Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

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[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Minnesota Legislature’s Daily Prayer          

Rule 1.01 of the Minnesota House of Representatives for the Convening of the House provides, “The call to order is followed by a prayer by the Chaplain or time for a brief meditation, then by the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and then by a call of the roll of members.” (Emphasis added.)[1]

Journalist Jennifer Brooks tells us, “In the middle of a pandemic, when the crowds at the State Capitol are at a bare minimum, it falls to the lawmakers themselves to open each session with a few good words in these bad times.”[2]

In early April 2020, Representative Pat Garofalo (Rep.) was the substitute chaplain who said the prayer should be “a time for some patience, for unity and most importantly for hope” and that he wanted it to be “a meaningful message that the people of Minnesota could respect, but would have particular relevance to House staff and House members.” Therefore, he chose the following passage from the New Testament of the Bible (1 Peter 3: 13-17):

  • “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threat, do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

On April 28, 2020, the opening prayer was provided by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL), who used what he said was his favorite prayer, the Lutheran Prayer of Good Courage, because it “gives us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” Here is that prayer:

  • “Lord God,
    you have called your servants
    to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
    by paths as yet untrodden,
    through perils unknown.
    Give us faith to go out with good courage,
    not knowing where we go,
    but only that your hand is leading us
    and your love supporting us;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This same prayer was given on May 16, 2010, the final day of that session, by the House Chaplain, Rev. Dennis J. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who placed it in a broader context as follows:[3]

  • “In my experience, all prayers seem to come down to two simple petitions”
  • Lord have mercy covers all the sins, disappointments, failures, mistakes, what we did not get done, and stubbornness or hardness of hearts or posturing that contribute to stalemates. Yes, Lord, have mercy. Thanks be to God for that mercy which brings second chances and new beginnings.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Thanks be to God is a petition that covers all that went right during this session, that acknowledges successes and the hope we have in what seems like setbacks, hope for seeds that were planted, ideas that may yet come to fruition, laws that may yet be improved, the hope for tomorrow. Thanks be to God for partnerships forged, transcendent moments when the good of the people triumphs over partisanship. Thanks be to God for all who are willing to put in the long hours, endure the critics and do the heavy lifting , and to participate in this messy but necessary and godly process of democracy. Yes, thanks be to God.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Now, Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give use faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” (Emphasis added.)

This prayer was published in The Lutheran Book of Worship, which was produced by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, a collaboration of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada that was started by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which left the collaboration just before publication of this book.[4]

Rev. Johnson reports that this prayer previously was written by Eric Milner-White, an English Anglican priest (1884-1963), who was Dean of Chapel at King’s College, Cambridge University (1918-1941) and the creator of its now world famous “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”[5]

Rev. Johnson was the House Chaplain, 2009-10, and his book, cited below, provides a history of that chaplaincy, including a list of the chaplains, 1849-1857 (Territorial Sessions) and 1857-2011 (State Sessions) along with an overview of issues of church and state, personal reflections on the roles and a compilation of prayers he (and guest chaplains) had offered in 2009-10. He spent a combined 21 years in parish ministry in Dallas, Texas and St. Peter, Minnesota. He also served as a vice president of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, and one year as its interim president (2002-2003). After his retirement, he was an associate to the bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, which he joined on January 1, 1988, when the Lutheran Church in America joined the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to create the ELCA and more recently (2015-17) was Interim Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Mount Olivet Lutheran Church.   I am proud to say he is a friend of mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Church_in_America

An earlier House Chaplain (1993-94) was Rev. Dr. Donald M. Meisel, then Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which is this blogger’s church.

Reflection

The Prayer of Good Courage is instructive to us all. We all are God’s servants, and we all ”are called to ventures” even though  “we cannot see the ending “ and even though they lead us  on “paths as yet untrodden” and even though they lead us “through perils unknown.”  Too often we forget these basic truths when we embark on new ventures.

Therefore, we also should not forget that we need to embark on these new ventures “with good courage” and with faith that God’s “hand is leading us” and “God’s love [is] supporting us.” This “good courage” includes  humility to recognize that we may not have correctly analyzed the situation. We need to listen to others and try to learn from their opinions. We need to be able to admit that we were wrong.

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[1] Rule 1.01 of the Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] House of Representatives] 2019-2020. Surprisingly the Minnesota Senate apparently does not have a similar rule. (Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] Senate, 91st Legislature (2019-2020). A special comment is invited for identification of the Minnesota Senate’s rule or practice for a chaplain.

[2] Brooks, In a Minnesota Legislature on lockdown, State Capitol gets used to a new normal, StarTribune (May 1, 2020).

[3] Johnson, Chaplain of the House: A Ministry of Prayer and Presence in the Minnesota House of Representatives at 78-79 (Hennepin House 2011).

[4] The Lutheran Book of Worship at 153 (1978); Lutheran Book of Worship, Wikipedia.

[5] Milner-White, O God you have called your servants, DAILY PRAYER edited by Eric Milner-White & G. W. Briggs (1941).

Cuba and U.S. Councils of Churches Call for End of U.S. Embargo 

On March 28, the Cuba Council of Churches and the U.S. Council of Churches issued a joint statement calling for the “immediate lifting” of the U.S. embargo of the island.[1]

The Joint Statement

“In the middle of the city street,

and on either side of the river,

was the tree of life,

which produces twelve fruits,

bearing fruit each month;

and the leaves of the tree

were for the healing of the nations. “
(Revelation 22: 2)

“We are just a few days away from the celebration of Easter 2020, the most important celebration of Christianity, and the world is going through a humanitarian crisis of incalculable scope that affects all the edges of life on the planet.”

“The Cuban Council of Churches and the United States Council of Churches have worked together in unity for many years for the right to life, health and well-being of all the inhabitants of this world. It is the love of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, that unites us and asks us to raise our prayers to our God for the countries and families that are suffering today due to the COVID-19 pandemic . This suffering that is exacerbated and extreme due to inequalities and injustices, the huge gaps between rich and poor, the differences between the regions of the world, the lack of inclusion, gender injustice, migration and climate justice problems.”

  • “We request the Government of the United States to immediately lift the economic, financial and commercial blockade that for more than 60 years has been imposed on Cuba as well as other nations.”
  • “We ask that all manipulation and use of political and economic interests be stopped in the face of the current global humanitarian crisis, exacerbated and made visible by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “We call on the international ecumenical movement, all churches and religions in the United States and the world itself, governments, the United Nations and all people of good will, to join in the effort for a global petition for the uprising. immediate blockade and for the cessation of all sanctions on any country or region; especially now that these genocidal policies slow down and limit the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “We salute and congratulate the WCC “Pastoral Letter” of March 18, the “Joint Declaration” of ACT Alliance and Religions for Peace, of March 26 and especially the “Call” made by CWS on March 24 in relation to the uprising of the blockade and sanctions. As well as other initiatives and efforts that are shaping a global campaign for collaboration, unity and peace in the search for appropriate solutions and responses to the COVID 19 pandemic and the global crisis.”

“We are grateful to the thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses, and health professionals who are saving lives around the world . Therefore, it is imperative to lift the blockade and coercive sanctions to continue to save lives more effectively during the pandemic.”

“We know the goodwill between Cubans and Americans could help the entire world at this time . We pray that our prayer will be heard.”

The Statement’s Signatories

 The Cuban Council of Churches, with 50 Members of Churches and Faith-based Organizations, has served the people of Cuba since 1941 under the motto ‘United and United to Serve.’ Signing on behalf of this Council were Rev. Antonio Santana Hernández, President, and Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, its Executive Secretary.[2]

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States since 1950, “has served as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ . . . [by unifying] a diverse covenant community of 38 member communions and over 40 million individuals –100,000 congregations from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Living Peace traditions – in a common commitment to advocate and represent God’s love and promise of unity in our public square.“  Signing on behalf of this Council were Jim Winkler, its Secretary General and President, and Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the Moderator of tits Governing Board.[3]

Conclusion

This blog has consistently and persistently called for the U.S. to end the embargo because it adversely affects the wellbeing of the Cuban people without advancing any true interest of the U.S. Now the world corona (COVID-19) pandemic is yet another, and immediate, reason for ending the embargo [4]

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[1] National Council of Churches, Joint Statement of the National Council of Churches of Christ in USA and the Council of Churches of Cuba (Mar. 27, 2020); Joint Declaration of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States and the Council of Churches of Cuba, Cubadebate (Mar. 28, 2020); The official Cuban Council of churches calls for the end of the embargo for the coronavirus crisis, Diario de  Cuba (Mar. 28, 2020).

[2] Cuban Council of  Churches (CIC).  I had the honor to meet Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, when he visited my church, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.

[3] National Council of Churches, About Us;  National Council of Churches, Member CommunionsNational Council of Churches, Wikipedia. One of the members of the National Council of Churches is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is the denomination of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.

[4] See posts listed in the following sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA: U.S. Embargo of Cuba; U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization), 2014; U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization), 2015; U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization), 2016; U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization), 2017; U.S. (Trump) & Cuba Relations, 2016-17; U.S. (Trump) & Cuba Relations, 2019.

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem

Important reminders of more important issues for us all as we live through this stressful period of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are found in different places. [1] For example, in organizing some personal papers I came across the following poem by Kristi Brown, the daughter of my cousin, Lloyd William Brown, Jr., and his wife, Karen Brown.

Life

 Life is not long enough to accomplish all your goals.

Life is too short to waste a minute of .

Life always has to end sometime or another.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life ends instantaneously for some,

Life’s end is long and painful for others.

Life’s end is known by some, but for others,

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is good to most people for a long time,

Life takes some people very early on.

Life fights with death for the cream of the crop.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is taken advantage of by some, others live

Life one day at a time, and cross bridges when they come to them.

Life usually ends for the careful ones, not careless.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life’s end is welcomed by those who are suffering.

Life’s end is not welcomed for those who are not.

Life is hard after a loved one dies, but

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is a terrible thing to waste.

This poem in her handwritten spiral notebook was discovered in her nightstand drawer in the summer of 1987 by Kristi’s parents. This discovery was necessitated by Kristi’s having been killed, at age 19, on June 24, 1987, in a terrible multiple-vehicle crash on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington, D.C. on her way home from a summer job following her first year at the University of Virginia. Pursuant to her written instructions, Kristi’s heart, cornea and kidneys were donated to the Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Thereafter her parents organized an annual event they called “Kristi’s Christmas” when students from her high school in Springfield Virginia joined her parents and siblings to provide breakfast to a group of underprivileged grade-school kids and then escorted and provided money for them to go Christmas shopping followed by a special visit with Santa Claus. After her mother’s death, the West Springfield Rotary Club has taken over the organization of this annual event.[2]

Thank you, Kristi, for reminding all of us that life “ends when you least expect it” and that “life is a terrible thing to waste.” I am truly sorry that I never had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your inspirations for these amazing deeds.

This profound and beautiful poem helps me cope with the morning news on March 28th that  the world in at least 171 countries has seen 585,500 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with at least 27,164 deaths while the U.S. has become the epicenter of the world with 102,838 cases and 1,646 deaths. My state of Minnesota has had 398 cases and 4 deaths, including 1 death in Hennepin County, where I live.[3]

My wife and I continue to be in good health while sheltering in our downtown Minneapolis condo with occasional outdoor walks on nice days and trips by car to buy groceries and once-a-week take-out dinners at restaurants, gas for the car and necessities at drug stores.

==============================

[1]This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic. Here are the earlier such posts to dwkcommentareis.com: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (o3/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (#3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020).

[2] Korff, ‘Kristi’s Christmas’ honors the late Kristi Brown with day of giving for Fairfax kids, WJLA (Dec. 11, 2014); Ours, Kristi’s Christmas makes the holidays merry and bright, The Oracle (Dec. 15, 2016).

3] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2020; Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Mar. 28, 2020); Olson & Snowbeck, Stay-at-home order now in effect to fight virus that has killed four Minnesotans, StarTribune (Mar.28, 2020).

 

Another Reflection on 40th Anniversary of Oscar Romero’s Assassination

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero (now Saint Romero) has been a personal saint for this Protestant (Presbyterian) since 1989, and I was blessed to be able to attend the 20th and 30th anniversary commemorations of his 1980 brutal assassination and lament I was unable to attend the 40th anniversary this March 24th.[1]

A moving reflection on the 40th anniversary has been provided by Carlos Colorado, the author of Eminem Doctrin, a blog about Romero’s teachings, and Super Martyrio, a blog advocating since 2006 for Romero’s canonization that in fact happened in 2018.[2] Here is what Colorado said.

“In March 2000 I was in El Salvador for what was then the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. . . . At a reception in a trendy boarding house in western San Salvador, I brashly suggested to the guests that Romero could become El Salvador’s Socrates—who was forced to drink poison by fervid Athenians, but was later embraced by the city as its most quintessential son. It fell to the late, legendary NCR [National Catholic Reporter] correspondent Gary MacEóin to let me down gently, explaining that the entrenched hostility toward Romero from the powerful meant that he would be persona non grata to the political establishment indefinitely.”

“Of course, MacEóin was right about the elites; Romero is ‘not a saint of their devotion’—as the Salvadoran expression goes—to this day. But many things were already changing by the year 2000 and many more things have changed since, to make Romero’s remarkable rehabilitation possible. While Romero’s memory was suppressed in El Salvador during the 80s and 90s, it was kept alive abroad with glowing biographies and film portrayals, including Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’ (1986) and the modest indie pic “Romero” (1989).[3] In 1990, the church opened its sainthood investigation, but it seemed as if, for the rest of the decade, that project was shelved.”

“While Romero’s sainthood file gathered dust at the Vatican, on the streets his image was ascendant, with larger and larger commemorations of his March 24 anniversary each year, not only in San Salvador, but also in London and Rome. Things began to change in official circles in El Salvador in 2004, when Tony Saca, who had been an altar boy for Romero, was elected president. Although a member of the party founded by the man thought to have ordered Romero’s assassination, Saca petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to permit Romero’s sainthood cause to advance. But the real sea change came with the 2009 election of Mauricio Funes, the first left-wing president, who promised to make Romero the moral compass for his government. Funes named a new traffic artery after Romero, renamed the airport after Romero, and installed a heroic painting of Romero in the presidential mansion’s great hall.”

“Perhaps the largest transformation occurred in 2015, when Romero was beatified in El Salvador, showing the country how admired he was when hundreds of thousands turned out for the large-scale spectacle.[4] The church made a concerted effort then to educate the population about Romero. Many read his homilies and learned about his actions and actual views for the first time, often refuting what they had heard in official disinformation. There were many who actually believed Romero had materially assisted the guerrillas, supplying arms and openly espousing Marxist propaganda. The publicity campaign and educational effort that accompanied the beatification helped to blunt extreme views.”

“Ultimately, Gary MacEóin was right, though, that Salvadorans would not be ready to buy into Romero’s message. With all of the 40th anniversary commemorations, including an emblematic candlelit street procession, cancelled due to Coronavirus, this anniversary will be very reminiscent of the first ten years when Romero memorials were banned. This year, instead of public memorials, Romero devotees are being asked to light candles at home. Indeed, it appears that in El Salvador, Romero is “hidden in plain sight.” That is, he is everywhere: his name is at the airport, on the roadway artery, and his image is in the presidential state room and in street murals all over the country. But the current generation, including the new millennial president, find the most universal Salvadoran a stranger they do not know.”

“In a sense, the muted Romero commemoration will be the most faithful to the spirit of the man. Just when it seemed he was in danger of becoming “another little wooden saint” (as activists feared he would become), Romero is again associated with austerity, sacrifice and restraint. I suspect he would not want it any other way.”

===================================

[1] Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero (Now Saint Romero),dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 24, 2020)   See also Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2011)(20th anniversary); list of posts in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] Colorado, Muted 40th Romero anniversary recalls the early days, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 23, 2020).

[3]  See Remembering Oscar Romero in Film, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 14, 2011).

[4]  See Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2015); The Canonization of Oscar Romero, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2018).

 

Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero (Now Saint Romero) 

As a result of being a pro bono asylum lawyer for Salvadorans, 1986-2001, I learned about the amazing work of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, and regarded him as my personal saint long before he was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

I, therefore, was in El Salvador on March 24, 2000 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination and on March 24, 2010 for the 30th anniversary.[2]

I lament that I was not there this year for today’s 40th anniversary. But Tim Muth, the creator and operator of the wonderful blog, El Salvador Perspectives, has suggested we honor him today with the following passage from his homily of January 21, 1979:[3]

The present form of the world passes away,

and there remains only the joy of having used this world

to establish God’s rule here.

All pomp, all triumphs, all selfish capitalism,

all the false successes of life will pass

with the world’s form.

 

All of that passes away.

What does not pass away is love.

When one has turned money, property, work in one’s calling

into service of others,

then the joy of sharing

and the feeling that all are one’s family

does not pass away.

In the evening of life you will be judged on love.

============================

[1] See the list of posts in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR.

[2] These visits to El Salvador are discussed in Oscar Romero’s Tomb, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 10, 2011).

[3] 40th anniversary of Romero assassination calls for solidarity, El Salvador Perspectives (Mar. 24, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (03/22/20)

“The Power of Community” was the title of the March 22 sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (delivered in a live-streaming service with around 2,000 watching at home) It provided this blogger with comfort and courage for living with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.{1}

Scripture for the Day

 The Scripture for the day was Ephesians 3: 1-21 (NRSV):

  • “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
  • “Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.“
  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
  • “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen

The Sermon

“As the coronavirus sweeps across the globe causing a rising level of fear, and leaving anguish in its wake, it’s tempting for us to be overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness.”

“But there is a power of community that will be examined by “how scripture views it, how the church uses it, and how we can benefit from it as we face this crisis together.”

“One of the impulses driving creation, as the story unfolds in the Book of Genesis, is the divine desire to generate human community. When humanity is made in the image of God and placed in the Garden, we’re told to steward the earth. We usually think of that solely in terms of the environment – but we are also stewards of the gift of human community.”

“The Presbyterian Church’s Brief Statement of Faith, adopted in 1991, says: “In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.” (emphasis mine)

“Today we might say, ‘male, female, and non-binary,’ but the point of this affirmation of faith is that the goodness of God’s love – the imago dei – is embedded in all of us. God’s image is seen most clearly in us when the human family lives as one community.” (Emphasis added.)

“The author of Ephesians speaks of the creation of community that heals a fractured humanity. This new community – really the recovery of the one humanity envisioned at Creation – is made known in Jesus Christ.”

 “’In former generations,” the writer says,”this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed…by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:5-6) (Emphasis added.)

“The promise of our faith is that the human family is one. The Gentiles – previously outside the circle – have become fellow heirs, members of the same body. The gospel makes the bold claim that the human family is no longer divided. We are one community, and there is power when we are united in purpose.” (Emphases added.)

“A friend who has been in recovery for many years told me their AA group met this week via Zoom technology. They didn’t know how to start the meeting, so my friend suggested they begin with the first of the 12 steps: ‘I am powerless.’ As they talked they acknowledged their individual powerlessness, something started to happen. They began to find strength in one another, even though they were not actually together. My friend said, ‘The sense of community was palpable.’” (Emphasis added.)

That’s the power of human community.” (Emphasis added.)

“One of the ironies of this time of being apart from one another, isolated in our homes, perhaps feeling helpless, is that the power of community is so much more evident. Just when we thought our culture and our politics and our nation were flying apart, now that we are apart we’re suddenly and keenly aware of what was missing, because we’re discovering it anew.” (Emphasis added.)

“It’s as if the biblical story of the purpose of human life has been instantly clarified: we exist to live together, as one community. Our insistence on the independence of the individual is giving way to an awareness that we cannot live long without one another. The best chance we have against the coronavirus is to exercise the power we have as a community to stay isolated and work together. All of us. If the community acts as one, we will slow the pandemic.” (Emphases added.)

The power of community.” (emphasis added.)

“Last week the New York Times ran a story with the headline, When the World Falls Apart, People Come Together. It was a report on the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, a disaster of biblical proportions visited upon the young city of Anchorage. With a magnitude of 9.2 that lasted four and half minutes, the earthquake destroyed much of the city of 100,000 people.”

““Life,” one person said, ‘Was ripping into a before and af

“That may be happening among us now, if only more slowly. In the future we may come to reckon time in terms of before and after the pandemic of 2020.”

“What will we remember most about this time? That question was the focus of the article on the Alaska earthquake. Experts had predicted that survivors of a major disaster would be desperate and panicked, and that pandemonium and chaos would reign. When researchers arrived on the scene only 28 hours after the quake, they were stunned at what they found.”

People immediately began helping others, pulling them from the rubble and leading them to safety. Boy Scouts entered a damaged hospital to help patients find their way to the cars that had pulled up to ferry them to another facility.” (Emphasis added.)

“Now, an earthquake is not a pandemic. The one occurs instantaneously and is fairly localized; the other is slower-moving and global. But neither is predictable. Neither is a respecter of persons. And the traumatic impact of both depends largely on people’s response to them.”

“’Everybody was trying to do a little bit of everything for everybody,’ one man in Anchorage said. That’s what people remembered.”

“What will endure from our experience of the pandemic unfolding around us?”

“A nurse named Dolly Fleming was in a stairway that day in Anchorage when the earthquake began. She saw a young boy in front of her being thrown around. Instinctively, she grabbed him and held him close to keep him calm and protected as they rode out the shaking together. Nurse Fleming would report many decades later at age 93 that being with that child was her lasting memory of the disaster.”

“’Something surprising had been shaken loose in Anchorage’ – the researchers in Alaska concluded – ‘A dormant capacity — even an impulse — for people to come together and care for one another that felt largely inaccessible in ordinary life.’ (NYTimes, March 15, 2020)”(Emphasis added.)

“They had discovered the power of community. That power is at the heart of the Christian gospel. It was the center of the ministry of Jesus. It is God’s hope for the world. And it is the mission of the Church. Jesus came to save us from our human tendency to break apart into divided groups: the Gentiles – in the language of that era…those deemed “other” then, or in our time– have become fellow heirs, members of the same body. We are in this together. We all share in the promises and risks of life.” (Emphasis added.)

Our best hope right now is that we would recognize the power in our being one, and acting together, like nurse Fleming, to protect one another.” (Emphasis added.)

“Children understand this instinctively. They crave community where they can belong and be safe. In this time of separation parents are helping them meet that need creatively. Technology helps. Our nephew sent a photo of his nine-year old daughter, isolated with the family at home in Portland for some weeks now, sitting before a computer having a play-date with about ten friends, all on the screen at the same time.”

“We will get through this together, even when apart. There is power in community.”

“I used to think that connections through technology were not genuine, but I ‘ve gotten over that. It’s real community. Like this worship service: this is not virtual worship. This is genuine worship. Our prayers are real, the sermon is actual, the shared experience of the music is authentic. We may be apart, but we are worshipping God together as the one Body of Christ.”

 “A Westminster member living alone at home emailed this week to tell me that online worship has become an anchor in their week. Without it, they said, the cycle of time in their life is so disrupted that it’s disorienting. Another member isolated at home alone emailed to say they watched all four of our online services last week, and each was a “lifeline.” (Emphasis added.)

“They were finding that they still belonged, were still loved.”

The gospel’s claim of the power of community is fundamental and foundational to our humanity. A recent article relates the story of anthropologist Margaret Mead being “asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture…Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000-year-old fractured femur found in an archaeological site. This particular bone had been broken and had healed…A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the fallen, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life.’”  (Emphasis added.)

The church’s role in combating this pandemic is to remind the world around us of our oneness. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, insider or outsider, for all are one in the human family. That was God’s intention from the start.” (Emphasis added.)

“The power of community gives us strength and resilience.”

We are not powerless. The coronavirus is stirring the community to life, awakening an old memory that we are rooted and grounded in love for one another. “ (Emphasis added.)

“In this crisis moment the church – you and I, as followers of Jesus – the church is called to help the community know “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for all of us, equally and unconditionally. (Ephesians 3:18)”

“That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, the One whom we follow in this challenging time.”

The One who, ‘by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.’ (Ephesians 3:20)” (Emphasis added.)

Comments

The Scripture for the Day  from Ephesians and its discussion by Rev. Hart-Andersen uncovered for me a new and more powerful meaning. Previously I had thought that the English- word “gentile” (translated from the Greek) referred to the non-Jewish people that Apostle Paul traveled to meet in the Roman Empire. Now I see the word as referring to all non-Jews. In short, the Jewish prophets and scribes were dividing the entire world into two groups: Jews and non-Jews or Jews and all other people or Jews and gentiles.

Matthew Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Scholar for Adult Education at Westminster and a friend, provided the following in response to my question about the meaning of “gentile” in the New Testament: “From a first-century Jewish perspective, indeed anyone who wasn’t a Jew was a “gentile.” The Greek term rendered “gentiles” (ethnē) means “nations.” The New Testament and other early Christian literature adopts this same usage, describing the world in terms of Jews and gentiles. The Letter to the Ephesians places strong emphasis on the idea of the divisions between Jews and gentiles being destroyed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The result of that is ‘a new humanity.’ See Ephesians 2:14-16 for a succinct statement of this. The basis of all that emphasis comes from the conviction that law obedience isn’t necessary for gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit and participate fully in the people of God (the church). The letter takes the notion of there being no special advantage or privileged standing before God and regards that as a new, singular humanity coming into existence.”

This fits within my sense that every human being in the world is a child of God regardless of race, color of skin and the specific religion they profess or none at all. All of these characteristics paint a wide variety of human beings. But nevertheless they all are children of God. Therefore, we need to be kind and generous to everyone.

When you recognize this and especially when you gather together with other human beings, there is power in community.

As Rev. Hart-Andersen said in his sermon, “The church’s role in combating this pandemic is to remind the world around us of our oneness. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, insider or outsider, for all are one in the human family. That was God’s intention from the start.”

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[1] This is the second in an ongoing series of posts about living through the  current pandemic. See Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 23, 2020).