Monday, April 20, 2020

Recognizing the Enemy

It is distressing to me how easily this coronavirus pandemic has degenerated into a political battle. I was reminded of this over the weekend while witnessing the anger expressed in demonstrations across the country for “Opening Up America Again.” If there is one situation where we should be able to cooperate for the common good, it is this one. But it appears that I am mistaken … again. Each side blames the other for making the pandemic a partisan issue. Each side claims the moral high ground and demonizes the other.

I guess I should not be surprised at this development. Indeed I would be surprised if it were any different. Instead of bringing people together, it seems that times of national crisis too often drives people deeper into their warring tribes – liberals versus conservatives, Democrats versus Republicans, Trumpers versus anti-Trumpers, our religion versus their religion, our nation versus those nations, patriotic versus unpatriotic, American versus un-American, people like us versus people not like us.

Whatever label you choose to give to me, I am not your enemy. I refuse to make you into my enemy. We are in this together. Back in mid-20th century, Walt Kelly was writing his Pogo comic strip, which was often filled with profound, yet simple, wisdom. One memorable comic in 1972, penned during a time of great social discord in our country, had the words: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

When I ponder those words, it is like jumping down a rabbit hole into Wonderland. When we look closely at our enemy we see they are no different than us. I can see this clearly, even in the midst of the bitter political rhetoric of today. I see myself in the faces of the people who take the opposite position than I do on issues.

It takes very little imagination for me to see myself under other circumstances believing what they believe. A slightly different place of birth or trajectory in life, and I am them. They are me. They are my sisters and brothers, my sons and daughters. They are not my enemy. They are fellow humans. Our enemy is us.

The divisions that we see around us are simply the divisiveness of our own souls projected onto the world. National boundaries are nothing more than imaginary lines drawn on maps. The spread of this virus has reminded us of that. 

Racial differences are no more physically significant than being able to roll your tongue. (I can’t; don’t hate me for it.) Religious divisions are illusory, nothing more than ideas in our minds that are given the aura of Truth by the authority of scriptures and traditions.

I say it so often that some might find my words repetitive, but I will say it again. We are one. We are one with every other human being on this earth, as our DNA shows. We are one with all living things on this planet, as our DNA also shows. 

We are one with the earth, as our body chemistry shows. We are earth and return to earth. We are earthlings. We are one with the universe. We are born of the universe and are never separate from it. We are universelings. We are the universe aware of itself. 

We are one with God, which is simply a name we give to Reality in order to make the Incomprehensible more approachable. We come from God and return to God. We are the image of God, as my Scriptures say. We are mirrors reflecting God’s image back to God. 

There are no divisions in Reality. All is one. There is no “us versus them.” It is all our imagination. Therefore all we have to do is reimagine. May we let go of the contempt, name-calling and self-righteousness and see ourselves in the faces of the enemy. Our enemy is us. We are them. We are one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Pandemic Fatigue

This pandemic is getting old. The novelty of the “stay-at-home” order is wearing thin. I don’t know about the coronavirus, but my curve is flattened. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that this pestilence has bypassed my family so far. And I pray for those I know who have been stricken with coronavirus and for those who are feeling the financial effects of the economic lockdown much more than I am.

I know that for many people this is a life and death situation. This virus is killing tens of thousands of Americans, like the Influenza Epidemic in the year my parents were born. As the Surgeon General said, it is this generation's 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. In fact more Americans have died of COVID just in New York City than died on 9/11 and at Pearl Harbor combined, and this attack is nowhere near to being over. But for me this pandemic has been more of a live television event than a firsthand crisis in real life.

For the first few weeks it was exciting. It was like I was an actor in my own dystopian action film. “Pandemic” – starring Marshall Davis with everyone else as supporting actors. That is the way the ego works – it is all about how it affects “me.” No matter how much we try to make it about our neighbors, we live every day with our own egotistical thoughts and feelings. And my ego thought it was exciting at first. Now it says it has had enough.

I see the same attitude in others. People are tired of this. Especially those with children and those who have lost jobs. It is like cabin fever on steroids. It does not help that here in New Hampshire it came on the heels of our regular cabin fever. People want their regular lives back. They want what we call "normalcy," although I suspect it will never really get back to normal. It will be more like a “new normal.”

I see people relaxing their restrictions on social distancing. They are less vigilant about wearing masks or keeping their distance. “It won’t matter just this once,” we think. “Maybe strict measures are necessary in national ‘hot spots’ but not in our little neck of the woods,” we reason. “Social distancing doesn’t apply to me or this friend or that family member,” we tell ourselves. That is bad reasoning.

I can only imagine the tense atmosphere in the White House. I understand the desire of our president to want this to stop soon. We all do. The problem is he thinks he can decide when this crisis ends. He believes he has the power and authority to get the nation – and especially the economy - back to normal. I wish that were true. But it is out of his control. It has nothing to do with his – or our - feelings or desires. It will be over when it’s over. There is nothing we can do - except to keep on keeping on.

There is a parallel here with the spiritual life. Some people think the spiritual life is about what we do and don’t do. It’s not. It is about what we cannot do. The spiritual life is about grace. It is about patience and perseverance and hope. There is very little – if anything – about the spiritual life that is under our control. We do not become more spiritual by our efforts or desires. Even spiritual disciplines do not accomplish anything. They are simply what we do. They do not bring us any closer to God.  It is all grace.

In one of his early letters, the apostle Paul wrote, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” It is a matter of not losing heart while we do what is right. It is easy to lose heart during this pandemic. I see the heart loss in myself and others. It is not pretty. This is one of the greatest spiritual dangers of this pandemic.

But it is also one of the greatest opportunities of this pandemic. We can learn patience. We can keep the faith. We can hope. We can love – which means keeping our social distance, not for ourselves but for others. It is not about us. We wear masks for our neighbors – not ourselves. They are a badge of our love.

If we persevere, we shall reap, the apostle says. Reap what? The reward will be the quickest end to this national health crisis with the fewest possible deaths. There is also a spiritual reward. A few verses earlier he lists the harvest. He calls them the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That sounds like a plentiful harvest. And it is ours to taste in due season by the grace of God… if we do not lose heart.  

NOTE TO READERS: A subscriber emailed me and asked me why I have so few blog posts during this pandemic. It is because I have been spending my time recording video and audio devotions, entitled “Devotions for a Pandemic.” If you are interested, you can access those here:

YouTube devotions: