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.

Holy Obstinance

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Today in church one of our priests gave a pastoral message in lieu of a sermon in order to address some practical concerns regarding coronavirus and also tornado cleanup. And he went on to recommend that while the chalices would still be available that we receive communion in one kind only, and the chalices were available as it is a requirement in the prayer book and necessary for some people’s personal piety or… and then he stopped, searching for a word, and said, “I don’t know what word to use… I shouldn’t say obstinance,” referring to people who insist on drinking from the chalice anyway. That cracked up many who were listening, and my husband turned to me and said, “holy obstinance,” and as you can imagine, we were among the obstinate few who received from the chalice anyway (wine is anti-viral and silver chalices are non-porous and our mouths are cleaner than our hands, so don’t come at me).

But the phrase “holy obstinance” caught my imagination and I came home pondering what that means for our moment in time that often feels overwhelming as though we can scarcely catch our breath from one thing before something else hits. And what better description is there of hope in this moment then pressing on out of a holy obstinance? To have faith that we can ultimately bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice to paraphrase what Dr. King once said.

Many of my favorite stories, whether it’s Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Doctor Who (yes, I am a big geek and I own it proudly), feature long sections of darkness with very little chance of success. And it’s one thing to read and reread (or watch and re-watch) these sections of darkness knowing how it all turns out. It’s another thing to be trekking through Mordor with enemies all around and your water’s running out, or to crouch by Dumbledore’s body knowing there’s no one left to stand between you and the battle that is to come, or to take a run at blowing up the death star knowing there’s just one chance to get it right and so many ways to get it wrong–to stand in those moments and not know where the story ends, to live into the uncertainty and do the right thing anyway out of hope that if enough people join you in doing the right thing, then it will make a difference. But even if they don’t, you do it anyway, because no matter the outcome, you have chosen to do what’s right. This is holy obstinance.

And no, I’m not equating drinking from the chalice or not as making the right choice in dark times, the phrase just grabbed my attention and I wouldn’t be giving its origin proper references without the story.

The second piece of this is that thinking about the coronavirus (or to be accurate: the novel coronavirus, COVID-19), has me thinking about the nature of interconnectedness. In his address, my priest today also mentioned how preventing the spread of a virus as best we can falls into love of one’s neighbor.

In a time where border-consciousness in the United States is seemingly at an all-time high, here comes a little brand-new virus to remind us that borders are artificial lines drawn on a map. To remind us that we are all global citizens in a world that is more interconnected than ever, bound together in a common destiny for better or worse and the attempts to practice isolationism or pretend that isn’t so are not only wrong but incredibly… naive to put it as charitably as possible.

Today’s gospel lesson contained one of the most memorized verses of all time: “For God so loved the world…” God so loved… not a single country, nor a single people group, but the entire world–which incidentally includes creation itself as the author of Romans put it so eloquently: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now: and not only the creation, but we ourselves…” (Romans 8:22-23 NRSV).

God so loved the entire world–all of creation–that God gave of Godself the ultimate sacrifice in order to put things to right. This reconciliation is both here and now, and an eschatological reality. In other words, the reconciliation offered to us here is not yet complete as we experience it, but in terms of the world to come, it has already been made complete, and indeed, all things have been made new.

But since we live before everything being made new, things like the coronavirus come along and highlight the fact that none of us can “go it alone” on this planet. Tornadoes reveal to us both how fast life can change and how much we need our neighbors. It is a reminder to care for our neighbors at all times, not just in the midst of sickness or disaster because we need them and they need us and all of us are loved equally by a God who demonstrated what love is with the ultimate sacrifice for the whole world.

To stand in the knowledge that we follow the crucified one and to refuse isolationist doctrines that would divide us from members of our human family, to acknowledge that all human life is sacred and created in the image of God and should be treated as such in a time of xenophobia, to resist the supremacies of our nation that seek to oppress and divide us from acknowledging each others’ full humanity, to stand firm in all of this: that is holy obstinance.

Extractive Theology

Extractive Theology

The past 5 weeks or so I’ve been participating in a cross-class dialogue circle lead by Equity Solutions. A few weeks ago, one of our homework assignments was to read a zine called “From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring” that discusses practices of an extractive economy. It looks at the various ways that both people and the planet have been misused in service of making money. From clear-cutting (which turns a renewable resource into a non-renewable resource) to genocide and slavery, an economy that views accumulation (and consolidation of weath) as its end goal will extract whatever it needs to get there. Extractive industries seek deregulation because it allows them to accumulate wealth faster. And by “them” I mean primarily the top executives. Extractive industries like coal extract both from the planet and from the very lives of the people doing the work in a very real and visible way, but many industries are extractive in that they don’t pay their base workers a living wage and people are going without health care and mental health care trying to make ends meet.

In this, these industries are extracting their profits from the very lives of their base employees in order to create and consolidate wealth at the top. And people are trapped within this system because the alternative is starvation and homelessness.

With all this sitting in the back of my mind as I contemplate what economic justice looks like, it occured to me as I look at American Christianity, that the practices that allow people calling themselves followers of Jesus to come to some really bad conclusions are by nature extractive theology.*

Extractive theology allows pastors and congregations to take things not only out of context (proof-texting) and to come to Scripture with their own preconceptions wholly unexamined, looking for a “Biblical” rationale for their beliefs (eisegesis), but it allows them to marry those practices and create an entire pseudo-theological framework that looks on the whole very unlike the savior it claims to follow.

I’ve used this term a few times in tweets and in last week’s blog post, and I’m working on a loose series of posts, some of which are already scheduled. I want to explore both concepts around American Christianity (because this is my context, there are certainly other iterations of this in different places in the world) and my own story coming out of an American Christian background. I’m going to use the two words “American Christianity” together consistently to talk about this brand of Christianity because it crosses some denominational lines and isn’t exactly articulated anywhere, though there are certainly more explicit examples available, but it often lives in the negative space of what is articulated. But just as any large shadow is cast by a large object, sometimes looking at the shadow and where it comes from it absolutely vital.

And if you watch Doctor Who, you know to pay very close attention to the shadows, because if you don’t, the shadows will literally eat you (Silence in the Library).

*I came up with this term as you see above and I hadn’t seen it anywhere before but while I created the hashtag #extractivetheology, I did find a reference where it occurs in a book called Rooted and Grounded: Essays on Land and Christian Discipleship. I think I’ll have to pick that up because the google books preview is incomplete and I don’t know if they mean what I mean by the term, so it’ll be interesting to find out.