Nothing quite brings us together—or drives us apart—as the joint experience of (even the threat of) suffering and death. From the moment that the wider world learned of a new virus causing widespread respiratory illness and death in China, many scientists in academia, government and industry joined together in the common pursuit of a cure and a preventative against this new disease. So much has been done! The structure of the viral genome has been explored and marked out, already in-use medicines have been found that might be useful in treating this new infection, and new medications are being developed and tested with unprecedented speed. Scientists are sharing their results with others, not hoarding them for personal or corporate advantage (mostly!). Those not directly involved in the research have scoured their labs for gloves, masks, shields and more. As a chemist by background, I’m proud of what the science community has been doing. I’m sure that you can think of more examples of people doing things designed to bring us together, to help us all.
But then, sometimes the threat of suffering and death drives us apart. A former Georgia representative to Congress, Paul Broun, is running for Congress again. In one of his TV ads he says, “In uncertain times like these, the right to defend yourself and your property and your family could not be more important…Whether it’s looting hordes from Atlanta, or tyrannical government from Washington, there are few better liberty machines than an AR-15 .” Hmm…that doesn’t exactly sound like he thinks we’re all in this together. Then there are many who think this pandemic is a false front to the real agenda of destroying our country and enslaving our people.
I so disagree with those attitudes, but I struggle against my tendency to be driven apart from people who do so much that would drive me away.
I’m sure that you can think of more examples of people who are acting in ways that drive us apart. When this is all finished and we look back on the events of these days, which group of people will our nation remember with fondness and pride? Since we are a part of this time and these actions, which type of example do we want people to remember us by?
Today, when you ask a person on the street to tell you what they think about Christians, what are their common answers? Far too often you would find answers like, “arrogant, intolerant, ignorant and hateful.” Now I don’t think those adjectives characterize the majority of us, but that really doesn’t matter. When most people pass by a Presbyterian Church, that is the kind of people they think are a part of that building.
This pandemic-time is a Kairos time for our churches. Kairos is an ancient Greek word that means the right, the critical, or the opportune time. It’s a time for action that makes a difference. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors. Oftentimes, when we are confused is when we are driven to new ideas and a new foundation. Let’s confound our neighbors and their common misconceptions of Christians by loving them in ways that they can understand. To do that, we need to intentionally look for ways to draw them near.
We get to decide whether this pandemic will bring us together in service or drive us apart in fear.
I recently read a joke that went like this, “Finally, now’s the time when we can save humanity by sitting in front of our TV’s and doing nothing! Let’s not mess this up!” I laughed (and I hope you did, too), but I also realize that there’s much more that we can do for the good than just sit in front of the TV. We do need to be physically distant from each other, but we can and should stay socially and spiritually connected with each other. That’s what we need to not mess up!
How do we become more socially and spiritually connected?
Before I answer that (which I’m not really going to do!), I would remind us all that we don’t usually see the things that we’re not expecting to see. As an illustration of that, please follow this YouTube link to a short (less than two minutes!) video titled “Selective Attention Test” by Daniel Simmons… How was that? Pretty amazing! In much the same way, we often don’t see the things that we can do for Jesus because we are not looking for them. As soon as we look for them, they seem so obvious; but first we need to look for them.
For the last several days I’ve been looking for ways to serve Jesus by serving others. I’ve found a number of them (some of which I’m not too keen on doing, but…). Instead of making suggestions on specific things you might do, I just suggest that you look around you, expecting to find opportunities that Jesus lays before you. I’m sure you’ll find lots of ways to help bring us and our neighbors together in this Pandemic-Kairos-time!
Your brother in Christ,
Michael R. Burkley
Moderator, Albany Presbytery