In the summer of 2019 I took this picture of a cruise-ship, in the backdrop of wartime ruins on Vancouver Island. When I took it, I had no idea of the intersection of themes that would take place in the early months of 2020. At the time of taking picture, the contrast between the modernity and affluence of the cruise liner industry and the infancy of Canada as a nation in the late 1800’s was striking to me. Now looking at it again, brings thoughts of how ironic it is that two pandemics, over a century apart, are being represented in one picture. The wartime structures were built in 1895, to be ready for the first World War and the pandemic of 1918. The cruise ship became the early symbol of the pandemic that has begun in 2020.
Facing global pandemic again, the world has been exiled into a season of unknowns. What can a global market economy sustain, if a global market economy will crash or will it ever return to where it once was. Fear of what this will do to the economy is being felt from presidents and executives all the way down to the managers and labourers.
Many pastors and theologians are addressing fear, and rightly so, because they say when we deal with fear, we deal with THE WHAT. On the other hand, when we operate in the confidence of the Spirit, we deal with THE WHO... Jesus, God and others (relationship). True communion requires commons and living in relationship with others requires thinking about them while sacrificing some of self. Jesus taught us that, in fact he sacrificed all of himself! In the mystery of that trinitarian relationship, which is extended to us, God is not merely an observer. Exodus 3:7 says, “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I KNOW their sufferings.”
It will be up to all of us to live into trinitarian relationship when we are able to gather again. Not to hoard resources, not to only look out for how we can get back on our own feet but to ask what we can do to sustain one another. How can God’s power be enacted by human agency? It may be an economy that we are not used to, an economy where values of minimalism, sufficiency and things other than profit are the true measures. As Walter Brueggemann says, “…the church is called to its public vocation to practise neighbourliness in a way that includes both support of policies of distributive justice and practises of face-to-face restorative generosity.”
A word that came up recently in discussion and that has already been added to online urban dictionaries is coronaphobia. The definition is as follows:
coronaphobia - The fear of catching the current strain (COVID-19 in March 2020) of human coronavirus, expressed by wearing a face mask in public, or simply avoiding public places, public events and public transport.
There is a very real fear out there and it is not something for us to shrug off or condemn. We should be empathetic to those who are feeling it and even honest to accept and acknowledge those feelings in ourselves. It doesn’t make us weak or sinful, it makes us human and reliant on God for care and comfort. There are also feelings of being infectious towards others, unclean, a pariah. Or just being perceived that way because of the unknown circumstances. Isn’t that the way lepers, widows and the poor must have felt in Bible times? Isn’t that the way people on the margins have felt for centuries? The way the LGBTQ+, prisoners, poor and COVID infected feel today!
Jesus was able to transcend societal boundaries and walk in gracious and compassionate love with those on the margins. Jesus practised a neighbourly economy. He was the perfect example for us to aspire to. The details of how have to be wisely discerned and in step with the Holy Spirit, but I hope that's what is on our hearts, for service and worship to creator God. The time will soon come again that God will lead people out of slavery, out of the desert, away from sickness and death towards new life again. Our call will be to walk with him, go to those difficult places that His son went and where the Spirit is already dwelling.
Woe to the people who consume without consideration or good reason,
Woe to the nations that commodify every thing; in every season.
When purpose and value come from extraction,
We lose things like time and social interaction.
Teachings of simple supply and demand,
Are taken as gospel, the way an economy must stand.
But there is another way; there is another path,
Living in commons; loving with neighbours; doing different math.
In liminal spaces of unknown and change,
One thing remains the same; mystery and strange.
Creator God is there in relationship with all,
Inviting us to walk in step, listening to His call.