Sometimes it takes a crisis to reveal reality. In that sense, this COVID-19 pandemic has helped to show Americans a number of things about our political, social, economic and health-care systems that need immediate attention.
The Rev. Liz Theoharis (pictured here), director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, and co-chair of the "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival," has identified those systems in this column written for the journal Sojourners (written before Congress agreed on a fix-it plan).
"Over the last few weeks," she writes, "we have seen our government refuse to take measures that could have limited the spread of the coronavirus and increased the availability of testing. We have seen a $1.5 trillion infusion straight into Wall Street and its investors from the federal reserve, and a bipartisan bill that excludes 80 percent of the workforce from paid sick leave.
"Now, we see school districts across the country scrambling to feed hundreds of thousands of children whose families are too poor to put food on the table. We see homeless families being told to shelter in place when they cannot practice the social distancing we’re all called to do. We see elderly people who are forced to travel for hours and wait in cramped lines to keep their 'check-in' appointments with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We see a health care system on the brink after decades of budget cuts, privatization, and a focus of profits over patients and public health. We see, in stark reality, the truth that 140 million people in America are either already poor or one health care crisis or missed paycheck away from poverty, nearly half of the U.S. population."
The intriguing thing to me is that Theoharis is an optimist. She winds up telling readers that "Our society can indeed abolish systemic racism, end poverty, turn militarism and our war economy into a peace economy, and protect the earth. If we follow the prophet’s call to transform distorted narratives that demean and degrade, we can bring about a revolution of moral values that proclaims all life sacred. So, let us make it so."
Clearly she hasn't given up. Nor should she.
We've all seen lots of evidence in recent days that we Americans are adaptable people who, in the end, care about one another. Oh, sure, there have been examples of scammers and hoarders and people who ignore the rules. What we know about the human condition should alert us that such people will always be around.
But much more evident have been the people -- sometimes, though not always, motivated by religious faith -- who have checked on their neighbors, have offered to help in any way possible, have donated money and time to help the most vulnerable, have done the simple thing of ordering curb-pickup meals from restaurants to keep them from going under. And in Italy people are singing from their windows to stay connected to their neighbors.
I hope you've been in the latter group. One reason this terrible period is so challenging is that human beings are built for relationship. Cutting off lots of those relationship opportunities -- houses of worship, clubs, theaters, music venues, on and on -- has been no fun at all because we are not created for isolation. But if we do what we can to get through this now the sooner we can get back to something like normal -- but, I hope, a new normal when we begin to fix a lot of the problems Theoharis points out.
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HEY WORSHIPERS, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?
As houses of worship move to online services, many fear a severe drop in contributions, as this RNS story reports. If you are in a position to do so, now would be an excellent time to be generous to your congregation -- especially as the stock market (and your retirement funds or portfolio or savings account) begin to normalize.
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P.S.: We're all seeing lots of tips for how to survive in this stay-at-home period. Here's one I'd like to add: Take your family arguments outside into your yard. Let your neighbors hear your arguments and give them the right to decide who's right. I think this would improve the mental health of everyone in the neighborhood. You're welcome.