After watching videos of protesters in Lansing, Michigan and other videos and comments of people around the state and country demanding our country to reopen, I noticed my anxiety creeping up. Will their voices be loud enough to be taken seriously by the Powers That Be? Or do the Powers That Be already have their mind made up that we must reopen soon? I was glancing over the White House’s plan for Opening Up America Again. While seeing some valid steps, saw also how stages of opening our country could move quickly from one to the next.
Are we ready to handle an opening of our country? Is any country fully ready? Wasn’t there a resurgence of cases in Japan? There was a part of me that wanted to scream and cry “We aren’t ready for this yet!”
Granted, I understand how crucial it is to have our neighbors working. Hearing the heartbreak of the people I know who have been laid off or are furloughed weighs the situation down even further.
I’m also seeing this through another lens.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition last summer. Fortunately, at this time, it’s fairly mild. While there is no proof one way or another that people with my condition are struggling with severe cases of COVID-19, I have been told by a medical professional that I am higher risk. While I would love to get back to church and our programs, I would not only be risking my health but risking the lives of my congregants – especially since many are over the age of 60.
This has also given me a new lens of seeing life more systemically and connected as before.
In order to be healthy and promote the well-being of all of our congregants, our community members, and our neighbors across the world, we must treat humanity as a connected unit.
Earlier in our time of quarantine, I wrote a blog post called “Coronavirus is in the Body of Christ.” I recalled a sermon that my friend gave a decade ago on World AIDS Day in which he stated that AIDS is in the Body of Christ. Using the same theological rationale, I claimed that COVID-19, the Coronavirus, was now in the Body of Christ.
In the post, I recalled Paul’s illustration of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
As I stated in my post:
When a virus attacks the body, we can’t isolate it from other parts of the body. When we have a stomach virus, we can’t remove our stomach from the rest of our body. When we had the chicken pox years ago, the entire body would suffer with the red, itchy spots. Viruses attack the full system. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
Here in southern Illinois, people often see Chicago as a separate entity and have been commenting as such. Yet no other place or person is fully a separate entity now that COVID-19 is in our world. We can’t say to our northern neighbors, you are not part of our body. We can’t say to people who have a different political perspective, you are part of a different body. When one person catches this illness, there is a high risk another will catch it. When someone drives from northern to southern Illinois, or vice versa, there is a chance they will risk spreading it to another person. When someone returns from the crowded beaches of Florida to their home in Ohio or New York, the illness moves from one organ to another, from one region to another.
Additionally, we must think of this issue like physicians look at any rheumatological illness – complicated. This is an issue which will impact both our health, our healthcare system, our economic system, the way our employees are valued and paid, the way we value black bodies and people in poverty, and the lives of our medical professionals. We know that our most vulnerable will be the first back to work and the first to get sick during a surge.
And they are part of our Body too. Their illness is our illness. Their struggle with finances and grief is part of our struggle. Their pain should not be far from our hearts.
How do we hold the tension of all of these factors together? How can we encourage our leaders to see this, as Dr. Heifetz would say, an adaptive rather than technical (or simple) issue?
A three-point plan may be too cut-and-dry for our contexts. These may be technical solutions for a complicated adaptive issue. We cannot set a broken bone and hope that it will treat an autoimmune disease. We may need many steps in between these three stages in order to carefully and compassionately re-emerge from the tomb.
We are not ready to open back up in the ways some hope. We must embrace a new normal – a Body healing from multiple sicknesses that affected many organs and the Body systemically. This is a process of baby steps, of much creativity, of all of us reaching out to encourage our neighbors – whether they are isolated in homes or trying to keep their small business afloat.
Because we are individuals AND very connected parts of the Body of Christ.
The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Senior Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, Illinois. Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She also has chapters in the books Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy and A Child Laughs: Prayers for Justice and Hope. Torigian blogs at http://www.michelletorigian.com.
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