Hello there! I do hope that this, the umpteenth news story, commentary, blog, Facebook post or even post-apocalyptic artisanal grocery list you’ve read regarding the coronavirus – aka COVID-19, aka “Wuhan Flu” aka “definitely a hoax that the president of the United States knew was a pandemic long before it was labeled a pandemic but has been handled perfectly” – finds you well! (Those last three words are no longer just a polite, throwaway line.)
How is your hermetically sealed, home school classroom coming along?
Is your toilet paper furniture still holding up after your preschooler spilled a cup of healing bone broth on it? If so, maybe you could reinforce it with some of those cases of bottled water you’ve been stepping over for the past two weeks.
And I’m sure you noticed how quickly our government officials and elected leaders have started talking about giving out cash disbursements to corporations and even individuals and families despite the fact that many of these same leaders and their right wing political bases have been declaring since at least the 2016 presidential election that socialism is clearly evil, the federal government cannot be trusted and no red-blooded American should accept cash from the government even in a crisis?
“All of us have been given an incredibly rare opportunity to have who we actually are laid bare.”
If you’re keeping track at home (and you are) I believe we are truly in the end of days – at least according to the signs of impending apocalypse my grandmother’s kitchen television taught me to meticulously notice (she only watched The 700 Club and local news).
Aside from pillaging our retirement accounts, lower respiratory tracts and sense of time (how long have I been wearing these sweatpants?), COVID-19 has had the audacity to lay yet one more thing bare — namely, our rather profound inability (even now) to envision a world in which our American faith has anything at all to do with what happens to people who aren’t like us, both as we die and most especially while we are still alive.
But to talk about that, I need to talk about how churches in America took worship to the streets last weekend, because in all honesty the one thing I didn’t expect this unfolding apocalypse to reveal is just how many of our local congregations have unfettered access to Facebook Live! I guess it only took a global pandemic for many of our country’s so-called “traditional” faith communities — in under 48 hours no less — to completely upend their “revered” traditions in favor of a live-stream featuring their pastors awkwardly encouraging septuagenarians to follow them over to YouTube if the stream wasn’t loading on their computers.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected the end of the world to be weird; I just didn’t expect a group of people so unwilling to face the changing realities of our globe that they (oftentimes) would rather die than alter even the most quotidian components of their organizational life to then aggressively invite me to “peep their gram” over the past weekend.
Which got me thinking, what if the Church was able to use this kind of creative energy to stop answering questions none of my friends under 50 are asking – like how to keep tithing (a word few even recognize) or attend worship (much less Sunday school) during a national crisis – and instead to start answering questions all of my friends under 50 are actually asking – like what does it mean to love our neighbors when we can’t get within six feet of them?
Or, how do we understand “Church” and “Christianity” when our economy turns to dust or shackles entire generations with inescapable debt?
Or, what does it mean to love our neighbors when they differ from us politically, theologically, sexually, socio-economically or ethnically?
And if you think answering these kinds of questions seems impossible for the Church, I just saw a 100-person United Methodist church in the rural Southeast set up what they called “webcasts” for their members on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future. I’m saying anything is possible right now. That means that your church should already be changing to meet the demands of the present and the future. So, instead of pretending like certain changes are beyond the pale for your faith community, what if you allowed the creative desperation of this moment to keep fueling your mission and ministry in new ways?
Because the end is upon us all, including our churches.
For the ancients, the word apocalypse wasn’t a shorthand way of describing a multi-billion-dollar film and publishing industrial complex, but a Greek word meaning “uncovering” or “revealing.” When such a term is used to describe biblical works like Revelation or Daniel it isn’t an attempt to predict a gory or hellish future for everyone with whom we disagree about stuff none of us know for sure, but is instead an effort to describe an eerie vision of the future in order to change something concrete about the present.
Apocalypse is about burning away, quite literally, all the bullshit that keeps us needlessly separated from one another as a way of revealing how connected we all are (even if, ironically, we have to stay at least six feet apart in the meantime). And yes, I used the word bullshit intentionally (making the editor cringe), because it is one of the few words that aptly communicates whatever motivated so many of our president’s sycophants, enablers and apologists (both in Washington and on my social media feed) to ignore the social contract we all share in favor of insipidly following the chants of “hoax” from a man who famously intoned that he is “a very stable genius” who has “the best words.”
“What if you allowed the creative desperation of this moment to keep fueling your mission and ministry in new ways?”
But, assuming our president and the GOP establishment’s efforts at gaslighting COVID-19 into oblivion ultimately prove ineffective (the recent head-spinning pivots by Fox News and politicians notwithstanding), I would argue that all of us have been given an incredibly rare opportunity to have who we actually are laid bare by the present moment. If early returns are any indication, Americans – including American Christians – are not great at listening or sharing.
What if this, our most recent apocalypse, was met by a Church willing to do more than hastily broadcast its services online, but was willing to love, serve and give up itself, and even its budget, for the sake of the world? This doesn’t mean we should needlessly put ourselves or the most vulnerable among us at risk out of service to some misguided savior complex, but instead to practice a radical sort of trust that allows us to leave the corners of our fields unharvested (as Leviticus invites us to do) so that the widow, the orphan and the immigrant and their modern-day equivalents can gather enough sustenance to survive yet another crisis.
Among other things, leaving the corners of our fields unharvested means actually leaving some of the toilet paper on the shelf for someone else, and leaving enough masks for frontline workers to better protect themselves as they serve our underfunded and trembling health system.
Leaving the corners unharvested might mean practicing a subversive kind of hospitality and generosity that graciously chooses to curtail our own individual liberties for the sake of a larger purpose – namely, the maintenance of a functioning society where we can depend on one another.
Leaving the corners unharvested might also mean refusing to judge, politicize or profit from our collective fear, and instead to empathize radically with a world struggling to contend with the fact that while we may have once been able to fly round the globe whilst simultaneously watching security footage of our front porches, we will still die before we’re ready.
Which is probably what this whole thing is about anyway, right? The dying. I’m afraid, too, and that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this, because this novel coronavirus has revealed that in my fear I’m willing to go to great lengths to sacrifice others on the altar of my own survival.
In this moment I need a Church that reminds me that we serve a God who, instead of sacrificing others while the world is reeling, straps himself to the altar. I need a Church that dies for others rather than embarrassingly clinging to the remaining table scraps of life.
Who knows, maybe this moment of crisis will free us to become the kind of Church a sick, lonely and fearful world actually needs, and not one we hope the world will need when it finally comes to its senses about morality or weekend plans.
EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.