Maybe this is the last thing you need: another person’s opinion about the global pandemic of COVID19. If that’s the case, please stop reading. One of the most important spiritual muscles we must exercise during this time is discernment. Discerning what we are capable of accomplishing, what will add to our mental/spiritual/physical health and what won’t. And discerning how to be people of justice during this time.
So be still. Or keep moving. Find ways to escape from reality and then find ways to face reality. All the while, discern the balance you and your family needs, not just for survival (but yes for survival right now) but also for flourishing.
It didn’t take long for The Corona, as I like to call it, to hit our family’s finances. My husband, Andrew, has been working at a wonderful bakery in town that has had to shut its restaurant business section (the part Andrew worked in) and is now baking bread for delivery. The owners have had some serious decisions to make, ones that have deep, economic impact to their employees and to the owners themselves. I know they have felt it, and their deep compassion for the community has been on full display to those of us who know what has gone down behind the scenes. They’ve always been people of deep compassion, and it has been hard seeing such good people deal with such hard consequences.
Our finances are tighter than normal, and it seems it hasn’t taken long for The Corona to affect the majority of Americans in its financial impact. It’s certainly hitting all of us spiritually, physically, and mentally as well. As is often the case with me, I want to know: How do we continue to be people of justice these days?
Remember that Faith & Reason are Not Rivals
I believe that reason is a key ingredient in authentic faith. And authentic reason includes an element (or several elements) of faith that keeps it in the realm it was meant to exist in. I thought of myself as a woman of faith until I met my husband, Andrew. It didn’t take long to realize he is a man of faith, and I am a woman of reason. While we were missionaries, he would look at an empty bank account and say, “Don’t worry. God will provide.” I would look at that same account and say in sincere earnest, “How can we help God provide?” Neither of those two concepts can stay stagnant. I must always be moving closer to the faith side of reason while people like Andrew must always be working toward the reason side of faith — and we both must use that equilibrium to fuel a better understanding of justice. Ultimately, we must recognize why faith, reason, and justice were created: redemption. If reason is not used for redemptive purposes it can stay stagnant, or worse — it can become self-seeking power. If faith is not used for redemption it can lead us to irrationalism, obscurity, and possibly even heinous acts we say are the will of God. If we have a perfect balance of faith and reason, but don’t use that balance for God’s redemptive justice, we become internally developed but externally disconnected and irrelevant, like a hermit genius.
Reason has us make plans, but faith reminds us to hold those plans loosely because only God can ordain our steps. Reason tells us to follow our cultural norms, while faith reminds us there is another kingdom whose nationality should be stronger in our hearts than our regional nationality. Faith tell us to trust God, and let him guide our steps while reason reminds us it’s wise to use a map when we don’t know where we are going. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes we feel like we are flailing about on a tightrope. Faith says we can walk across. Reason tells us to be prepared before we do. Justice reminds us that we are walking across for a purpose, not merely for bragging rights. God is not calling us to be lonely, wise hermits. Nor is he asking us to be unaware, religious fanatics. He calls us to:
loose the bonds of wickedness
let the oppressed go free
break every yoke
How can one person find the balance between the two? Martin Luther King Jr. gives us insight into this conflict, calling faith, religion and reason, science. “Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”[i] (For more on this topic, check out my book A Smoldering Wick).
So during The Corona, a balance between faith and reason looks like reading the news (as you can handle it, turning off notifications!) and taking in the information while balancing it with spiritual rhythms (like these that Justin Whitmel Early suggests) or finding your own. To be very honest, prior to The Corona, I went on a prayer walk nearly every weekday listening to the Pray as You Go app. I’m still working to return to this rhythm or something like it. Because working from home with everyone home is a whole new world, and not the Aladdin-song kind. So balance out the news through prayer. Christianity Today has a great list of 20 Prayers to Pray, I would add a few more to that list of 20:
21. For Immigrants that they would not be discriminated against by others, that they would find the resources they need, and feel supported by Americans.
22. For Emigrants and Asylum seekers at the border, that God would protect their bodies from disease and abuse and their minds from despair. And for the many who are working on their behalf, for energy, resources, and compassionate authorities.
23. For Asian Americans who have been othered by this virus, that God would protect them and their families from the hate that others spew. And for those showing this hate, that God would turn their hearts away from their evil ways.
24. For marriages, that God would strengthen the bonds between spouses and protect against the fiery darts of the enemy.
25. Against hate in all its forms, that love would overcome.
During The Corona, don’t give into the lie that says your faith must be pitted against your reason. I’ve seen this a lot with churches who won’t close their doors, and even recently with Liberty University saying it will reopen. We can be people of reason and faith, and move toward justice with both our reason and our faith. May it be so.
Remember that God is a God of Abundance Not a God of Scarcity
If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know this has been an intense theme that comes up over and over again. I want to take a moment to remind you that God invites us into what looks like scarcity sometimes but is actually abundance, meanwhile we chase after gods and idols of scarcity that look as though they will provide above and beyond our needs.
Please do not give into a mentality of scarcity, and remind me not to either. We are the followers of the God of communal abundance, the followers of the God of Jubilee — and we therefore should not be fearfully deciding anything—especially that there’s not enough to go around. This is not biblical. This is imperial. Empire requires a mentality of scarcity for success. The status quo in America requires this same mentality of scarcity. This mentality says: “There’s a finite amount of land, of power, of privilege, promotions, slots at the best schools, and resources. We must keep people out.”
The scarcity mentality demands us to dehumanize our neighbors and ourselves. It says that both me and my neighbor are not full human beings, but producers who are defined by their economic worth placed upon them by society’s standards. We must believe in the good news that gleaning is as good for the one who gleans as for the one who owns the field. Gleaning was a practice for the Israelites in the Old Testament to remind them that the earth was the Lord’s and the fullness within, that God was the one who owned the cattle on a thousand hills, and that God is a god of abundance, not of scarcity (Psalm 24, Psalm 50, John 10). So if you have been hit hard already by The Corona, do not feel ashamed to ask for help. We’ve already had to do so as a family. And if you haven’t been hit hard yet, be generous toward others, whether in giving to important causes, regionally, nationally, and internationally (IMMIGRATION: like The Immigration Coalition’s handwashing stations, KIND, RAICES. FOSTERCARE: Bethany Christian Services, Lutheran Family Services (search by your area), and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)
It’s OK that You are A Finite Being
Finally, we are all human. Period. And while we may not all be vulnerable to the disease, we are all vulnerable to something right now.
Care for yourself and care for your community and just like faith & reason, realize the two go hand in hand. Go on walks, but don’t go hang out with people. Follow proper protocol, it might not be for yourself that you are doing this. Maybe you are relatively healthy, and you don’t actually fear getting the virus. Even so, know that there are people around you and in your family that have a high risk of getting it, and tweens, teens, and adults of all ages have died from it. So stay home for the sake of others, if not for your own sake. Keep your wits about you: read books like mine — but actually determine what type of content won’t overwhelm you right now (I’m reading the 3rd book in Eragon series & The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper) turn off notifications from all the socials, set parameters around when and why you will look online. For me, I had to silence certain group texts in order to maintain some type of mental focus because there’s so much communication now happening over my phone. There are times I have to put my phone in another room. We’ve written up a schedule to follow in our house as the kids school at home, but I’d be lying if I said we follow it well. Give yourself grace and your family grace. Sleep in. Don’t sleep in. Eat well; eat snacks. Do what you need to do right now to find balance. Do yoga when you can, find a YouTube video that you can exercise to, listen to calming music or have a dance party in your kitchen, and then tell me about it.
For me the two most overwhelming aspects of The Corona is:
1. Knowing that the whole world is suffering from this pandemic in some way, and
2. Not having a clear end to our societal “adapting”
I don’t have any pretty answers for this. All I can say is, let’s hold each other up. When it overwhelms you, maybe it’s not overwhelming a friend and vice versa. We’re going to have to lean on each other as much as possible. When the prospect of doing school and work from home for the foreseeable future overwhelms me as a working mom, I’m going to ask for prayer. I’m not going to be afraid of my humanity and my finiteness. Pretenses won’t get us anywhere. As I often say, and frequently need reminding: God is not afraid of our humanity. Let’s mimic him in that, and let’s be as Christlike as we can be during all of this: upholding the dignity and humanity of every human & seeking justice and love for the flourishing of those in our families, our neighborhoods, in our states, and around the world.
[i] King Jr., Martin. (1960). Strength to Love.