through the year 1977.  Simple phrases introduce each day’s entry:  “Nice, icy, snow, rain, cloudy, cold, warm, humid, hot, windy…”  Why the weather report each day? Mom was aware that the weather affects everything:  how we dress, whether we will stay inside or venture outside.   Weather affects our daily choices.  It isn’t very important for me to know that on February 7, 1977 it was “still snowing and the wind is blowing hard; snow drifts up to 7 feet high…Stores, schools, banks, airports are closed,” but it certainly reminds me of how the weather plays an important role in my daily activities.

Mom wrote faithfully nearly every day for over thirty-seven years.  Each entry is a brief commentary on her daily activities: “Went to church….Played Scrabble… Cleaned the kitchen…Picked strawberries…Canned tomatoes…Shelled peas…Dad (my father) worked all day.”  She wrote as she spoke without embellishment or erudite rhetoric.  And yet, how profoundly she illustrated life, both her own and mine.