This is US

Monday Morning Montage COVID-19 Rambling
April 27, 2020

I start writing for the new week, the question arises, “is this us“? Looking for a soundtrack to the week, I listen to NPR until the news has me so angry, I can’t think straight. The Navajo Nation is being hard hit, the African American population, all who live in poverty are dying fast and where are those who profess to follow this ancient leader named, Jesus? I’m not excluding myself from this question either. Right now, the truth is a hard one. The people of color would say that yes, this IS US. What are we going to do about it?

The US is one country divided into 50 states, but it may also be a country comprised of several tribes or factions.

A Gillian Welch song comes up in my playlist. Though it’s called “Miss Ohio”[1], these lyrics seem to speak to the apathy we are seeing in our people of faith:

I know all about it, so you don’t have to shout it
I’m gonna straighten it out somehow
Yeah I want to do right but not right now….

My question is not about staying home or working but about caring for people in need and right NOW. Right NOW, we have an entire country in need. Yes, people want to get back to work who work, but there are people who have wanted to work all along. There are people who have suffered all along. The world has come and put us ALL on the same level, vulnerable and afraid. The sociologist, Brené Brown[2], states, Courage is borne out of vulnerability, not strength.[3] Yet, being so vulnerable and frightened often causes one to choose to be reactionary instead of pro-actionary, as in proactive. In those same times of fear, we often revert to being self-centered. Fear can cause us to be focused on “what’s going to happen to me”, that we forget the most important question about the US in the world.

Right now, it is interesting to think that the abbreviation for the United States is “US”. The abbreviation has always been that way, but with the changes in grammar, removing the periods in abbreviations (from U.S. to US) it clarifies. More than ever before, we are beginning to see the importance of being an “us”, and in particular, we can now begin to think of what it means to be UNITED instead of divided. Our country is abbreviated as the US and not DS.

There is nothing wrong with being vulnerable or afraid. Right now, we have reason to be afraid because the Corona Virus is not contained within our country at this writing. Our country is being divided right at a time when unity is vital. The line from Welch’s song sings as though she is reciting a litany response to my complaint:

Yeah, you want to do right but not right now.

Though there is an argument about who stated the following quote, we keep using it as an important reminder of what it means to be good people:”All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”[4]

This quote speaks to me on several levels. It matters not who said it as much as it speaks an enormous truth. Regardless if one is a person of faith, this calls to each person to stand up against the wrongs that are occurring in our country. However, as a person of faith, it is more important to stand up for those in need. We have a world of need right now and it is hard to discern where to focus. Yes, we are called to care for our personal body as a gift, our family, friends, neighbors. We are all in this together, where does one begin to speak up? When is it time to speak up on behalf of the other?

Since the medical professionals right now are the ones who will safe our lives should we be infected with this disease, let’s use part of their Hippocratic oath that basically states, Do No Harm, but more specifically, I WILL NOT PLAY GOD.

What does it mean for me to “DO NO HARM”? Hey, I’m staying inside because my state is still under stay at home orders for quarantine. I’m a homebody anyway, right, so this order has actually helped me get through April without any major asthma attacks. I still have three days to go, but this is the first time in over 20 years that I’ve been well from the last week of March to the first week in May.

To think that I am doing right by those around me by staying home is important. However, more must be done. As a disabled person, my ability to march, protest, to be a volunteer is very limited. Especially during COVID since my asthma puts me at high-risk. What does it mean for me to care for my neighbor, the poor, the underprivileged? It means a lot of things really. But my focus today is that I’m standing up to say, THIS IS WRONG! The Way our government has mishandled the response to this pandemic is ultimately wrong. If we continue to support how this is being handled (or rather, not handled), then we are contributing to evil.

I’ve been fighting with myself, praying, researching, praying, reading the scriptures, and books from my faith. Now is the time for me to stand up and say something. NOW is the time for us all, people of faith or not, all of US need to stand up and begin to live lives and speak lives of do no harm. This “do no harm” applies to all of us as human beings, living creatures, our earth, water, sky. Have you seen the article about how the earth is beginning to clean itself now that we have stayed home? That in itself is a tremendous message that WE ARE THE ONES RESPONSIBLE for what is happening in our world.

WE MUST STAND UP NOW to the things that are going wrong in our country. We gain courage by thoughtful prayer, meditation, conversations with the wise who have kept us on a path of good before. Sometimes, especially in times of fear, people are wrong. Compare what the wise person says to this maxim DO NO HARM.

“Meditation and other spiritual disciplines are largely meant to give us the toughness required to take hold of our lives. Without this toughness, despite the better goals we may cherish in our hearts, we will not be able to take the road that leads where we want to go.” Eknath Easwaran

Because of my faith tradition (meditation is important in most faith traditions), it is important for me to pray before I speak, act, or make life choices. In the Christian tradition, a question is often asked of followers about choosing now who to follow. The Jesus who is exemplified in scripture and history is a man who not only lived a life of “do no harm”, that same man sought to heal and reach out to the outcasts of his day. What does it mean for us to follow THAT man?

What does it mean to have the courage to stand up against what is going wrong for you? For me, it means writing, calling, praying, calling, painting, praying, singing (which is also prayer), and being in continuous conversation and meditation with those who lead me on the right paths. We must start NOW why? Because our world is in chaos, but also, if not now, tell me when?

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NOTES:
[1] Welch, Gillian Howard, and David Rawlings. “Gillian Welch – Look At Miss Ohio Lyrics.” MusiXmatch, 2003, www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Gillian-Welch/Look-At-Miss-Ohio.

[2] Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. Her books include The Gifts of ImperfectionBraving the Wilderness, and, most recently, Dare to Lead.

[3] Brown, Brené. “Brené Brown – The Courage to Be Vulnerable.” The On Being Project, The On Being Project, 29 Jan. 2015, onbeing.org/programs/brene-brown-the-courage-to-be-vulnerable-jan2015/.

[4] Most often attributed to Edmund Burke openculture.com/2016/03/edmund-burkeon-in-action

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Marking the Days and Sometimes, Rage

Raging Corona Virus Diary

April 14, 2020
Normally, my days are marked by church days. On Sundays, it is worship and Adult Christian Education (ACE) when possible. That way, I know if the next day is Monday. I know if it’s Tuesday by its location between church on Sunday and my prayer group on Wednesday. Now, NOW is all there is.        “What kind of freedom is it that exists in doing nothing? It is the freedom not to interfere or react. It is the freedom to merely observe.” ~Ananda Baltrunas, “A Prison of Desire”

Window On Beech and a painting by JRobin Whitley

4/20/20
More days have passed and writing was set aside. Thoughts are more elusive these days. One moment, like above, I have something on my mind to write or draw or sing. The next, I am standing at the door staring out at the trees. Trying to calm myself, find a place to anchor my prayers that is not a place of fear, I bounce from moment to moment. Yes, that place is in our Creator. But also, isn’t it somewhere within the goodness of humanity? Aren’t we called to care for each other and the earth?

Going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. We are carved by life into instruments that will release our song, if we can hold each up to the carving.”  ~Mark Nepo

Something is being carved away from us with this virus. We have a choice right now whether to pick at the wound of it and end up with scars, or to allow healing to occur more naturally. Yet, as humans, not only are we fearful but we all want to be in control. Though experts on the virus, actual doctors and epidemiologists, tell us to remain in quarantine, there are those protesting the stay at home orders. I understand that they are afraid of their livelihoods. Many have been posting things on a FaceBook page that go along with The Proud Boy message. It’s frightening. The group is a designated hate group.

“Established in the midst of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are self-described “western chauvinists” who adamantly deny any connection to the racist “alt-right,” insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an “anti-political correctness” and “anti-white guilt” agenda.”  from Southern Poverty and Law Center[1]

I don’t know how to address this with love. When Obama was elected President, many believed all the nonsense about Obama taking guns away. Some of my family members are taking risks now with their lives that scare me. This morning, I am alternating between writing and catching up on the news that happened in the short time that I slept, a powerful article by John Pavlovitz speaks to me.

“I may be wrong, but I don’t believe whatever or whoever god is, that such devastation and death are part of the plan. The best guess I have right now, is that this season of suffering (like all moments), is the sacred space for we who claim faith to live what we believe: to persevere and to give and to heal—and above all, to love. That love, is the only plan.”[2]

Love as the only plan leads me back to speaking up when I can and it is timely, but otherwise to mind my own business. As the theologian Buechner says, to love is to work for another’s well-being even if it means sometimes leaving them alone.[3] That leaving them alone is really hard for us. I say us, because on one hand, I understand that we are all entitled to our beliefs and points of view. On the other hand, in this time of the unknown, the only thing we DO know for sure is that the only way to stop the pandemic is to STAY HOME. I understand what it means to fear for one’s income. Most of my life, I have struggled financially.

None of us in the U.S. have faced what all are facing with the downfall of our government since 2016. No one in the world has experienced COVID-19, so who knows what is best for anyone really? I was glad to see that Pavlovitz addressed the fact that some think that the pandemic is an act of a god. Only a little insecure god would do such a thing.

Taking a break to do the weekly chore of garbage duty, it is hard to return to writing because of the topic at hand. Karl Barth said that the pastor should read both the Bible and the newspaper. His actual quotes about the importance of keeping up to date on our society is so that we understand what it means to live as a person of faith in any era.

“The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

“Reading of all forms outspokenly secular literature – the newspaper above all – is urgently recommended for understanding the Epistle to the Romans”

Perhaps the most clear statement on the record from Barth concerning these matters comes from a Time Magazine piece on Barth published on Friday, May 31, 1963:

“[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”

The Time article goes on to give us more of Barth’s thoughts on journalists and their place in the world: “Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. He should make his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?’”[4]

These thoughts came out of his experience with the news of his day. Though Barth was a man living at the start of a technological society, the internet was not something the world shared. Now, in addition to newspapers and radio, we have cable news, social media spread across a wide variety of platforms. There is so much “news” that it is not only often hard to discern fact from fiction, but also, how could we read it all and still have time for prayer or scripture reading? The task often overwhelms me and I stick to only three or four reliable sources for understanding what I going on in our modern world.

Trying to check the news of today while also praying, it is hard to finish this essay. I check on the black bean soup I’m cooking. Write a paragraph, then research the news. The news is too overwhelming causing me to stop writing because the angst of the situation begins to choke me. For fifteen minutes, I work on the icon project of St. Julian of Norwich and her holding the words, “All shall be well.” Though it calms me for the time while working on the painting, the question now arises, “when?” When will all things be well again?

That’s the question no one can answer of course, when will life be closer to what we know as normal. At this point, it is clear that our world is being changed through this pandemic. Nothing will be the same whenever we can return to some semblance of life before Covid-19.

The most important implication of the breakneck changes currently underway, though, is that there’s no going back to normality. That train has left the station. The coronavirus isn’t going away. And even when there is a vaccine, the risk will endure, because climate change and the erosion of wildlife habitats will ensure a ready supply of zoonotic viruses. Companies will have learned to build supply chains with resilience built in. White collar workers will have discovered that they don’t have do as much commuting as before. Air travel will go back to being a luxury. And so on.[5]

Though we have no definitive answers on what the world will be like tomorrow, there is an ultimate goal in life for those of us who claim to have faith. That path is one of love. We are called as people of faith to work for each others’ well-being. We are all afraid and some are afraid for different reasons. The thing we must ask ourselves, however, is what does it mean to trust? What does it mean to trust another human working for our well-being? Yes, but more importantly for the person of faith, the question is, what does it mean to trust in G-d in these days of confusion?

 

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[1] Hate, General. “Proud Boys.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2020, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/proud-boys.

[2] Pavlovitz, John. “No, This Pandemic Isn’t God’s Plan.” John Pavlovitz, 19 Apr. 2020, johnpavlovitz.com/2020/04/19/no-this-pandemic-isnt-gods-plan/.

[3] On the contrary, he [Jesus]is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. from Wishful Thinking by Frederick Buechner

[4] University, Princeton. “FAQs about Karl Barth.” Frequently Asked Questions | Center for Barth Studies, Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, 2020, barth.ptsem.edu/about-cbs/faq.

[5] Naughton, John. “When Covid-19 Has Done with Us, What Will Be the New Normal?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/18/when-covid-19-has-done-with-us-what-will-be-the-new-normal.

 

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A Plea for you to stay home. I BEG you.

March 2020 – The Quarantine File

Please, STAY HOME.

I BEG YOU.

This is not a short story, but the start of my writing about the life of being a disabled person in quarantine. At first, I will admit that the quarantine did not bother me. Basically, because of my severe allergies, asthma, and fibromyalgia (which affects the immune system adversely), I was already living life as a hermit. March is the time of year that I’ve started getting sick with asthma for the past fifteen years. I used to be able to make it to Easter or April. Yet, it’s been over twenty years that spring stopped being my favorite season.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love flowers, the sounds of birds, gardening. I love how the world seems to come back to life after the blue-gray of winter. Just as the sap rises in the trees, I can also feel the sap of my own life rise to look towards living and life and being outside. I want to see flowers, the buds of trees, the small sprouts as seeds transform from their shells below the cold earth.

My lungs have had different plans for me. I don’t blame my lungs. It is a precious gift to breathe. I must confess; however, this spring is the first spring that I’ve given thanks for allergies. Though I had allergies all of my life, they have gotten worse as I aged. It’s been over thirty years that I learn that I cannot be outside in April in NC. My friend, Stephen, calls it tree sex. It is in a sense, but it’s also every tree, flower, grass, every blooming living thing that makes me sick. I don’t wish for it to make me sick; it is merely something that my temple of a body deals with.

Why was I glad for the allergies this year? Once I was so sick in 2010, I set up pollen notifications at www.pollen.com so that I would get notifications in my emails as soon as anything began to pollinate. This allowed me the freedom and ability to keep watch and have days outside but also be careful on high pollen count days to stay inside. It has been hard for my loved ones (friends and family included) to understand why I don’t get outside and play on those spring days. Some of my loved ones, those who have seen how bad it is when I can’t breathe, do get it. They don’t pressure me, and they are kind.

The pollen alerts had already risen to a high level of 8 out of 12 a few weeks ago. 2020 has actually started out as a healthy year for me because Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M.) of Boone helped get rid of the carpet in my condo. The dust and mold didn’t help me remain well in the winter before. In the hope of staying well through the spring, I was remaining inside. I didn’t go to church because Easter Lilies were already appearing in flower arrangements. Though I love Easter, I can no longer go to any church that has lilies. With those, it’s not merely the pollen, but the perfume of the flower. For some of us asthmatics, strong smells such as perfume or chemicals trigger asthma attacks.

In short, an asthma attack is like suffocating.

We want to breathe, take a breath, but we can’t because our air passageways have made it impossible. Yes, we can “take a deep breath” but because of what happens, our air passages cannot retain the oxygen. That’s why all asthmatics carry inhalers. Inhalers are medicines that help our lungs calm down (in essence) and be able to process oxygen again. It usually takes 15-30 minutes for albuterol to do its work and it is only used in emergencies. If you see an asthmatic use an inhaler, give them space and quiet. Touching them does not help even though they are afraid. It causes panic to not be able to breathe. I don’t know of any asthmatic who doesn’t have those panic times when an attack as been triggered.

I’m only writing all of this out so that you will hopefully better understand why there are some of us who want you to stay home, in your own town, in your own home. We are already at risk because of health problems beyond our natural ability to control it and so we have to use inhalers. This is the first time since 2010 that I’ve not had to use my nebulizer even to breathe inside my own home. Yes, there are some people who tell me I should never go outside or live in a bubble. But I love nature. I love the outdoors. My body simply can’t handle it naturally anymore.

For those of you who don’t know me. If you pass me while in church, in a store, or while I’m walking my dog, Birdie, you will never know about my physical challenges. Though I limp sometimes, that is not the health challenge that always endangers my life. Asthma that has developed because my body is so allergic to so many things is what endangers my life. In addition to being allergic to airborne particles, I am also allergic to copious foods. When I was younger, the food allergies merely upset my stomach. However, because my physical body has worn down in these 58 years, the reaction now is that some food allergies cause asthma or anaphylactic shock.

This is a plea.

Please stay home.

I am NOT the only person with asthma. I am not the only person with an immune system that is compromised. There are some who have not even gotten this diagnosis yet because it takes a LONG time and a heck of a lot of doctors before such diagnoses are recognized.

Those are the people that YOU WILL KILL if you are not taking this seriously.

No, it may not be me that you will endanger. But what if it’s your parent who is over 60? Do you want to worry about that if this virus kills them?

What if it is your brother, sister, your friend who has an immune system that is compromised and dies because of the carelessness of your decisions? Please listen to the warnings. Stay in your own home, please.

I have lived an excellent life. I want to say to you, my family and friends that should this virus kill me, I have lived a good life. I am 58 going on 59 if I make it to May. In truth, I want to make it until May. Whether I make it and whether your neighbor, the grocery store clerk, the janitor, the truck driver, the CNA/nurse/doctor, etc. makes it is up to YOU.

Whether YOU make it is up to me. Whether I make it is up to me. I don’t want to be responsible for my early death and I would not be able to stand it if I endangered you.

For more information about Primary immunodeficiency disorders, Mayo Clinic can offer more understanding.

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Lists of Immune System Diseases & Disorders

Allergies: Allergies can be defined as an aggravated immune system response to a normally harmless substance. There are myriad allergens such as pollen grains, mold spores, latex rubber, and certain food items like peanuts or drugs like penicillin which can cause allergies. In many cases, there is more than one allergen responsible for inducing an allergic reaction. While allergy symptoms are often a mild consequence, medical intervention is advised to diagnose the underlying problem.

Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a serious and extreme form of allergies. In this condition, the allergen such as food, medication, or an insect bite, acts as a trigger and causes a series of physical discomforting symptoms in a person. Itchy rashes, a swollen throat, and a drop in blood pressure, are some of the common symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may lead to an emergency situation if not diagnosed and treated on time.

Asthma: Asthma, a chronic lung disorder, is caused due to an inflammation of the air passage. Allergens, irritants or even stimulants such as physical activity can trigger the inflammation and induce variety of discomforts in a person. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc.

 

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