11/29/21 COVID-19 PNC Update

Dear Siblings in Christ:

This coming Sunday’s text is from Luke. What jumps out at me the most isn’t the story of John, but the intentionality of the context-setting of the author:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was the ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

  • Luke 3:1-2 (NRSV) 

Before the story of John could be told and understood, the story of the background had to be shared. The background makes the story of John stand out like red on grey. In this time of inequitably-centered privilege and power, John invites people to a beautiful and scraggly place to turn away from serving those with ravenous earthly power and, instead, make way for serving a liberating, Holy Love. As we read further in Luke, what seems like background now foreshadows the clashes yet to come. 

At the time, many of those living the story may have had faith that things would change. However, faith and certainty are rarely the same things. Instead, they are different ways of knowing that sometimes seem to be in a staring contest.

Welcome to Advent, 2021.

Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Then, take another deep breath and let that one out slowly, too.

I know the news about the omicron variant of COVID-19 has sparked a lot of concern. In some ways, the fact we know about all of this is good news. When a new disease (or, in this case, a variant of one) pops up that may be dangerous, world governments are supposed to pay attention, see if it’s present in their own country, and respond appropriately. That’s what wasn’t done at the beginning of COVID. South Africa modeled how to share this information in a direct, transparent, and honest way. This is how infectious disease alerts are supposed to work. 

Whether various countries’ responses were wrong or right in this particular moment will only be clear in retrospect. It’s sometimes been hard to tell how much each countries response is political or scientific; or how much a response gives a sense of safety as opposed to real safety. Travel bans, for example, have sometimes given countries more time to respond to a COVID variant but have rarely given a country immunity. Omicron is probably already here. A travel ban might reduce the points of origin in a country and slow its initial spread, but if omicron does turn out to be highly transmissible, it will still spread widely.

This moment highlights the reality that inequity continues to be a far larger threat. There are some concerns that travel bans may be ultimately counterproductive since they make the outcome of reporting an outbreak more costly – particularly for countries that are already suffering from inequity. This outbreak in South Africa, one of many countries that have pleaded for more vaccines, also highlights the reality that the best response to COVID is not isolation or marginalization but a more equitable sharing of medical resources. If that had been the approach of various governments all the way along, omicron might have never emerged.

But it has, and now we all have to figure out how to respond in light of the facts instead of reacting out of our fear and weariness. When I first heard the news, I reacted. A whole flurry of thoughts and feelings about what I might have to cancel, how to keep my family safe, ending my vacation, and sending something out to the conference all came rushing through my head. I went into “fight or flight” mode. It took a while to move from my assumption that omicron was a new, more dire threat to the reality that we don’t know that much yet. South Africa shared the news well, but we won’t know if this variant is more contagious, more dangerous, or vaccine-resistant for at least another week or two.

We have to consider information about COVID like a weather report. It’s important to know the general weather conditions outside our door. If there’s a weather watch for more dangerous weather, we should prepare for the possibility. If there’s a weather warning, we need to do what we are prepared to do. At this point, South Africa has given the world a COVID watch. We should prepare for the possibility that omicron might be especially dangerous, but it might not be. At this point, we don’t have enough information to know.

Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Then, take another deep breath and let that one out slowly, too.

For churches in our conference, I suggest that you do what you’ve been doing to be safe based on the protection of your at-risk members, the COVID conditions in your area, and the realities of the safety your physical plant can provide. If you were planning any significant loosening of these practices over the next couple of weeks, it might be a good moment to pause, wait for more information, and make preparations for a more dangerous variant. If it ends up being a rarely benign mutation – and it very well might – no harm has been done. 

It’s also a good time to reach out to elected officials in your community about domestic and international vaccine and health equity. In the same way that the background and the foreground we read in Luke eventually merge, this is another one of those moments that the story of inequity and COVID are so clearly connected. New variants emerged among those who were infected. The more people who are protected, the fewer people infected. The emergence of this variant does not stand alone, but is a result of the vaccine and health inequity that infects the fabric of our world.

Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Then, take another deep breath and let that one out slowly, too.

In these first days of Advent – these days of waiting and preparation for a holy event – it, once again, feels as though faith and certainty are in a staring contest. There are different things we know through these different ways of knowing. There are different things we are called to by these different ways of knowing. However, at their best, these ways of knowing are not competitive but complementary. That which is required for faith and that which is required for certainty requires the gifts each other bring. We might not always have certainty about our future, but our faith can help us while we struggle without it. There may be times our faith may be shaken, but certainty can help us form a faith that is responsive to God and God’s people instead of simply reacting to every new piece of information that comes our way.

The story of Advent has never been just one story but the multiple strands of stories and ways of knowing that come together to weave a new story that we continue to respond to today. Blessings on all of us we prepare for what is yet to come.

With hope,

Mike

——–

Rev. Mike Denton

Conference Minister of The ​Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ

You can give to the ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference by going to www.pncucc.org and clicking on the “Donate” button​. ​Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev

2 thoughts on “11/29/21 COVID-19 PNC Update

  1. Dear Mike,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, for the reminder to breathe deeply, and for your wisdom. Mary Margaret

    Like

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