Living with Fear and Anxiety

Living with fear and anxiety

I’ve been trying and failing to come up with any analogous time period in my life to what we are currently living through. I was twenty-one when September 11th happened, and for a time things felt strange and uncertain, but it seemed that people rapidly got back to normal for the most part, and adjusted to the new normal that was living with constant war that is now stretching into its 19th year. There was fear and speculation the year before that about what would happen at the turn of the century. People were stockpiling for the Y2K breakdown of civilization. I had just turned twenty at that point.

Perhaps it was being a young adult that made all of that seem unlikely. I’ve never really felt invincible per se but I definitely feel more vulnerable now. And while we’ve lived through outbreaks and things before, none of them have in our lifetime approached the scale of what we are dealing with right now.

There’s no road map, no place we can build a web of understanding, no idea of how long it will take for things to go back to normal. I can feel the anxiety in my chest, like a weight around my heart.

Like a good Episcopalian I turned to the prayer book for solace and then remembered there is no prayer for mass sickness, I already looked like last week. My husband was over here last night helping draft responses for our region to the pandemic and he remarked he’d had to look to the 1928 prayer book for a prayer that fits our situation.

That prayer book, or course, was finalized just a decade after the 1918 “spanish” flu pandemic. It seems the drafters of the 1979 prayer book thought we were past pandemics when they left out a version for that.

I was talking with my aunt yesterday about family history. Apparently the women on my grandmother’s side (several of whom were named Anna, yay!), for multiple generations kept family records and as my aunt was going through them, she was struck by how close death had touched all of them. Of course it touches all of us, but not as often as it did. Most of them lost babies. Many of them had mothers who had died in childbirth, husbands who had died young, and so on. We’ve made so many medical advances and progress with vaccines that I think it’s easy to forget just how recently in human progress the mortality rates were much higher just on a regular basis, never mind in a time of great sickness.

Reading history is one thing, living through it with no firm end date is something completely different.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes read spoilers for tense television shows or movies or read the ends of books really fast if I can’t handle the tension of not knowing how the story turns out. I’ve done that less lately, but I’ve definitely not traditionally been good with suspense.

And in this moment we are living in, the suspense is unable to be mitigated and I feel the anxiety rising, I hear the fear that people are masking.

And the temptation is to go pull a verse from the Bible that is comforting. Perhaps a verse like Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

But there’s not much consolation there because we all know people who love God and things haven’t worked out for good no matter how many contortions you pull to try to make it seem so. Taking that verse out of its context is like trying to put a band-aid on a stab wound when it comes to stemming the tide of fear in this moment. Rather I think comfort comes from that context where after describing all manner of hardships: “…distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” the writer goes on to say, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

The call, friends, is to go deeper. Not to try to convince ourselves or anyone else that it will all be “okay” simply because “God is on the throne.” But to go deeper and say even when really terrible things happen, nothing can separate us from the love of God. No matter what happens, God is holding on to you even when you can’t always feel God’s presence.

And if God is promising the gift of presence in our darkest hour, I think we have our marching orders. We are to be present for each other through this. We are to hold on to one another (from our separate quarantines of course), and listen to whatever fear or anxiety needs to be named. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t make it go away nor does trying to carry it all on one’s own.

It’s strange, but even if you and I are both carrying similar loads, helping each other with them makes them both seem lighter.

Perhaps this time too in the middle of Lent we find comfort in the remembrance that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But we’re dust that’s held in God’s hand. And in this there is comfort.

And remember to breathe. It’s strange, but sometimes we forget. Our shoulders get all hunched up, and our breathing gets shortened. It helps to physically straighten up, relax our shoulders, close our eyes and concentrate on our breath. Feel it going in and out, all the way to the bottom of our lungs. These breaths are all gifts, receive them.

In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 1928)

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.

Instructions for Living in Exile

Instructions for Living in Exile

I once had dinner with an evangelical friend, one I doubt will even see this as he has since “unfriended” me in the wake of that sieve which 2016 election has turned out to be. He was mocking the environmental conservation movement and said, “It doesn’t matter, it’s all gonna burn anyway.” Needless to say I was shocked and I believe I came back with thoughts on stewardship meaning care of creation but my recent meditation on Jeremiah 29:11 highlighted this conversation anew.

For those of you lucky enough to not have grown up with this, there’s this idea–more than idea, almost core theology as there are sermons and songs a-plenty around this–that we are only passing through “this world.” Somehow our status as Christians means we are now no longer residents of this world and therefore removed from it in a way that Scripture never really intended.

Metaphors of resident aliens and exile abound and yet while many that subscribe to this narrow and damaging worldview cling to Jeremiah 29:11 as a life verse, they seemed to have missed the instructions for exile that are found in the chapter that surround it.

You see as I noted in Life Verses and the End of the World, the context of the future and the hope that is promised in Jeremiah 29:11 is that they will be in exile for seventy years. While this is not good news (this is a safe conclusion as 1) it’s exile and 2) Jeremiah assures them that God does have plans for their future), they are called to build a life, to grow and thrive where they did not want to be planted. And then there’s this: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7 NRSV). Even if you want to subscribe to a strict exile metaphor for the Christian life you can’t say that care for the people and creation around us isn’t part of that exile.

Now, I don’t subscribe to that metaphor as it’s trying to force a historical reality onto a current one as though that story was an allegory and it’s not. Can we learn from it? Yes. Can we force a narrative of Christians as the “new” Israel? No. And we can’t do that for many reasons, the most important being, there is still both a nation of Israel and a Jewish people. That opens up a whole different discussion, but I thought it needed to be noted in this context.

This is yet another example of the dangers of what I’m calling extractive theology. It goes beyond the concept of proof-texting in that I believe it is tied to philosophies and mythologies that have helped create a version of Christianity in America that is more American than in is Christian. From manifest destiny to the prosperity gospel, American Christians have extracted what they thought they had rights to, using scripture as an rationale to take what they wanted: land, people, resources, and so forth with no regard to the consequences on shalom or mutual thriving of people in creation. And sure, you can find words in the Scripture that if you yank them out of context would seem to give one permission to do all those things. That’s why we can’t just take scriptures and try to jam scenarios into our current moment to provide rationales, and this is why it is dangerous to read the Bible both on our own as individuals outside of community and to read just the Bible without any understanding of the context it was in so we can get a feel for the overarching intent.

If an action doesn’t lead to mutual thriving and care of creation, it’s safe to say that the arcs of Scripture don’t support it as they all lead to justice and liberation as we move closer to the Kingdom of God.