Capitalism, Supremacies, and COVID-19

Capitalism, supremacy, and COVID-19

Here we are in the thick of what is officially now a pandemic, and I’m writing to you from basically preventative self-quarantine of an indeterminate nature. You see, I have several chronic illnesses, one of which being asthma, as well as a suppressed immune system from years of steroid use for that asthma. So I fall into the category of “at risk” even though at forty I would probably have a positive outcome with treatment, possibly in the hospital. But if the situation here gets like it is in Italy, me being on a respirator in the hospital means someone else is going to be denied that respirator, probably someone elderly, who is less “survivable” than I am, and I don’t want to contribute to that triage scenario. And yes, that is literally what is happening in hospitals in Italy right now.

They ignored the warnings, focused on the economy, and pretended it would go away. Sound familiar? As a result, they didn’t flatten their curve and their health care systems are overloaded and they are making calls on survivability like it’s a war hospital triage center to decide who gets care. And as a forty-year-old mother of young children, I’m sure I would come out well on that ethical conundrum, and I’m not okay with surviving at other people’s expense.

Except, I already live at other people’s expense. It’s just not as visible. I can think of a myriad of examples, but one I tell a lot is how I have my house because of white supremacy.

You see my great-grandfather was an orphan. He was a share-cropper and a prison guard and raised 11 children in a two-bedroom house on the land he worked. My grandfather didn’t tell me many stories of that time in his life. What I do know is that he enlisted to fight in WWII and benefited from the GI bill to go to college at UCLA. He ended up with a doctorate in education and able to be upwardly mobile through a combination of GI benefits and inlaw support, and possibly benefiting from one of those GI-friendly loans that were part of FDR’s New Deal to promote home-ownership.

Those benefits were largely denied to black GI’s of the same age as my grandfather.

Twelve years ago, my grandfather gave me a lump sum of money when my husband and I were looking to buy a house–my inheritance, but early. It enabled us to not only buy a house but build our lovely 2000 square-foot Craftsman-style bungalow.

I had an opportunity that was denied to black families.

I can hear the push back already. But your grandfather worked his butt off! And yes, he did, to the point where he fainted at his job in college because he was working full-time and going to school full-time and not taking care of himself. But so were black GI’s of his same age, and yet they wouldn’t go on to be as upwardly mobile on the whole as white GI’s. Me saying that I have benefited from things that black woman my age haven’t been able to benefit doesn’t detract from my grandfather’s work ethic, it just acknowledges the way things have worked and how all too often they continue to work.

At the end of the post, Holy Obstinance, I referenced the “supremacies of our nation.” That post was long enough, so I didn’t try to unpack what I meant by that, but recent coronavirus stuff has brought that to the fore for me personally again. These supremacies allow us to reassure ourselves that the virus isn’t “that bad” that “only the old or those with underlying conditions” will get serious cases.

Except. Except. When did we decide we were okay with those people dying? And as I am one of those people, when did you all decide my life was worth less?

Because that’s what that narrative promotes. My life is worth less and you shouldn’t have to cancel that trip, stay in your house, take extra precautions because at worst you’ll get a cold or flu like sickness not unlike many others.

That feeling of my life being devalued on a public scale really pissed me off. And then I thought, this is what black people and indiginous people and refugees all experience on a daily basis. Daily. Mine is a situational devaluing, theirs is a systemic devaluing.

Combine that with unregulated capitalism defining human worth based on how much money one can produce and you have the systemic devaluing of people with chronic illness and disabilities.

These are the supremacies of our time: white supremacy, male supremacy, able-bodied supremacy, youth supremacy, wealth supremacy. All of these devalue lives that don’t fit their world-view of worth. And that view of worth is so very narrow and in direct opposition to the greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Too many of us are too busy living our lives without stopping to think what that looks like on a daily basis. Coronavirus threw it all into stark contrast and offers each of us an opportunity to reexamine love of neighbor and to learn about the supremacies in our nation that fight against total human thriving.

Hope and Mortality

Lent, fasting, uncertainty, and hope
Lent, fasting, uncertainty, and hope

Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Ash Wednesday is always a sobering occasion, to walk around with a reminder of one’s mortality inscribed–albeit temporarily–on one’s forehead. Ashes suspended in oil cling to my skin and I resist the urge to wipe them away as though I could avoid thinking about reminders of death so easily.

There’s been much social media chatter and headlines this past week around the novel coronavirus that has jumped borders and leaves the entire globe poised for a potential outbreak. The anxiety I sense from some friends and acquaintances is very high, especially as I think many can agree, our government is unprepared in this political moment to organize a response if it becomes needed.

And here we are, as branches of the church that observe Lent, walking around with black smudges on our heads declaring the reality of death for ourselves and any who might see us today.

Where’s the hope in that?

An invitation to a Holy Lent is, as one of the priests at my church, Lissa Smith, preached this afternoon, “a recalibration that leads not only to a Holy Lent but a holy life.” Another pastor friend, Megan Westra, recounted in her Lenten newsletter a near brush with death a family member had recently experienced and what that does to be living in the daily reality of possible impending death.

And yet our lives still need to be lived. Death is the counterpoint, the inevitable period that all of us face and the reality is we have no idea when that period will come. For most of us it will be in old age, but that isn’t guaranteed to any of us. We brush it aside and we ignore it until we can’t.

Or until we go to church in the middle of a dreary gray Wednesday and receive the reminder of our deaths on our forehead so we can walk around like individual sign-acts for the rest of the day announcing that each day is a gift, for tomorrow is promised to none of us.

Gee, Anna, I thought you said you had some hope in the middle of all of this.

And yet I think there is hope in the middle of this. Hope isn’t needed where certainty exists. Where we are certain of things to come, we don’t hope, we know. Hope is needed when the future is uncertain. And hope is here in the imposition of the ashes where they are a sign of both our mortality and a remembrance that we have been given life eternal through Jesus. It is, as Lissa said, “…the reminder that God made me, and God will take me back. It is a reminder that we live, we will die, and we will be resurrected.”

She also pointed out a principle of mindfulness: “That which we practice grows stronger.”
So in the face of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety, I think the call to all of us this Lent is to practice hope. And practice as that great spiritual advisor, Pabbi Troll, said in Frozen 2, when it looks like there is no future, all you can do is the next right thing.

Reading any of our history as humans reveals both the beauty that humans are capable of and the brutality. Life on this green and blue globe has never been peaceful nor has it been free of tragedy. All we can do is the next right thing and make our Lenten fast one that is the fast the Lord has chosen: “to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… …to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin” (Is. 58:6-7).

There is freedom in embracing the inevitability of our own mortality and determining to do our best during the one thing we do have some say over–how we live.

Fog and Impeachment

Fog and Impeachment

The day is dark from thick layers of clouds and fog, and as my eight year old runs around outside joyfully he proclaims, “see how beautiful it is today, mom, with all this fog.” The day is dark because the senate acquitted the president on what should have been two no-brainer charges, some of the easiest things that congress could have chosen to impeach him on. I’m glad they took the step to impeach, and yet I can’t help but feel some ambivalence about the fact that it wasn’t the human rights abuses at the border, the children in cages, the asylum seekers deported to face murder, rape, and torture instead of being allowed in for safety. And then, empowered by his impending acquittal at the hands of a party who’ve decided that closing ranks almost unanimously behind someone lacking in any morals, he gives the medal of freedom to one of the most racist and bigoted voices in our country.

And it’s hard for me to see the beauty in that sort of dark day, the fog surrounding my house in a layer of wintery mystery feels very different than the fog surrounding the outcome of his behavior in light of this inevitable acquittal.

I know many of you feel the same.

The thing about fog when you need to get somewhere is there’s nothing to do but take it slow and move forward. You can’t rush in with your high beams on because you’ll decrease the visibility and increase the danger to yourself and those with you. All you can do is make sure you’ve got everyone with you and proceed slowly with determination through the fog. Each step we take the fog clears around us and we can see a little more in front of us.

History is always easier to read sections of when the sections are complete. The war ended, the sickness ceased, people moved on and lived their lives and accomplished things.

It’s harder to live through a difficult section of history not knowing how long it lasts and how it’s going to turnout.

And since we can’t know that, I would argue that the outcome doesn’t matter to our individual actions right now. All we can do is the next right thing (yes, I’m totally quoting Frozen 2, I have little kids and it was a killer song).

I do know that being sucked into the constant news cycle whether online or on television is draining. So turn that off. Anything major, you’ll hear about soon enough anyway. Get up, move your body, and find the next right thing.

I heard the news the vote was in and immediately got up, made a pot of coffee, and danced to La Bamba. Partly because I badly needed to move my body, and partly because the song choice would be an unwelcome one if the powers that be could see me doing it. Then I came in here to write this because I wanted to help give voice to the heaviness, to the uncertainty, to the disappointment, inevitable though it may have been, and to offer my hands, to pull us all together, to walk through the fog.
Now figure out what the next right thing looks like, get together for a rally, go register some voters, reach out to some friends so they know they are not alone, gather your people, check on them. And just take the next step.