By Rev. Ashley Randall, pastor of Garden City UMC and a member of the Advocacy Team
Back to Basics
It doesn’t seem quite right that in the face of an “unprecedented” worldwide pandemic the medical experts are urging all of us to practice the most mundane, unsophisticated, and elementary practices of personal hygiene: wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home if you are sick. I mean, if this COVID-19 pandemic is as threatening as the experts say it is, there must be something more that they – or we – or somebody – can do to defeat this pernicious enemy. Maybe hand sanitizer will protect me more completely. Perhaps a mask will keep the virus from invading my lungs. Surely someone is close to finding a cure – or at least, an effective course of treatment.
While there is some evidence that “special measures” may offer limited additional benefits, the truth is that the most effective way to avoid becoming a victim of this novel coronavirus is by practicing the habits we first learned when we were very young. Whether it was our parents, siblings, or preschool teachers who taught us how to wash our hands, cover our cough, and stay home when we are not feeling well, their instructions still hold the most promise for making it though this pandemic healthy and whole.
I hope that you have already embraced these basic habits to protect your physical health as you are responding to this global pandemic. Let me ask you to consider what you are doing to attend to your spiritual health in these trying times. Again, your impulse might be to look for some special practice, an elaborate ritual, or an extraordinary discipline. Perhaps you are seeing the proliferation of resources that are being developed and offered (for sale) to those who are feeling anxious in these times. (Is there anyone who is not feeling anxious?)
Unfortunately, what we all have to accept eventually is that life is hard. It is filled with challenges, disappointments, and setbacks, as well as injury and disease. The community of faith has recognized this reality and developed habits of life to encourage and empower people in the midst of difficult circumstances. They are simple ideas that are commended repeatedly throughout the Bible. Over the centuries, these basic principles have carried faithful people through periods of great trial.
No matter what the circumstances, our first impulse is often to look out for our own interests. There are very few people who do not struggle with the temptation to put themselves first. Of course, we should be concerned about our own safety, but that does not give us license to rank ourselves as more deserving than others, to skip to the head of the line, or to hoard supplies that are in short supply.
Unusual conditions often spark curiosity. Some dive into research to learn as much as they can about the situation and what has caused it. This new information can give us a sense of control. We feel important and powerful when we share our newfound knowledge with others. Unfortunately, this naive expertise can also lead us to second guess those who have invested their lives in understanding and responding to these conditions and even to dismiss or argue with advice and direction that could prove invaluable.
Recognizing our own limits and acknowledging the gifts of others can free us from the burden of believing we bear the responsibility of being our own savior. This puts us in a much better frame of mind to cooperate with one another as we face the challenges together. Instead of feeling like time is running out, we find the patience to wait as solutions are tested and proven.
When we feel threatened, it seems natural to look for an enemy. Certainly, there is someone we can blame for disturbing our routine. We look at those who are different with suspicion, if not disgust. We start building a case for their prosecution and focus on the evidence that fits with our own preconceived ideas about their culpability for the current situation.
When we embrace humility and begin to be less concerned about protecting our own interests, we often find that changes our perception of others and expands our capacity to care for them. Our hearts develop a tenderness to respond to the concerns of others as we see them as those who are also treated in the image of God. We are less likely to assign blame and more likely to offer forgiveness – even as God has shown us grace. We also discover that our individual interests can actually lead us into alliances that improve the conditions for everyone involved.
Jesus said, “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10b). Unfortunately, there are many conditions in our communities and around the world that prevent people from experiencing life in its fullest measure. This COVID-19 pandemic is making that particularly clear. This virus threatens to wreak its worst impact on the communities and countries that are least able to withstand the shock.
While we do need to focus on meeting the current threat in our own communities, we have the responsibility to begin working and advocating for systems and structures that will not only protect us from future threats, but also improve the lives of vulnerable people around the world. Programs and organizations like PEPFAR, the Global Fund, the Global Vaccine Alliance and other organizations the United States supports have helped create and strengthen health and community systems in developing countries.
During the Ebola crisis, the U.S. led the way in building a coalition of nations to support pandemic response teams. Dr. Mark Dybul and Dr. Deus Bazira challenge us to advocate for greater cooperation and investment in the lives of others: “We should shift from disconnected programs, impactful as they may be, to develop plans for countries spanning economic growth and increased trade to health, education, agriculture, renewable energy, gender equality among others. Such an approach would put countries on a journey to self-reliance capable of managing a pandemic.”
You are not powerless in the face of this COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, any more so than the exiles were powerless in Babylon. So, what are we to do? How do you cope? It really is pretty basic. As the prophet Micah told the exiles, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Rev. Ashley Randall, pastor of Garden City UMC, is a member of the Advocacy Team who has done extensive work with the ONE Campaign.
The ONE Campaign has recently launched its ONE World Campaign. As a movement dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, ONE is uniquely positioned to stand with the most vulnerable whether they live across the street or across the ocean.
We are one world and it’s time to fight for humanity against this virus. Please sign ONE’s petition telling our government that a global pandemic demands a global response. To sign the petition, visit ONE.org.