Vaccines, Justice, Love, and Grace

 We are approaching a year of living in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic here in America, though a year ago the virus still seemed very far away, and I took two flights, one for work and one for a family trip, in February 2020. I haven't flown anywhere since.

We've endured nearly 27 million cases and more than 450,000 deaths in America as of Feb. 3, 2021. We've spent collective millions on masks, sweatpants, and dubious home gym equipment. We've learned to worship via Facebook. 

We've confronted the ill effects of rampant and entrenched racism in America, with nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer here in Minneapolis. We've watched people carrying Confederate flags and wearing anti-Semitic t-shirts storm the U.S. Capitol with guns, ammunition, and riot gear.

Millions of people have lost their jobs. Millions more go to work each day with the omnipresent threat of contracting the virus at work, or facing losing their paychecks. Children, teachers, and family lives have been upended with unpredictable and unsustainable changes in school and activity schedules.

Somehow, we've endured together. There is a gratitude amongst us who have survived. Our wariness and exhaustion lives next to our thankfulness and newfound hope and love. It's never certain which side will win out. We are desperately yearning for hope: for the dream again of summer barbecues and weddings and funerals where we can celebrate safely together, unconsciously hugging and shaking hands and shouting into the air with pure joy, with the blithe awareness that we are spreading only goodwill and not viral death.

It would be odd if we were not tired, prone to occasional outrage or misdirected anger. In the past year or so, it has been easy to find uplifting stories of families and caregivers and even complete strangers going out of their way to help one another, to put pieces back together of shattered lives due to the virus. Just as easy has it been to find stories of unfathomable hatred and unconscious, deadly privilege, which swallows up all it can for itself in its lurching ogre body, unmindful of those whose lives are crushed underneath its stomping, wanton, bejeweled foot.

A cycling instructor to the stars in New York City, 52-year-old Stacey Griffith, recently made the worst kind of news, for a social media post bragging about how she'd manipulated her powerful connections to get an early dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which had only been officially made available to healthcare workers, seniors, and teachers in New York City. 

In just the past week, I've also read and heard stories about wealthy and powerful people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for vaccinations heading to the front of the line: hospital board members, fundraisers and donors, a local woman who was quoted in the Washington Post who had just happened to get a leftover dose. She also just happened to own a horse farm, and her post-vaccination plans included a trip to Malibu, Calif.

The snarky side of me envisioned my own post-vaccination plans, which didn't include a beach trip. Finally, I could enter into the assisted living home and visit my church members there without being worried I would spread the vaccine to them. Finally I could make hospital and home visits to sick, ailing, and suffering people. Finally I might be able to hug my mom and my dad, whose own vaccines I've been trying to schedule for weeks, to no avail.

As a follower of Jesus I have a natural inclination to strive against the worldly order of justice, which skews toward the wealthy and powerful and against the poor and vulnerable. You can lose hours and days this way, counting and tracking all the ways that COVID has revealed vast American inequities, the ones who were once left behind only further left behind -- the ones called most essential whose lives aren't even valued enough for a rise in pay, or priority to receive a vaccine shot so that they can continue to deliver packages, stock shelves, manufacture masks, farm and process food and livestock, and care for children.

These stories are easy to find. But to dwell in them - to stop there - is to indulge only part of the work that God has called me into. I don't think that God finds much value in our toddler cry: "It's not fair!"

After all, none of this is simple; COVID is much more than a morality tale about righteousness. And perhaps those of us who are too concerned about the righteousness of others miss out on where God is calling us to see righteous people right in front of our eyes. Those stories are quieter, less flagrant, but perhaps even more important.

I think of the rural Midwestern pharmacist who, after suffering through COVID due to her work, had a last-minute chance for a leftover vaccine, and instead of taking it, made a quick call to her beloved grandma, who hadn't yet gotten a chance to sign up.

I think of brave Sandra Lindsay, a New York City nurse born in Jamaica, who volunteered to be the very first American to be vaccinated, to counter the horrifying American past of illegal and terrible medical "treatments" and even experiments on Black Americans, many of whom understandably remain wary of medical services suggested to them by the government.

I think of the patient and kind farm couples who I know, who have remained gracious and hopeful each step of this year: learning to ZOOM for Thanksgiving with their families, bundling up and donning mittens and snowpants for Christmas Eve outdoors in below-0 weather, who patiently waited for their vaccine and gave thanks when their number was finally called this week.

I think of the myriad of opinions held by good and kind people about the vaccine, and I give thanks for my dear friends, two in particular, a local rural doctor and a college friend who works as an ICU nurse in Northern California, who diligently and respectfully share medical information with me so that I can sort through all the different opinions and ideas to make a well-informed and responsible decision - and share that medical information with my loved ones, so that they can be confident as they await their own turn for the vaccine.

Another person I know who has been working in the COVID medical field this whole time, who underwent COVID herself due to her work, told me the other day that she understood the high emotions and anger she and her colleagues continue to face, from all viewpoints and walks of life.

She said people felt like there was finally a shot of hope. And they were desperate for it not to pass them by.

Hearing her words, as I begun my day again looking up possible ways to help schedule my parents and other loved ones for their vaccine appointments, I'm reminded that the real "shot of hope," is not in a Moderna or Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson or Astra Zeneca vial, as vital and important and miraculous as that shot is.

I'm reminded that our best hope instead lies inside one another, and the trust that the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us, so that when we look at one another we see not a competitor for our chance but instead a co-conspirator in a richer life for us both, marked by love and by grace.

I'm reminded that I can rage alone against the Stacey Griffiths of the world, inanely posting their privilege, vapidly unaware of their own entitlement and what it does to everyone else, or instead I can look away from that and into the eyes of my fellow Americans, knowing that a rising tide lifts all boats, and true justice is only found when we work for it together, rooted in love and grace. 


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