How the hell did I get that: Coronavirus, Capitalism, and the Church

I'm sitting at the desk in our office/video game room/Play Doh room/homework room/coat closet, looking out the window at a gray backyard and a city neighborhood that seems quiet, almost eerie, and sufficiently chastened.

Yesterday in Minneapolis was blue and sunny, and in the afternoon I went for a run and saw quite a few people out walking, 6-feet apart - hoping - that our collective human spirit would outlast the coronavirus.

Today seems quieter, and even my 7-year-old and 4-year-old boys seem more serious. Day 2 of containment is somber.

Homeschooling is not quite happening. I've been teaching webinars and my husband had a site visit this morning for his engineering job, where just a few gathered and they kept 6-feet apart, but he noticed the workers at the site were still working. I read that 18 percent of American adults had already been laid off or seen work hours cut, and those who still had to go in risked contracting the virus.

My colleagues in the church are wondering what offering and financial sustainability will look like when we can no longer gather in person and pass the offering plate.

This morning I was texting with a longtime friend who works as an RN at a hospital in Northern California. She's a fun-loving woman, bright and intelligent and always optimistic. She's also just starting to get scared. She sent us a picture of herself in her protective gear for her job, and then she told us that they're having to reuse masks at the hospital.

Later I saw a guy walking around the neighborhood wearing a mask, and I wondered how it had happened that our society had abandoned the needs of the ones who protect us most, and how capitalism's coldness had turned our values all upside down.

Yesterday on my run, I ran past a house with a sign clearly made by a young child, in green and shaky handwriting.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!

I looked up at the sunny skies and thought of the elderly church member I'd called earlier that day who spent 15 minutes figuring out how to find me on Facebook so she could attend our service online.

I thought of all the love that's still in our world, buried underneath bills and debt and scarcity, and I felt hot tears rush to my eyes as I kept running. These were the same tears that spilled out on Monday afternoon as I emailed with my Church Council president and organist about suspending our in-person worship services. Not so long ago my kids and the other church kids had been chasing each other past the sanctuary and around the Fellowship Hall, stealing extra homemade cookies and avoiding the stack of farm-fresh eggs that one of our members brought for several of us every Sunday.

Not so long ago I had grasped the hand of a 94-year-old woman in an assisted living center, as she told me how prayer had carried her through pneumonia, just days before assisted living centers closed their doors to visitors.

"I am so grateful for the church," she said.

Faith is cheap, in capitalist terms. Us pastors do not generate a great deal of economic activity, and our prayers do not make the stock market go up and down. But we gather with families at the bedside and pray together, bearing witness to a love that cannot be halted, not even by death, and a hope that refuses to disappoint us, even in loss of job and income and freedom and life.

It is tempting to dismiss the coronavirus as another symbol of our disconnectedness. I can order objects for Target Drive Up and not speak to or touch another soul. The ones who stocked the shelves were invisible, as the Amazon warehouse workers who had to rush from task to task, without enough time to go to the bathroom, much less wash their hands.

The gift of the coronavirus is we can no longer make each other invisible.

Still, it's tempting to believe that disconnection and isolation will save us from coronavirus, that the richest and wealthiest will win. That we are safe behind our locked doors and closed hearts and security systems and 401Ks.

I keep thinking about a story I read this morning about the first 100 American deaths due to coronavirus.

A man in his 80s, a resident in a senior living home in Seattle, had been admitted to the hospital for breathing problems on March 4.

He tested positive for coronavirus.

Speaking through a mask, the man was befuddled and frustrated.

HOW THE HELL DID I GET THAT? he asked.

We all are that man in this moment. We've bought into an American idea that tells us we can keep ourselves safe. That self-preservation is the greatest ideal and all of our problems exist outside ourselves, in Guatemala, in Mexico, in the "inner city," in China, in Italy.

We are untouched by the other until we are not, until our common humanity rushes in and brushes up against us and reminds us that no man is an island, entire of himself ... each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.

Each man's death diminishes me.

HOW THE HELL DID I GET THAT?

With apologies for my language, HOW THE HELL DID WE GET HERE?

Our isolation and disaffection didn't happen in a day. It happened by saying that people on food stamps should just get jobs, that welfare queens were a thing, that teachers were lucky because they got summers off, that God was irrelevant or only for the strong.

We got here, but even in the age of coronavirus, we can get back. We can call each other again. We can look around and see who is holding us together and learn that the ones who hold us together are the ones who we have too often erased: the overnight grocery store stockers, the health care workers, the child care workers and teachers, the factory workers who make toilet paper and protective masks, parents, and children, and family, and spouses, and the oldest and wisest among us.

My nurse friend and I told each other this morning that we were both walking around on the verge of tears so often these days. The tears threatened from fear and uncertainty and anxiety and lack of sleep and release. We also cried because of all the people we noticed who were refusing to give in to hopelessness, despair, and isolation, and how they reminded us of what it is to be human.

God works mysteriously. In these days of social isolation, my faith is renewed by love. By my parents dropping off St. Patrick's Day gifts for the grandkids and standing in my front lawn, at least 6-feet away, and then going home to watch Jeopardy reruns together. By my church treasurer, who called this morning from the church. Someone had already mailed in an offering, she said, a harbinger of faithfulness and hope - that the Church, not a building, not a person, but all of us marked by God - would continue to renew life in the midst of death.

My 4-year-old kept shouting into the phone, so I told my treasurer I had to go.

OK, she said.

She was at the church that day. The new chair for the secretary had come in. She was going to put it together, as we put our community back together, one phone call, one Facebook Live worship service, one prayer at a time.


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